Veterans Day is an appropriate time to honor the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces and fought for liberty. But to get a sense of what liberty can mean, it’s also helpful to hear from civilians who lived through times when liberty was threatened. Rose Tieman is a resident at Royal Park Place, a Providence Life Services community in Zeeland. Here she shares her memories of the World War II invasion of the Netherlands. We post them this month to honor our seniors who are part of the World War II generation, and to honor the history they represent.
Hunger Winter: the Dutch famine of 1944
In the fall of 1944, the Hongerwinter started. The Germans were planning to starve the Dutch to death — slowly though, so there wouldn’t be any rioting. We got coupons for a half a loaf of bread per person per week — which is one slice a day. We could not live on one slice of bread and had to find other food. Once we bought some sausage made from cat meat. It didn’t taste very good. And my sister went begging at the big slaughterhouse for animal by-product. And sometimes we would get sugar beets to boil and eat. They tasted awful. But we had to eat to stay alive.
Rose with her brother Harry, before the Hunger Winter
My sister Anny decided she would leave with my brother Harry and I. Anny was 21, Harry was 12, and I was 14. We left our coupons home with my parents and other brother, and we began walking to the east side of the Netherlands, where we had heard there was food. After two miles, my brother broke his wooden shoe. It was too cold to walk in socks, so with a string we tied part of the shoe around his foot. In spite of our misery, we walked 17 miles that day, and we ate all the bread that was supposed to last us for a whole week.
Kindness and danger
In Oudewater, the Red Cross sent us to a school, where we waited outside in the cold — with lots of other women and children — for 45 minutes until someone opened the door. We were glad to have a roof over our heads for the night, and they gave us some warm soup. We were thankful for that! We had to sleep with other people on a floor covered with dirty straw that was full of lice.
At 7:00 the next morning we began walking to Utrecht, which was 15 miles away. The weather was clear, and the English fighter planes were shooting at us, so repeatedly we had to lie down on the side of the road to avoid the bullets. (We learned later that the English were actually shooting at German soldiers who were on the road, in between groups of refugees.)
In Utrecht we got a warm welcome at the address we had gotten from my father. It was a man with three young children. He felt so bad that he bought us a loaf of bread on the black market. That was a big help! That night we slept together in a small, single bed — Anny and I beside each other, with Harry’s feet between our faces. But we were so exhausted that we didn’t care.
Providence and protection
We left Utrecht early in the morning, deciding to go to Amersfoort instead of to a second address my father had given us. The address was a bakery, but it was too far out of the way. Thank God we did not go there, because that night a bomb was dropped on that house, killing the baker and his family.
Day 4: On the road again, with empty stomachs.We came to a fork in the road and could go either way — the roads lay parallel to each other. While we were walking on one road, we saw a plane drop a bomb on the other one, just at the spot where we would have been walking. We walked over the bridge of the River Ijssel on the day before that border was going to be closed. We were so glad we had made it!
But we were still homeless and very tired. I felt so hopeless and was about ready to give up. A man from the soup kitchen drove by in his truck and invited us to climb in the back with the empty serving kettles. He told us later it was the expression on my face that made him stop. There was still some food left at the bottom of the kettles that we were allowed to eat. We scooped it out with our hands and ate like animals.
For several more days we continued walking, eventually following the river until we came to the city of Dedemsvaart, and then the village of Balkbrug. The delicious smell of baked bread guided us to a bakery. Anny knocked, but nobody answered. We had heard voices inside, so we kept pounding on the door. After a while, the door opened just a little, with the chain still attached. We asked for a slice of bread, and the door opened wide. There were about six men working there. All of them were underground militia, except the baker. They were hiding from the Germans, and they would have been shot to death had they been found. They gave us some bread and listened to our story. Then three of them went out throughout the neighborhood, asking if anyone was willing to take us in. When they came back, they had succeeded in finding a place for us.
Immediately after the war, planes dropped food to the starving Hollanders
On April 16, 1945, a man came running into the house and told us the Canadian Army was coming in tanks. The German soldiers were fleeing on bikes or running on foot. I went outside when a big black car stopped by our driveway. Six men in black jumped out with guns in their hands. I watched them from around the corner of the house. They took the German soldiers as prisoners.
Harry and I heard there was a group of soldiers holding out at the train depot. We wanted to see if it was true, but on our way there, the tanks started firing at them, and we were right in the middle of it! We ran home as fast as we could and got a scolding for our irresponsible behavior. But it didn’t take long before it was all over. Free at last — after five years of war!
In May, that area of the Netherlands that Hitler was trying to starve to death was liberated. A few weeks later, we sent a letter to our parents and got one back via the Red Cross. My parents and my older brother were all alive!
In June, the Red Cross took all the refugees home. We were transported in a cattle truck, standing up for hours. But we didn’t mind. We were on our way home. Finally, it was over!
Blessing our veterans
When you are thinking about our veterans this month, remember Rose’s story, and say a prayer of thanks for God’s deliverance and protection. And remember that veterans and their families can qualify for benefits that help cover the cost of healthcare and assisted living services. Ask for more information at the Providence Life Services community nearest you.