Monday, June 01, 2009

Pieternella (Nelly) 1944-46


Posted by Picasa During the 1930's and early 1940's, complex spiritual and political forces combined to create an environment ripe for the war that descended upon the Netherlands and upon Pieternella's family.

Her father, Jan, was ill, with severe asthma and a failed bakery after a disastrous fire. He was disillusioned with the church, which had not helped their struggling family of eight children. Oma took in other people's laundry to help the family survive.

*During the 1930's the Dutch National Socialist Movement--a fascist party (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland, NSB) was thriving and it became the only legal political party in Holland for most of the Second World War. After the invasion of Holland the party openly collaborated with the occupation forces and the membership grew to 100,000.*

Pieternella's family was among the 100,000 who were party members and this may partly explain their welcome to the two young German sailors in the Kriegsmarine, docked in the Schie river: Kurt Reske and Gerd von Minden. Nelly's family befriended them between 1941 and 1943, at which time they were sent away to sea. Gerd, now 21, drowned when his ship was torpedoed in the Adriatic Sea on October 12th 1944.

*Beginning in the summer of 1943, many male members of the NSB were organized in the Landwacht, which helped the government control the population.* Nelly's older brothers were among them.

The lines were drawn and ugly; countryman against countryman, but it would have been almost impossible to escape once the course was set, even if you had tried.

In the autumn of 1944, the Party said that there was not going to be much food. This was at the start of the “Honger Winter” of 1944, caused by a food embargo; an act of German retaliation against the Dutch people because the railways had complied with the exiled Dutch government's request for a railway strike.

In order for them to escape the coming food shortage, the NSB party moved Nelly, her parents and her younger sister and brother, Lijda and Dirk to Germany to stay with her elder sister Corry who was now living in Kurbis. Her two other brothers, Jan and Dick stayed in Rotterdam, as well as her other sister Adrie, who was married by then.

During the Honger Winter, between September 1944 to early 1945, approximately 10,000 Dutch people's deaths were attributed to malnutrition and starvation. The devastating famine was chronicled in photographs and the anecdotes of survivors.

After the German signing of surrender on May 6th 1945, many of the members of the NSB were arrested and some convicted. One of Nelly's brothers was among them, and the other managed to escape to Groningen, in the north of Holland.

Meanwhile, Nelly and her family left Germany to return to Holland, but were arrested as members of the NSB party at the border. Nelly and her mother were imprisoned in a school in Groningen, separated from her father, who was sent away with the men. The two younger children, Lijda and Dickie were sent home to Rotterdam.

While they were held in Groningen Nelly and Oma had to work on the land. Nelly knew nothing about farming and she remembers pulling up the wrong things in a row she was working on.

She was offered her freedom by a young man who was overseeing them, if she would marry him. At 18, it was her second proposal of marriage (the first was from Kurt Reske who had written to her father to ask for her hand in marriage and he had said no.) She turned the young man down and remained a prisoner.

It was not long before they were moved to Rotterdam to the Schieweg with other prisoners, in an uncovered lorry. The heads of the women had been shaved. The people they passed by vented their hatred at the collaborators, pelting them with refuse.

They were sent to another school (Hilleweg), in central Rotterdam where they had to work making bags. Nelly counted the days to when she would be set free. On December 15th 1945 she had her 19th birthday while still in prison.

Although Oma was still not allowed to leave, Nelly was released with nothing but the clothes she was wearing. She asked one of the men keeping guard over them for money to catch a tram back to her home in Rotterdam on the Schiedamseweg, where her older sister Corry was now, looking after the younger children, Jan, Lijda and Dirk. They had no idea she was coming home that day.

It was 1946 and Europe was a ruin that would take years to rebuild. In the hearts and psyches of people, a different kind of ruin and devastation would take much longer to heal. In some people it never really did.

Next week: Chris and Nelly meet.(59 years ago today, June 1, 1950, Nelly gave birth to their first child. They named her Belinda)

*Source of information: Wikipedia

8 comments:

Deidra said...

I love these stories. Thanks for sharing them. And happy birthday, Belinda!

Marian said...

You are so correct about the ruin in the hearts and psyches of people. With the stories about the war years in the Netherlands which my parents and in-laws told, they imparted a strong distaste (even hatred) for NSBers. I could easily stop reading your blog over this passed-down offence.
But, I won't. I've met you and I know you are wonderful.

Happy Birthday!

Belinda said...

Thank you Diedra and Marian,
Marian, it was incredibly hard to write this post. I didn't even know the full ocntext historically and politically until I did the research for it. I tried to write it as it happened, neither defending or judging.

People have to live with the consequences of the decisions that they make and you are right, they affect the generations that follow too. I carried such a shadow of shame for so many years and it was only as I wrote about it and told the story, that I found some release from it. I wanted my family to be the heroes that hid the Jews, not what they were.

Those choices weren't mine, or even my mother's because she was 13at the start of the war and the pattern was set even earlier. If you knew her, you would know that she is someone who just loves everyone. I can't reconcile who she is with what happened.

I couldn't sweep that part of our history under the carpet. It had to be told, hard though it is. I guess it had to come out into the light and I hope that somewhere the telling of it can have some redemptive purpose. God alone knows what that may be.

Thank you for breaking the cycle of hatred Marian.

Susan said...

We could judge the church for ignoring the plight of Nellie's father. We could judge the Dutch people for how they treated the NSBer's at the end of the war (I'm sure you haven't told half the story, Belinda). We need only look into our own hearts, though. We are ALL capable of incredible evil, given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances. And incredible good, too. When some of my children went to elementary school, they were called "nazis" and given a very hard time by some - yet they didn't even know what a nazi was and were far removed from that period of history. Their heritage, through my side of the family is part German, but they are the 7th generation of Canadian born, some of their German forebears having come to Canada as early as 1790 and the rest no later than 1865. How crazy is that?

I know your mum. I know just a bit of what it is like to be loved and accepted by her. I am proud to be a part of that boundless circle of love (that includes you too). As proud as proud can be...

Brenda said...

The continuing saga was great....especially to see where you fit into the story. Keep it coming....when and if you quit your real job you should write books....history....devotional....story telling....etc.

Belinda said...

Dear Brenda,
A hug for the encouragement.

swissdebbie said...

Hi Belinda,
It is very weird to read the history of "our" family and many facts are new to me.
That is one of the aspects of this story, the secrecy around it, no one talked about it or was willing to share anything about it. Maybe it is old age and guilt that make them speak about the "unspeakable"
But like I told you earlier, who are we to judge our parents in such situation?
They did it to survive.
Love, your cousin
Deborah

Belinda said...

Deb,
I knew about it from my mid teens. I guess Mum didn't want secrets. And she didn't tell the story with guilt. She said that she never felt that they were doing anything wrong. That is so hard to imagine but we see the story through the lens of history. But they just lived one decision at a time, and yes, they were trying to survive.

I never fully understood how all the pieces of the story fit together though, until I did the research in order to write the story for the blog.

You're right. Who are we to judge.