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Here I would love to share with you our travels and adventures as international mushroom consultants. MEMOIRS about husband Pieter Vedder, who was a SCIENTIFIC PIONEER in Mushroom Cultivation Education. His practical handbook is in 8 languages and is called the MUSHROOM BIBLE: https://mariettesbacktobasics.blogspot.com/2020/08/modern-mushroom-growing-2020-harvesting.html

Thursday, May 5, 2022

By Husband Pieter: MY LIFE AS A TEEN DURING THE WWII ERA

 May 5 is Dutch Liberation Day, as it is 77 years ago today. 
May 30 is Memorial Day here in the USA, so it is appropriate for sharing Pieter's story.
First presented, without any images, to the Monday Night Club in Dublin on February 23 of 2009, where Pieter has been a long–time member through March of 2017.
Pieter made this presentation with slides for the Rotary Club of Dublin, Georgia USA on December 3, 2010.
Dublin Rotary Club
Pieter gave a very heartfelt and moving presentation to the club about his experiences growing up in The Netherlands during World War II.
Map of Western Europe
Now I like to take you back to the period of the mid–1930s and 1940s in the 20th century, now some 90+ years ago.
What you see here is part of the map of Europe and in the center top you can see The Netherlands; a small but densely populated country; one fifth of the size of Georgia/USA.
I am born in 1929 in a small village near the city of Arnhem, in the Eastern part of the country; close to the German border.
Liemers
The soil in that area is rather fertile, because of the sediments of the numerous flooding of combined rivers in the past; the Rhine, the Neder Rhine; the Ijssel and their branches. Therefore, a number of people in that small village were Market Gardeners, as my hard working parents were too.
Vedder Family (Pieter center) during the Depression years 1930s
We for sure were not rich, but at least not as poor as most other families, especially those with more children; six or seven was quite normal then and ten or eleven no exception.
As you can see, I am the youngest of only three boys.
Greenhouse with Boston lettuce at my Dad's with my late husband
My Dad's produce business was somewhat ahead of most of his colleagues, we had greenhouses and some of them even heated by a big coal boiler.
As you perhaps all know, the economical situation in Europe, and likewise in the U.S., at that time, was really bad; there was a lot of poverty.
I remember that my Dad once came back from the vegetable auction with a full load of Boston lettuce, grown in our greenhouses, almost in tears because nobody was interested in buying the product. There was however a government program that in such a situation one got one cent per had and a box with 12 cans of corned beef. The product then had to be destroyed.
There also was quite a bit of tension in Europe. The instability of Europe was for the biggest part the result of the political deals, made after WWI in Versailles in 1918–19, a Treaty very unfavorable for Germany.
Ijsselstein – German war cemetery
You know that after four years of fierce fighting from 1914 till 1918; resulting in ten million casualties and twenty million wounded, after many flattened cities and industries completely destroyed, finally, with the help of the U.S. the Germans had been brought to their knees. For almost one hundred years, The Netherlands had been able to be neutral, mainly as the result of the fragile balance of power in Europe, after WWI. However, that balance was crumbling; big powers like Germany, Austria, Hungary and Turkey had lost their influence in Eastern Europe; the Balkan.
There were new, strong nationalistic movements rising up which were creating political tensions. Also, for the problems in the Middle East, there were solutions created which were sure guarantees for new conflicts which still exist till present day.
I remember that my Dad and his friends often were discussing the situation in Germany.
Based on the limited information they obtained about the situation in Germany, it didn't sound too alarming because almost everybody was hoping for some change and some foreign leaders were just promising that.
Hitler
There was an upcoming leader in Germany, named Adolph Hitler, who gave thunderous speeches and he was telling the people exactly what they liked to hear. He was gaining a lot of power and surrounded himself by a group of loyal but also very fanatic men. He also built up a very efficient propaganda machine. There were however also some people, who had their doubts about his intentions; they did not trust that guy. What he did in e.g. Poland was for sure not right. And what he did to the Jewish people was also not correct. Still, my Dad and his friends, and most of the people however were not so much concerned. Again, at that time they did not have all the info we have nowadays and Czechoslovakia and Poland were far from our bed anyway. Okay, there was a problem with the Jews, but they for sure were not so popular in our area anyway.
