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[Editor’s Note: Corry Prudden lived at 91 LaPaz until 2012. She grew up in the Netherlands and lived there during World War II, 1940-1945. This is her story.]
9-11-2001 was such a shock to me, as it brought back memories of the second world war. I thought that I would never have to live through an attack on my adopted country as I had on the country of my birth. The day was May 10, 1940. It was 6 a.m. on a lovely warm spring morning in the city of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. When my sister Lida and I awoke to the noise of anti-aircraft guns, we jumped out of bed and ran to the window, opened the curtains and window and looked out.
What we saw was to change our lives forever. We lived in a walk-up apartment, like 90% of the people of Amsterdam did. Our family occupied the 2 top floors, the 4th and 5th floor. Lida and my bedroom was on the top floor and we had an unobstructed view of the air battle going on over Schiphol, the airport. Our apartment building was in the south part of Amsterdam and at the very edge of the city with nothing but empty fields at the end of our street. Our apartment was the second from the corner. We could see the explosions as the airport was being bombed. Lida and I knew right away that the Germans were attacking us. We ran downstairs to wake up our parents, who had slept through all the noise. My Dad went to the dining room where in the corner stood his pride and joy, a brand new Philips radio, on which we could tune in ever country in the world. But Dad tuned in a local station and heard the bad news that Germany had invaded the Netherlands and they were bombing every airfield in the country. They also were dropping paratroopers. The Dutch air force had just a few planes and no match against a country that had spent years of building up their air and land forces. Our country had always been a peace-loving country. So we felt overwhelmed and hopeless. It is such a scary feeling when your country is violated like that and like we were on September 11. The Germans had their plans well in place for many years. Many Germans asked for political asylum, and soft Dutch gave it willing. We had an Aunt who lived with us, and in 1933, which I remember very well, she brought a young woman home for Sunday dinner. The woman was German and had been hired by my Aunt, who was manager of a lingerie factory. The woman brought a mandolin and played and sang the most melancholy songs, which we could not understand, but sounded sad. She told us about missing her parents, but that she could not return to Germany, because Hitler would have her shot. We believed everything she told us. My Mom would cook her special food, and she came almost every Sunday. But she disappeared after May 10, 1940. My Aunt was worried that the Germans had kidnapped her. But on May 16 when the Germans marched into Amsterdam, there she was proudly wearing a German uniform, and we found out she was a German spy all the while she ate our food. That is what was most upsetting. In Holland there are many rivers and canals and various waterways. There is a lot of traffic of large barges that carry goods to and from Germany, France and Belgium. The Germans had a whole fleet of barges loaded not with freight, but with fully equipped soldiers, which they had sailed into Holland and were anchored at strategic places. It was like having many Trojan horses in our midst. My parents had gone to the hardware store in the afternoon of May 20, to buy things to black out all our windows and lots of heavy tape to use in a kris-cross pattern on the windows, in case of a bomb exploding near us. The glass would not scatter and less injuries would result. There were air wardens installed by night time, who would check that everyone had their windows properly blacked out. We were at war. What a terrible time it was. But little did we know what was in store for us. On May 11 through May 14, my parents and us kids were instructed by my Mother to go to every store we could think of and buy as much nonperishable food as possible, like canned hams, whole cheeses, tins of vegetables, butter, large bags of rice and dried beans, etc. What a good thing that was, it kept us alive for the next four years. The last year was the worst of my life. That was the dreaded winter of 1944-1945. While my sister and I were out shopping on May 14, the air raid sirens went off and we had to get into a shelter. Our first time in one of those. There was a radio there, and it was turned to the news, naturally all of the news was about the war. They told of the destruction of Rotterdam. Hundreds of German dive bombers had bombed the city for a half hour and the whole city was destroyed. Thirty thousand innocent men, women and children perished. We were shocked beyond belief. How shocked was our country when the attack occurred Sept. 11? You can well imagine our horror. We were given an ultimatum by the Germans, surrender or tomorrow the 15th of May they would completely flatten Amsterdam. The British in the meantime had encouraged Holland to keep on resisting, they would send help, which we learned to our horror would exist in the British air force bombing all dikes in northern and southern parts of the Netherlands. Well that meant that all people would drown, close to a million in Amsterdam alone. We told them thanks, but no thanks. The British had no idea how the low lands were put together. Amsterdam is at least 100 ft. below sea level and is built on reclaimed land. There are beautiful farm lands, all on reclaimed land called polders. Dikes are keeping the water out. If they are destroyed, there wont be much left of that country and their fertile lands. May 15, 1940 We were gathered at our local church at 6 p.m. that day. While Dr. Kunst, the minister, was giving his sermon, he was interrupted by the custodian who handed him a note. After reading the