Surviving the 1944 Dutch Famine
Geertje Meijst and Synco Schram De Jong - Surviving the Dutch Faminie in 1944
Surviving the Dutch Famine in 1944 is the follow up on my article The Love story of my Mom and Dad in which I wrote about my mom and dad's courting time up to the time they got married just before World War II became a fact.
This article is about how they were coping during the World War II, which was a hectic and dangerous period for many people. At several times my mom and dad sheltered Jewish people, while they were living amidst the German soldiers, who had occupied the houses on the left en right and the nearby police station.
My mom (who was never called by her given name Geertje, but always by her nickname Muys) told me that she firmly believed she had a guardian angel watching over them, because all of us - included the Jewish people they sheltered - have survived the war.
Dutch Mobilisation 1939-1940
Dutch Mobilisation In 1939-1940
The Dutch Army got mobilized in 1939 when the threatening of War came close. My Dad had been send to the village of Gulpen in the province Limburg. His brother in law, the husband of his eldest sister Heleen, had been send up North to the province Drenthe.
The family of my Dad got scattered around the country. They wrote letters to each other and those letters have been saved by one of my nieces. She has put them in a private timeline website and gave me permission to use whatever I needed for this article.
From a letter from Nico Wilbers (my dad's brother in law) to his sister Jet:
April 6, 1940
...I don't know how Synco and Muys are doing, I haven't heard from them in the passed month. The only thing I know is that Muys is not allowed to stay longer than fourteen days in a row with Synco or they will lose their mobilization allowance. How they will cope in the end I wouldn't know....
My Dad Had Been Billeted On The Castle Of Neubourg
During the mobilization in 1939 my dad had been billeted on the Castle of Neubourg in the South of the province Limburg right after he got married to my mom. As appeared in the letter of my uncle Nico, my mom couldn't join my father and was only allowed to stay a fortnight or my dad would lose his allowance.
That could have been the reason that the Countess invited my mom to stay as a guest, so she could be with my father for a longer time period.
Letter from my uncle Nico Wilbers to his sister Jet:
April 7, 1940
....I don't have many interesting things to tell you. The most interesting thing however is that Synco and Muys are expecting a baby. That's what I heard in Middelburg, but Synco didn't mentioned it in the letter I got and I don't think he told you because otherwise you would have told me. I think it's a rather risky adventure, because we don't know how long the mobilization will be and if it will stop in the next years, they will be out on the street. It would be rather impossible for Muys by then to find some kind of a job. Mom and Dad Schram de Jong don't mind too much, it's their responsibility they say.....
After The Dutch Capitulation
Living In Dordrecht 1940
I don't know when and not exactly how, but my parents managed to rent a house (upper level) in Dordrecht on the Krispijnseweg. I think it was number 198, but when I passed by this house in 2001 the house numbers had been changed.
On the photo you see three doors next to each other and the middle one was ours. We always had to climb the stairs before we could enter our house. The little balcony is ours. The houses on the right and the left were conficated by German soldiers.
Mom And Dad's House On The Krispijnseweg In Dordrecht
My Sister Wiea Berthe Was Born On November 30, 1940
When War Was Declared, My Dad Had To Go Underground
When the WW II was a fact, the Dutch soldiers were demobilized and quite soon my dad had to go underground, or he would have been send to the work camps in Germany. He had made a shelter in his study, so when there were raids, he would hide in there till it was over. Sometimes he had to lay down in his hiding place for a long time and therefore he had stashed away some - what we called - sailor's biscuits - so he wouldn't starve during a long hiding time.
My Dad's Hiding Place In The Attic
Bombing Of Middelburg 1940
The Bombing And Burning Of Middelburg
I'm not going into the discussion whether Middelburg got bombed by the Germans or French, nobody knows exactly what happened, but the fact is that about 600 buildings went down in May 1940. As my dad's father was the head of the Post office there, everyone in the family was concerned over their well being.
Fragments Of Letters From Dad And His Sisters
May 10, 1940
...My dear, now we're at war after all. I wonder if it would be possible for you to still come home. I don't know what to wish for, you're probably safer up there than you would be here. There were a lot of planes last night, but I slept through it all after having washed 16 heavy curtains. I had closed the windows to get a good night sleep. I heard it on the radio news this morning. If you can't come and have to rely on letters, be very careful what you write dear and don't comment to one side or the other to avoid irritation. Love mom...
May 23, 1940
...I just heard the terrible news about the bombing of Middelburg, it's devastated they say. We're trying to get news through the Post office director. The not knowing makes it all worse, would you please try to gather some news?...
May 24, 1940
...This morning I got a message from Middelburg that all was well, even the house is still there (note: Middelburg had been bombed severely). I did write to Nico, but he sure would have gotten the message himself, but you never know. It's quite a strain with the family scattered around the country. Now Synco and Muys, even in Groningen (note: were my mom's parents lived) they hadn't heard from them yet....
...there's very little food left. We thought there were rats in the provision room, but it appeared to be mice. Now we feed the cat with the mice we catch, because he doesn't dare to catch them himself...
My Sister Marijke Irene Was Born On January 4, 1942
Food Went Scarce
The Hunger Winter of 1944 - Eating Tulip Bulbs in Order to Survive
There was no food and no fuel and no wood.