The Dutch government was watching what was going on with our big neighbor with suspicious eyes, especially when Hitler was building up such a strong army and why he was constantly talking about the need for more, Lebensraum (living space) for the German race. In Hitler's eyes, Germans, that means the pure race with blond hair and blue eyes, were a superior race and therefore Jews, Gypsies, the handicapped and homosexuals were disturbing elements. On the other hand, Hitler indicated that The Netherlands had nothing to worry about; we, the Dutch were also of the Germanic race. We would be part of a peaceful, prosperous bigger Europe. Besides that, the British prime minister, Chamberlain, went to Germany and came back with the assurance from Hitler himself that nobody had anything to fear. Also, most politicians were naïve, asleep, or just too focused on their own career. I clearly see some similarities here between our politicians, the upcoming Nazi movement at that time and the fast growing influence of the (extreme) Islam nowadays. Despite all the nice propaganda, the tension within Europe was growing. One thing I have to mention here, that a number of Dutch businesses, including my Dad's and his friends', were profiting from the situation because Germany was buying more and more of our products. At that time, I suppose, people did not realize that Germany was preparing for something and stocking up on materials and food for their growing army.
Anyway, the economy in the Low Country was doing well. But, like on a clear blue sky, suddenly dark clouds can show up; in October 1929, Black Thursday was the first indication that the party was over; that we were at the beginning of a deep, worldwide depression.
Soldiers Dutch mobilization
The Dutch government kept watching what was going on at the other side of the border and our intelligence warned that it would be better to mobilize our troops and prepare for a German invasion. So I remember, soldiers everywhere around and also that heavy, concrete barriers were being built over the dikes; that pieces of railway rails, so called asparagus, were put in little holes into the main roads so that not any vehicle could pass, that bridges were wired with explosives etc. Also the so–called water line was prepared. I have to explain this perhaps a little bit more.
You might know that a big part of The Netherlands is below sea level. The philosophy therefore was that we could easily prevent an intruder from the east by inundation, which means flooding, certain parts of the country by closing sluices in the river and canals.
It was in the early morning of May 10, of 1940, shortly after my eleventh birthday, that we woke up by the noise of low flying airplanes and some thunder in the distance. The German army invaded our country and simultaneously Belgium and France. We were at war.
Although there was some fierce fighting, our relatively poor equipped army was not a match for the well trained and equally well equipped German forces. Besides that, there has been quite a bit of corruption on the Dutch side. Members of the National Socialistic Party collaborated with the Germans wherever they could. To give you a few examples, the anti–tank guns in the fortress, where the bridge was crossing the River IJssel, were all at once taken off their base for maintenance. The wired explosives to destroy that particular bridge failed, for whatever reason etc. The Dutch army held their positions in the heart of the country for a mere five days and then capitulated. One of the main reasons was the German superiority in the air. Also the Fallschirmjäger/paratroopers which they dropped behind the water line, but even more so because they bombed the city of Rotterdam and almost erased it from the map.
Rotterdam bombardment 1940
Immediately after that, they threatened to do the very same with the city of Utrecht. Belgium also had to give up soon after the Dutch and even the French, despite their famous Maginot fortifications, had to capitulate after only 18 days. The Dutch government including the Queen, fled to England. In the first couple of weeks after the invasion there was quite a bit of bitterness because our queen and big part of the government had abandoned its people. There also was bitterness because people were convinced that the early capitulation was for a part the result of the treachery through the members of the Dutch National Socialistic Movement.
Did the German occupation change our personal lives? Really not that much during its first year. The Netherlands was not under military control but under civil management, under a special appointed Reich's Kommissar (National Commissioner); Seys Inquart. He tried very hard to win the sympathy of the Dutch people; mainly for two reasons. The first one being materialistic; the Germans needed a strong industrial economy in The Netherlands as well as our food production and also our harbors to support their war machine. The second reason was more ideological. The Germans were looking to the Dutch as their neighbor–brethren, part of the Germanic race and should therefore be a part of the new, big Europe. Part of that ideology, in Hitler's vision, was also that the population had to be cleansed from foreign elements like Jews etc. Hitler mus have been very disappointed because the Dutch in general did not cooperate at all. So the tension was growing and Hitler then decided that from now on the brutal Waffen SS would be in charge. That drastically changed the situation. It worsened even more after June of 1941 when Hitler started the war against the Soviet Union; a war that didn't go very favorable for the Germans. Hitler seemingly did not study the lesson from Napoleon; who made the same mistake before. On top of that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor with the result that from then on also the US was involved in the war. From that moment on, the Germans started a complete exploitation of the occupied countries, under the brutal leadership of Albert Speer. Coal, steel and all kind of products and even complete industries were transported into Germany and, as the result of that; there was a shortage on almost everything.
Jews Boarding Trains for Chelmno