note, he told the congregation that the Dutch government had formally surrendered to the Germans. We would be occupied by the Germans, which was likely to happen the next day, as the Germans had the 5th column in place. People were urged to stay calm and go about their regular routine. People sat in stunned silence. Then the organist started to play the Dutch National Anthem as loud as he could. Everyone stood up and, with tears streaming down their faces, sang as loud as they could. As we left the church in a very somber mood, we saw Dutch soldiers in the square breaking up their weapons. We heard the rumbling of explosions. The citizens and the military were blowing up everything that the Germans would be able to use in their own war efforts. The skies were black with smoke from the burning oil refineries and storage tanks. Ammunition dumps were blowing up. The noise was deafening. And so started five years of utter misery. Being occupied by another nation is the worst thing ever, especially when the occupiers hate you for no reason whatsoever and try to completely destroy your country. The Germans were sneaky devils. They moved slowly so to lull us into believing that they were not so bad. The first thing they did was to replace our duly elected democratic government. They replace them with what were called “”Quislings””, which were people who aided and abetted the Germans and were members of the Fascist Party. In other words, they were traitors to their own country. So having these people in charge of our country was unbearable. Naturally, they were just puppets of the Germans. The same with our city council and mayor. The next thing they did was everyone had to be fingerprinted and photographed, which was used on an identity card. Every Dutch citizen had to have one and had to carry it on them at all times. If you were Jewish, they put a large J on the front of the card. This way they had a record of everyone. (I still have mine as a reminder.) They next replaced the police with the Gestapo and some of the Dutch Nazis. They started to put all kinds of new laws in place. One was we were not allowed to own a radio. They knew who owned radios because in the Netherlands, as in most European countries, you had to have a license to have a radio. My Dad was not about to let the Germans take his beautiful new radio. Being a teacher, he had his own classroom which had a huge closet with very deep shelves. So for five years, he safely stored his radio behind hundreds of books, and he was the only one who had the key. When the Germans entered our home to loot it, we had a very old crystal set that didn’t work which we gladly parted with. They also took our brass and copper items. Next they wanted to confiscate all our beautiful coins. In those days, we had silver and gold pieces. The guilder was silver, that was real silver, and we had a 21/2 gilder piece and we also had a gold 5 and 10 guilder coin. They were going to give us worthless paper currency for our coins. My Dad was not about to give them ours. He put them in a big bag and buried them in the back yard. People in the Netherlands were used to getting around on bicycles. Hardly anyone owned a car. Now the dirty Nazis were taking our bikes away too. Just the ones that were in good condition. I had a pretty new bike which my parents gave me for my birthday, just before the war. It was a beauty, and I was so proud of it. When they took it, I was devastated. Luckily my uncle had an old bike that he gave me which was good, as I later found out. As time went on in 1941, all people who were Jewish had to sew a yellow star with a black J on all their outer clothes. Next thing, they plastered signs on all the shop windows, that said “”No Jews allowed.”” We had quite a few Jewish friends and shops that we frequented, owned by such wonderful folks. We never thought a thing about it that they were Jewish. But we had those horrible people who now decided who we could associate with and who not. Next they started to block off sections of the city and round up all the Jews in that section and loaded them into trucks and carted them off. Coming home from school one day, I came to a blocked off street, and I saw people whom I knew thrown into trucks. One woman, who I did not know, had just given birth, so they threw her out of a 4th floor window and the baby after her, which one of the soldiers caught and smashed its head against the brick building. All the soldiers thought it was a big joke. That was the sort of thing that went on in our country. My Dad’s sister and her husband had 9 kids and lived in a very big house. They harbored a Jewish family of four all those war years. And there were lots of people who risked their own lives and that of their children. If they were ever found out, they were put against the wall and all shot. My Dad was very active in the underground, and my sister and I helped all we could and did a lot of courier work. One of my Dad’s close friends, who was one of the leaders of the Amsterdam section, was arrested one day, and my Dad disappeared. We did not know where he was, and we were not told. The reason was that just in case the friend broke under torture and gave out the names of other leaders, they could lose too many valuable people. Well as it was, his friend did not, and they tortured him to death. He left a wife and 2 little kids behind. But he was a hero. It was a very stressful existence. The underground executed a raid on the Gestapo headquarters in downtown Amsterdam. They freed several of the resistance fighters who had been arrested that day. They were successful, but the Germans retaliated by rounding up about two dozen men and boys and shot them in the square where, after the war, was erected a statue in memory of those innocent people. One of our neighbors’ 15-year-old boy was one of the ones shot.
[Editor’s note: the conclusion of Corry’s account will appear in the March Periodico.]