People would steal the wooden beams from the streetcar rails, or chop trees if they got a chance. Lots of people froze to death that winter or died from the lack of food. They ate tulip bulbs and rats (if they could catch them).
I think that we - today's Westerns - can't even start to imagine what is has been like in that winter of 1944. That was the winter that I was born; at the light of one candle because all electricity had been shut down. Maybe that's why I love candle light so much.
Swapping Art For Food
My Dad Painted Still Lives And My Mom Traded Them For Food
When the war went on, most of the normal daily needs, like food, got scarce. It was hard to get by, because their were two kids now. My Dad couldn't go out on the streets anymore, it was just too dangerous, so my mom had to provide the food and food was scarce and so was their money.
My mom started to trade my Dad's paintings for food and in doing that we 'lost' many beautiful paintings my Dad had made. They were mostly still lives with flowers.
Update January 2018
I recently found two of my dad's paintings on the internet. They had been sold at auctions. Wish I had found them earlier, but I hope their new owners are happy with them.
Bad People Exist, They Really Do
The year 1944 was the worst year ever. Food became very scarce in the Western part of Holland. Heavenly pregnant from me, my mom had to walk more than 16 miles on an almost daily base in order to try to get some food. It was too dangerous for my dad to go outside the house. He would've been captured for sure and been send to a prison camp, so it all came down to my mom.
During the war my mom had nursed my dad's uncle who had become very ill and he died after a few months. He left my mom his heavy winter coat, which was a luxury on the cold winter food trips.
However one day, it must have been at the end of October or beginning of November, because it was freezing cold, my mom went on a 'Art for Food' trip again and after a walk of many miles she finally came to this bargeman's wife. Someone had told her this lady still might have some potatoes. My mom offered her a painting from dad and the woman said yes, you can have some potatoes if you give me your coat as well.
My mom gave this woman her winter coat, because there was no food and she really needed the potatoes and she walked back home all those miles coatless in the freezing cold.
I won't write down here what I think of such people, because I wouldn't get this article published if I did, but I think you will get the picture.
Titia Margriet (Me) Was Born On December 7, 1944
I Was Born In The Dutch Famine Winter of 1944
I was born in the Hunger Winter of 1944. In our neighborhood all electricity had been shut down and I came to this world at the light of a single candle. That's probably the reason why I like candle light so much.
My mom was a very creative person and she managed to make her three girls look nice and cared for. She made all our clothes from old fabric, curtains, clothes.
Swapping Art For Dental Treatment
Strange How Small The World Has Become With The Internet
Funny thing is, that I got in contact with the daughter of a couple (uncle George and aunt Lotte) who had found shelter at one point during the war in my parents house. She lives in Israel and through her I got in contact with someone who had been to school with her and lived near the Krispijnseweg in Dordrecht where I was born. It so happened that both these people have a portrait drawn by my Dad from when they were little. It appeared that the parents of that last person were both dentists and my dad was their patient at that time. One day my dad needed a dental treatment and he paid them by painting a portrait of the dentist and of two of the children.
Strange how the Internet makes the World so small. Without the internet I would have never known of the existence of these people and their portraits.
Sheltering Jewish People During World War II
The words Art for Food mean that I will never see a lot of paintings my Dad painted just before and during the World War 2. We have some pictures, but those are in Black and White.
During the World War 2 my mom provided shelter in her house for Jewish people. Aunt Lotte was one of them and later on Irma, a young girl who had fled from Germany earlier on. She also found shelter in my parents house and they all survived and stayed friends for life.
I just found this photo in one of the old photo albums, never noticed it before. Irma came to us in 1943 and stayed until 1946, when she moved to Israel.
The photo above must have been taken somewhere in 1944, because my mom is pregnant from me. The Scottish Terrier dog was a wedding gift from my dad to my mom. His name was Omar, I remember him well.
Update Summer 2014: I Got This Call From a Reporter
He Writes About People Who Sheltered Jews During WW2
Summer 2014 I got a phone call from a news reporter who tells the stories of people who have helped Jews during the World War 2. He found this lens of mine on the internet and asked me if I could provide him some information about my mom and dad and the people they sheltered during WW2.
He wrote this beautiful story about my folks, about the Jewish girl Irma and the Jewish couple to whom I refer to as Uncle George and Aunt Lotte. Their daughter Mirjam found me through my article Poems to Mom
Of course, his story is written in Dutch, but maybe with an online translator you can get an idea of what was written. 60 years of oranges
I'm proud of my mom and dad. Someday I'll write their story about sheltering Jewish people during the war and how they got their Yad Vashem award of The Righteous Among The Nations.
Retrieving My Dad's Paintings
Sometimes I Stumble Upon My Dad's Paintings On The Internet
Sometimes I just type my father's name in my browser and look at what comes up. On a regular base I notice sales of his paintings and sometimes I'm lucky and buy them back. Sometimes their selling price is way above my budget alas.
Update February 20, 2020
Yesterday I googled my dad's name again and there it was: a very early still life painted by my dad in 1935 when he was 25 years old. It was for sale and I bought it. Probably one of the many paintings my mom swapped for food at the end of WW2.
© 2013 Titia Geertman