In May of 1942, the Germans decided that all Dutch Jews were losing their citizenship and should be deported. Their possessions should be used to finance that operation. Over 100,000 Dutch Jewish men, women and children have been transported to destruction camps in Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald etc. Only a few survived. Also more than 250,000 Dutch men over 18 years of age were forced to labor in the German war industry. As the result of that approx. 300,000 men including some Jewish, were hiding (you perhaps know the Anna Frank story) often in rural areas on farms, living in barns and places where the Germans hopefully couldn't find them. If they got caught, it meant execution for them and also for the enablers of those hiding places. In 1943 the German exploitation changed into complete straight robbery. For example; all the copper wiring from the above ground electricity network was taken down and likewise all Church bells; some of them with great historical value. We literally lived in the cold and the dark since there was no electricity anymore and everybody had to darken the windows completely, to make sure that the navigators from the allied bombers could not use them as beacons on their way to bomb the German industrial areas.
Armada of planes – Market Garden lineup planes
As young boys you can imagine that we liked those armadas of big bombers flying over. Laying on our backs in the grass, we for sure enjoyed the often fierce dog fighting between the escorting Mustangs, the Spitfires and the German Messerschmitt. I have seen many of those bombers being shot down or crippled. We even had a Bristol bomber crashing into our back yard. My elder brother Toon and his friend Willy knew the marsh area between the dikes and the rivers, covered with reed and willow bushes, as their pockets. They helped several shot down pilots to hide and smuggled them on Dutch river barks that were on their way from Germany to harbors in Rotterdam or Antwerp to escape from there, to England. Very dangerous business. 
My Dad and one of his neighbor friends, did the very same, hiding some crew members between two locks in a river branch, where they built a small wooden platform under the overpass for that purpose. They got caught (somebody more than likely talked too much) and my Dad ended up in jail and his younger friend got deported into Germany and never came back.
Map of EISENHOWER'S 'WIDE' PLAN
Some hope came about when an immense number of allied troops and equipment landed on the coast of Normandy in June of 1944. Everybody started enthusiastically talking about the war being over very soon now. 
Were we ever wrong!
The troops from General Eisenhower and Patton fought their way through France, Italy and Belgium and then got stuck in the Ardennes and later at the big rivers in the southeastern part of The Netherlands and that is exactly where we lived as I have mentioned earlier. To cross those rivers, the allied forces needed bridges and therefore the British General Montgomery came up with the idea to drop paratroopers behind the front line to save the important and crucial bridges near Arnhem; the famous operation Market Garden. 
It was September 1944. If they could save these bridges, the main force advancing from the south, could join them and then the road into Germany would be open. General Eisenhower was not in favor of Montgomery's plant but gave in. It for sure as a spectacular happening.
Arnhem 1944 Paratroops
September 17, 1944
We were lying in the ditch and watched the armada of airplanes and clouds of paratroopers and gliders come down. What a disaster. Perhaps you have seen the movie 'A Bridge Too Far'?
The paratroopers were dropped too far from those bridges first of all; did not have transport material or heavy weapons. As the result of talking to the German soldiers (by the way we were forced to speak German at school!) we knew that there was a concentration of German troops and heavy equipment just in that particular area. Another problem was that the big force from the south was not able to advance because of underestimated heavy German resistance. After days of heroic and fierce fighting, and heavy losses, the operation ended in disaster. No bridge and no river crossing. It was a very bad situation; for us as well. We lived already for the biggest part of the day, and each and every night, in self built bunkers but from that moment on we got the full load of air raids and artillery attacks from you guys 🇺🇸, from the opposite side of the river. We had in our home a family, actually friends, who lived closer to the river and they therefore had to be evacuated. Part of that family were two sons, the age of my eldest and middle brother. On one afternoon they left with my middle brother for their daily chore to pick up fresh milk at a nearby farm. This was absolute forbidden (as the Germans claimed all produce!); therefore they walked with their blue milk jug through the fields.
Plane wreck – crashed German plane
