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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Germany overpowers Holland

On May 14, 1940, the Dutch army surrendered to the Germans. The decision of the Netherlands to capitulate had been taken after consultation with the allies.

Military experts considered the strategic situation so hopeless that the Allied High Command preferred to withdraw reinforcements into Belgium rather than waste the lives of Netherlanders and the remainder of the Dutch army. The final casualty list of the Dutch army was: 2,890 killed, 6,889 wounded, and 29 missing. The Royal Guard alone lost 80% of its strength. The looting of Holland proceeded according to the customs of the Nazi banditry. Bullion valued at 26,000,000 English pounds, forty shipyards, warships under construction, 100,000 tons of oil, and from 2,000 to 3,000 tons of tin were among the spoils filched by the conqueror. Fortunately, shortly before the invasion, bullion worth 117,000,000 pounds had been sent abroad, chiefly to the United States. Most of Holland's 330,000 tons of oil on hand at the time of the attack was destroyed before the surrender. Either the Dutch set the stores on fire or they were damaged by German bombs. Diamonds worth millions of pounds had been taken out of the country. Thousands of head of cattle were drowned when the flood dikes were opened, but enough precious stones and livestock, with great quantities of vegetable and whale oil and margarine, fell into the hands of the invaders. Although the Netherlands had surrendered, the country juridically remained at war with the German Reich. Netherlands rule was set up in London with the arrival of all eleven members of the Dutch Cabinet. Together with 200 refugees, they had crossed to England on a British warship. Soon after their arrival, Queen Wilhelmina, declaring that the seat of the Dutch Government was London, issued a proclamation asserting the intention to re-establish the regime in the Netherlands as soon as possible.

Rotterdam - May 4, 1940

For most of the Dutch soldiers the war was over, but for the people who had to live under German occupation, it had just begun. When we arrived at my grandparents home, they made some temporary room for us to stay. The house was already full with my aunts and uncles who at that time weren't married yet. My father started to look around for a job, but the only thing available was the coal mines that was the only major industry in Limburg. He hated to go underground and work in the coal mine, but he had no other choice than to take the job. The coal mining provided housing for their employees and that was what we needed as we couldn't stay forever in our grandparents home. By working in the coal mines the Germans would give my father some extra benefits for his family, such as food stamps and free coal supply for the house. In those days, heating the house and all the cooking was done by coal stoves.

The town we moved into was called "Lauradorp". It was the name of one of the coal mines my father was going to work for. There were two coal mines in the next town and they were called "Laura" and "Julia" and that is where our town got its name from. Almost all of the people who lived in this town were employed by the coal mine company. The house we rented from the coal mine company was very small, and so were all the houses in our town. We had a very small kitchen and a living room. Next to the living room was a small play room. We used that room for taking a bath in the tub on Saturdays. Upstairs were two bedrooms. The toilet room was outside. There was a storage room outside where my mother did all the laundry. In the kitchen and the living-room were coal stoves. The kitchen coal stove was used for cooking and heating. There was no heating in the bedrooms. There was one cold water faucet for all of the house, and that was in the kitchen sink. In the morning when we got out of bed, we had to use the kitchen sink to bathe. Saturday was the only day when our bodies would get a big scrub. A big wash tub was put in our playroom and my mother had to heat all the water on the coal stove. My father never had to take a bath at home as the coal mines had their own shower rooms for the workers. My mother every week had to wash all the dirty clothes my father brought back from the coal mines. All underground coal miners had the same company work clothes. The coal mine company would supply them to the workers for a small fee.

Laundry day was a big day in our house. Rain water was used to wash our clothes. Washing clothes with rain water keeps them soft. We caught all of our rain water from the roof of our house. A big pipe was connected to the gutter of the roof and a big wooden barrel. Whenever my mother needed water to do the laundry, we dipped it out of the barrel. The dirty clothes had to be heated on the coal stove first, and a washboard was used to scrub off the dirt. Winter or summertime, clothes were always hung out on the wash line in our yard to dry.

The winters in Holland are very long and very cold. Our bedrooms were never heated. There are many winter days in Holland where the temperature goes 20 degrees below zero. Even with temperatures like that we would never sleep with closed windows. There was always a window open for fresh air. From in and outside the window the ice was so thick, that when I got out of my bed in the morning, I had to put my warm hand on the window to melt some of the ice away so that I could look through a little spot outside. The only heat we had in the wintertime during the night was the coal stove in the living room, and most of the time in the morning when we came downstairs it was almost burned out. In the winter time our house was always like an ice-box in the morning.

Our refrigerator was in our basement. All of our perishable foods were kept behind a screened cabinet. The basement was always very cold year round. In back of our house we had a nice, big garden which provided us with a lot of vegetables. When we moved into the house we didn't have a chair to sit on. We had lost everything in the bombing of Rotterdam.. Most of the things we needed for the house were donated by the Red Cross and the neighbors on our street. It wasn't much, but we were able to help ourselves.

After the bombing of Rotterdam, we moved to so many different places that I was not able to go to school at all. Before the war started, I attended the Montessori and Jesuit's school with strong emphasis on advanced education. But all of this ended when the war started and we moved away from the city of Rotterdam. The small town we lived in, most of the families were coal miners and a mixture of all kinds of nationalities. Almost all of the people in the southern part of Limburg were strong Catholics. My father, who came from Rotterdam, was a Protestant. My father had married my mother in the Catholic church, so all the children would become Catholics. The school in our town was very strict in Catholic education. There were eight classes in the building, from the first to the eight grade. It was a strictly boys school. The girls' school was several blocks away from us. They kept us far away from the girls' school so that we didn't even know what the girls looked like. The girls' school had nuns as teachers. All the teachers were under the supervision of the town's Pastor. Church attendance was very important and checked daily before classes would start. You had to attend an early mass before you came to school. I always felt very uncomfortable if I had missed a morning mass and I had to go to school that day. In front of the class the priest would ask all kinds of questions: why had you missed mass that morning? The priest would make fun of you: Were you too lazy to get out of bed? We were strictly taught that the only religion you could believe in was Catholic. As a kid I wouldn't dare to walk into a Protestant church in our town. I would have sinned according to their beliefs. In church service, boys and girls were completely separated. The whole structure of our social life was completely dominated by the Catholic religion. A priest of our parish would visit our home regularly. I noticed that our family wasn't as openly accepted by the parish priest as the people who lived around us — my father was a Protestant. Marrying a non-Catholic in those days was something you didn't hear of, and especially in that little town we lived in. I remember before we moved into that little house it was blessed with holy water by our parish priest. Every family had a small altar somewhere in the living room with a large statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I remember as kids we would go out in the open fields and pick flowers for the Sacred Heart statue. In front of the Sacred Heart statues was an electric candle light which lighted the statue day and night. Many prayers were said during the war time in front of this holy statue. It was something that gave us hope during so many uncertainties during the war time.

CONTINUED: Spiritual life during the war
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

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