On the third anniversary of Nazi invasion, the Germans decreed that all able-bodied Dutchmen between eighteen and thirty-five must register for what was believed to be a preliminary to conscription for enforced slave labor service. Thousands of Netherlanders had already been deported to concentration camps. Close to half a million Hollanders had been sent to Germany to work in armament factories.
When my father was taken away by the Germans, I took responsibility over many household duties. I had to take care of my mother and sister. Everything was getting short in supply. There wasn't enough coal to heat the house, or enough food to eat. You couldn't find clothes or any kind of shoes in any store. Even the Dutch wooden shoes were tough to get. We were very lucky we had a garden in back of our house. It helped us store some potatoes for the winter in our basement. I also kept a few rabbits in the garden, but they started to make burrows all over, and before I knew it, they had multiplied so fast that in not time I had about a hundred rabbits to feed. With so many rabbits to feed, I went around at night in our neighborhood and stole greens out of other people's gardens so I could feed all of them. Later I sold most of them as I was not able to feed all of them.
I remember our Christmas time in 1943. It was a bad time. The Germans had stolen everything out of Holland. I had made some toys for my little sister at the Salesian Fathers boy's club. For my mother, I had made a cross from a piece of aluminum which I found in an open corn field from a shot-down plane. From an old blanket which my mother had colored, she made a new jacket for me. Those were our Christmas presents. We always had a fresh Christmas tree in the house. Not too far from our house was a State forest, and before Christmas time I would walk around and look for one which I could cut down for the Holiday. Oranges or a piece of chocolate... you couldn't think of finding that under a Christmas tree. That was only available for the Germans and N.S.B. members who could get this special treat. There was a vegetable store in our town and the owner was a German sympathizer and that was the only store in town which would sell apples and oranges for Christmas. My mother felt that since I was just a kid, the Germans wouldn't pay much attention to me, and sent me to the store. I just stood in the line with the rest of the people. Once I got inside the store and asked for some apples and oranges, I received a good whipping from the Germans. I was told I wasn't one of them and how dare I stay in line.
When the Germans occupied Holland there were about 140,000 Dutch-Jewish citizens. Amsterdam was well known for its Jewish population. Most of them wore the star of David on the clothes. That way they were easily seen and picked up by the Germans and N.S.B. From the 140,000 Jewish people in Holland, more than 105,000 perished during the German occupation. During the war, many Dutch families hid Jewish families in their homes. If caught by the Germans or N.S.B., those people who had hidden Jewish people in their homes were taken along to German concentration camps. I witnessed a little Jewish girl being taken away by the hated German S.S. A family close in our neighborhood had taken this little Jewish girl into their home. The parents of this little girl had been taken away by the Germans to a concentration camp. Somehow, the local N.S.B. from our town had found out that this little Jewish girl was taken in by this family. Of course, this was reported to the German officials. Not too long after that, a group of the hated German S.S. came with their trucks and surrounded the house. Inside the truck I could see people, and on the end of the truck was an S.S. soldier with a rifle in his hand. I don't know if the people on the truck were all Jewish. There were many Dutch people picked up by the Germans. Some of the S.S. soldiers went inside the house. Not long after that, the lady came out of the house carrying the little Jewish girl in her arms. A very ruthless one of the S.S. soldiers took the little Jewish girl out of the lady's arms, who desperately tried to hold on to the little girl. She begged the S.S. soldier to give the little girl back to her, but remorselessly the S.S. soldier put the girl in the truck, and they all drove off towards the German border. The lady knew that it was the last time she'd ever see the little girl. It was an awful sight to look at, and the local people were helpless and just stood there with tears in their eyes as the trucks drove away. The hatred such scenes created was unbelievable. It made us hate the Germans even more.
In the wintertime I always wore wooden shoes as they kept my feet dry and warm. The winters in Holland are very cold and damp. During the wartime, it was not easy to get a pair of leather shoes. If you did have a pair of leather shoes, they were most of the time handmade from old leather handbags or whatever they could in the wintertime. For us kids it was much better to wear our wooden shoes in the wintertime. If you wore your leather shoes in the winter, most of the time your feet would be soaking wet from the snow which penetrated through the leather so fast.
In the summer we wore rubber sandals. Those rubber sandals were hand made by the local people who worked for the mining company. Those people who made those rubber sandals were allowed to take used rubber home from underground transport conveyors which were replaced by new ones and the old ones were cut-up in pieces. Even to get a pair of rubber sandals you had to be on the waiting list. The German war had taken everything away from us.
As the grocery stores had less and less food items on their shelves, the Dutch people started to go to the farms for food. Most of the Dutch farms at that time were very small. The ones where I lived were built in the Roman style: a square shape. The living quarters of the people and the stable of the animals were all close together. It would help in the wintertime when heating the living quarters of the people. The heat of the animals' stables would circulate through the whole farm building. Since the farm was built in a square shape, the manure pit was right in the middle of the farm building. All the stables were cleaned daily and fresh straw was put in the stables for the animals. In the winter you could see the steam and heat going into the air from the old straw which was put in the manure pit. There were always a lot of flies around the farm, and the odor was always there. Somehow in those days the farmers didn't mind. All of the farm work was done manually. Many farmers had large families. If the farmer had a newborn they always wanted to have a boy. Most of the farm children started to work when they were very young. They never left the farm as the whole family had to work together to get the work done. There was always so much work to do on the farm that my friends and I spent many days in the field and stables to help out. I was always there when it was milking time. Fresh from the cow I would carry a few liters home. My mother would boil the milk on the coal stove and then put it in the cold basement to cool. Even if the milk went sour, my mother made the leftovers into pot cheese. All the transport work on the farm was done by big, strong Belgian horses. For hours they could pull the plows in the field.