Halfway a heavy dog fight started, all hell broke loose and the one after the other came down, actually three on a two–acre lot, two German ones and one allied, not that far from the farm the boys had yet to reach. Being nosy young boys, they went to the spot to see the burning wrecks and they were not the only onlookers. The half drunken SS Germans were furious and shouted that everyone had to leave the scene. The three boys made a wrong decision; and went the opposite direction because they still had to reach that farm. Therefore they were sneaking through the ditches. At the end of the ditch the brothers were detected by the drunken SS soldiers. They were forced on their knees, and both got executed; the one after the other. My brother escaped. The Germans stated that the boys were partisans and had stolen weapons from the wrecked planes; my brother however said that they only had put some instruments into their pockets. Unnecessary to mention that everybody in our home was devastated, especially of course the parents of the two boys. A couple of days after that incident we again had a heavy artillery bombardment from the opposite side of the river. We had quite a number of casualties in our village and also dead cattle and farm animals everywhere. The Germans had their artillery pieces and anti aircraft guns hidden inside the orchards surrounding us and that attracted all that fire from the allied forces. On a certain evening I was inside our family–bunker with my parents; my two brothers decided to sleep that night in the house, very much against the will of my parents but they couldn't stand the most and narrow, musty smelling bunker. After that heavy attack they came to the bunker to show my Mom a skillet and a blanket with holes in. I have told you that we had greenhouses. My eldest brother told me that our greenhouses also had been severely hit because he had heard the shattering of glass. He insisted that we together assess the situation. It was a moonlit evening and, as normal after such a heavy attack, it was very quiet. My parents were pleading with us to stay inside the bunker but we went anyway, insisting that for now the bombardment was over. Our greenhouses were approximately one hundred yards away from the bunker. At the very same moment that we were near them we heard a whistling sound of incoming shells and having experience, we of course dodged into a shallow ditch. For me too late; I got struck by a piece of shrapnel, passed out and was bleeding heavily. My brother dragged me inside the bunker in that condition. Can you imagine how my Mom was feeling?! They had of course heard the impact of the exploding shells.
Exodus – evacuation
This was the drop in the bucket; the next day we got ordered by the Red Cross to evacuate to safer grounds away from the dangerous river area. 
We could grab only a few limited items and clothes and stashed it onto the little horse wagon we had. Covered by a white bed–sheet so that we didn't get shot from the air.
It looked almost like the Exodus from the land of Egypt. 
After two days of walking, we arrived at our new destination, some 25 miles or 40 km away!
My parents and eldest brother got separated to stay at another farm location and my middle brother and me at a neighboring farm. 
The war went on, but at least we felt safer.
It became Christmas Eve and we longed to go to Midnight Mass at a Catholic Church in a neighboring village. We had to walk through the fields because nobody was permitted to be on the road after 20:00 o'clock. My brother and I celebrated Christmas, singing out loud; Peace on Earth.
On our way back after Mass, again walking through the fields, we saw something burning and of course we wanted to further investigate. It seemed to be an airplane shot down during Mass. Walking up to the burning wreck, we got halted by a barb wire fence. We then were deeply shocked when our eyes met a head and other human parts hanging on that barb wire. That scene remains forever engraved onto my retina for the rest of my life; Peace on Earth.
Living on a farm meant that we at least never got hungry but not everybody in The Netherlands could say that. Especially in the bigger cities of the western part, The Provinces North and South Holland, people suffered a lot because of famine. That period for most of the Dutch has been tagged the Hunger Winter. No food, no soap, no gas or electricity, no coal, no fire wood, just hungry, cold, sick and even dying people.
We didn't have much information about how the war was going; nobody had a radio anymore, they all got confiscated. From the underground however we knew that the Germans were losing this war and they paid a high price!
In April of 1945 we saw the demoralized, surviving German soldiers destroying their vehicles and equipment and for the very first time we saw American and British tanks and soldiers.
Hitler committed suicide and we could not believe that the war was finally over. 
But FREEDOM IS NOT FOR FREE!
Margraten – American war cemetery in Limburg, Mariette's Province
It really came as a shock. After a couple of days we were allowed to return home, to find out what would be left of it. My Dad, middle brother and I made the trip back to our village. What we encountered there was devastating; most houses destroyed or heavily damaged, including ours, greenhouses shattered, trees uprooted and so on. That very night we all three slept inside an old carpet, we of course didn't have a bed. When we woke up in the morning, a couple of days before my sixteenth Birthday, the sun was already shining and as we stood there, overlooking the ruins what once we called home, my Dad put his arms around our shoulders and hugging us tightly said: 'We are the happiest, luckiest people on earth–we are free and all alive!'
THANK YOU AMERICA
The war in Europe was over but not for our family, because the Dutch were still at war in Indonesia.
My oldest brother served there for three years.
My second brother, a marine, for two and a half year.
And I served in The Netherlands for two years as a commander with the 155 Howitzer battalion.
I did not have time to go into all the detail but believe me; this period had a big impact in my life.
One very important lesson I have learned is that FREEDOM IS NOT FOR FREE but is ONE OF THE BIGGEST GOODS IN LIFE.
GOD BLESS AMERICA! 🇺🇸
Pieter J.C. Vedder

