Olga's story

Liberated by the Canadians - but only just in time

Leiden is in the western part of the Netherlands. In 1943 we were evacuated out of The Hague. The area where we lived was transformed into a fortification, because the ReichsKommissar Seyss Inquart lived in a property not far from our home. Because of the strike on the railways, which started in September 1944 at the same time as the attack on Arnhem, we were effectively cut off from the rest of the country. There was no electricity or gas. There was no fuel. Therefore there was also no public transport (tram, or train). The same applied within a short time, to the availability of food or clothing. The occupation by Nazi-Germany was felt totally and to all circumstances. E.g. to the provision of accommodation, bicycles, foodstuff, blankets, etc… and included raids on the population.


Living conditions.

In Leiden we lived in a sort of loft level apartment together with an elderly couple. In 1945 there were six of us. We were a family of four and two grandparents, who had fled by bicycle during the attack on Arnhem. The living room measured about 2.5 x 2.5 metres. Once per day the stove was lit to warm the food. The stove was heated with railway 'brickets' (compacted coal dust). My father had found a way of getting hold of these. The food was placed in a 'zakpan' made from an old basin; this allows you to put the pan right into the stove -- the only way we could warm the food. My parents had placed all our furniture in storage in The Hague, apart from those which were absolutely necessary. We shared access to lavatories with the principal tenants. These were downstairs. We had a water tap from which we could get water for cooking, washing etc…



I went each day to the cook-shop for the six of us. In addition, being a pupil in Oegstgeest, I received an extra little pan of food. I was also expected to find out whether there was anything to buy in any shop, eg. a sort of white pudding. We were able to get some sugar beets, potatoes, wheat, brown beans and tulip bulbs. I also remember making an expedition to Rijnsburg, with a sledge, to fetch winter parsnips. We also went, once per week to Oegstgeest to get a loaf of wheat-and-tulip bulb meal baked, until the day came that the baker ran out of fuel. Possibly some bread was also being distributed. Naturally I well remember the half loaf of Swedish white bread together with half a packet of margarine, to which I had right; the (air)dropped food parcels; the soup like grey ditch-water, which during the last two weeks of the war was made available from the cook-shop, and finally bread, sausage and similar, which were provided by the German military to us children, when they were sitting behind our house while they were waiting to capitulate.


School and leisure time

The schools were closed because there was no heating fuel. Moreover they had been requisitioned by the Wehrmacht. Twice per week we had school in a freezing church hall. On an food expedition my father had bought (ice)skates for me, so I spent a lot of time learning to skate in a flooded meadow. I roamed a lot through the meadows and the Leidse Hout (small woodland) with a friend, or I played at the home of a girlfriend who also had lived in The Hague. It was a large house inhabited by various people. The piano playing, brown haired Miss van der Linden, was found after the war to have been a jewish girl in hiding. I heard afterwards that several people had been in hiding in a cellar, which I never dared to enter. There was nothing at all to read. Everything was put in storage and there were no newspapers. Often I played patience with my grandfather. I went to the theatre once to see a show for children, because my father thought that, while there, he would be safe from a raid which had been announced. That seems to have worked well.


The German Army

It was only too obvious that they were there.
We had an alarming experience once when two Wehrmacht soldiers rang the bell and knocked on the door. No one opened the door. My mother was afraid that my father's bicycle might be requisitioned. The did not persist. Later we heard that they had just mistaken the address.

An anti aircraft gun stood behind our house. We were very afraid when there was shooting. On one occasion they shot down an English aircraft. We saw two men parachuting down, and we were almost on top of them because we were on our way to our other grandmother with a sack of chopped wood for her stove. They were rapidly removed in a lorry. We wanted to wave to them but were aware that any sign of recognition in their direction would cause us being shot. Just a pair of children and some old people!

We became only too familiar with raids. We learnt to live with a dual morality. Taking from the Moffen (Germans) was a deed of opposition but stealing naturally was not allowed. Each dead German brought victory closer, but also 'Thou shall not kill'. We thought that bombing was naturally reprehensible, but where it was a case of bombing Berlin we thought that was wonderful.

The liberation came just in time. There was no longer anything to eat. I can still see us looking out of the loft window if any Netherlands flags were yet to be seen. We witnessed the entry of the Canadians. We returned to school. There were festivities for children.In the end both my sister and I ended up in hospital because someone from the B.S. (Inland Army) ran us down. We were carried to the hospital on the bonnet of a Jeep. Actually I knew nothing about this because I was unconscious for hours. We survived that as well. August 1945 we were back in The Hague.

Finally our district was still a fortification. At first I had a 'permit', which certified that I was allowed to be in the district. I never had an identity card, I was too young. In 1945 I was aged 8 years. In September I returned for the first time to a normal school.

Olga D.Gerbers
E-mail ogerbers@hotmail.com
June 2002

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