12 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this Pieter and Mariette. We need to pray more for world peace.

    God bless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dearest Victor,
      Indeed we must! The present horror in the Ukraine does bring back vivid memories for Pieter as he's lived through it personally.
      Hugs,
      Pieter & Mariette

      Delete
  2. I believe that what strickes me more when I see these images and hear testimonies from those that actually witnessed these mosntruous acts, is the amount of lives that were lost.
    So many families destroyed, so many children that were left without their parents, so much destruction, so many horrible memories... It's such a sad thing, to see that because of a man's greed and thirst for power, so many innocent men and women lost their lives and futures.
    Thank you Pieter and all of you, that helped fight those that want to destroy peace all around the world and let's pray that what's happening between Russia and Ukraine, isn't a repetition of past mistakes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dearest Paula,
      Indeed, let us pray hard that this horror does not become a repeat from 77 years ago.
      The greed for power and control is the worst of evil and indeed, it affects so many in numerous ways; forever.
      Hugs,
      Pieter & Mariette

      Delete
  3. La guerra è un fatto orribile che si ripete.Buon venerdì

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cara Olga,
      In effetti è una cosa orribile eppure così tante persone l'hanno vissuta e ancora la storia si ripete. Che Dio abbia misericordia.
      Abbracci,
      Mariette

      Delete
  4. Duros tiempo les tocó vivir y ahora de nuevo hay una guerra, que hace que el mundo no pueda vivir en paz...parece que nunca se aprende de los errores del pasado.

    Besos

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Querida Antónia,
      Sí, ciertamente es triste y como dicen; la historia se repite...
      Abrazos,
      Mariette

      Delete
  5. Wat een indrukwekkend verhaal en zo goed dat Pieter het heeft opgeschreven zodat de jongere garde het nog kan lezen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beste onbekende,
      Ja, het is een erg indrukwekkend verhaal en met name komt het steeds nadrukkelijker naar boven als je ouder wordt.
      Zoiets moet inderdaad niet verloren raken en met Pieter, een geboren schrijver (zij het meer vaktechnisch en biologisch) heeft het goed verwoord. In beknopte vorm dan wel.
      Hugs,
      Pieter en Mariette

      Delete
  6. This whole story is incredible. This post is a piece of history, reading an account of these troubled times told in the first person is really exciting. I read the entire text very carefully and I'm even moved, it's extraordinary.
    Best regards
    Coisas de Feltro

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dearest Christina,
      Thank you and yes, told in the first person and soon there will not many be left for telling such stories. It definitely made the most impact on Pieter's life and it did shape him for the rest of his life.
      Hugs,
      Pieter & Mariette

      Delete

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Mariette...

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