Hank And Ellie Vanbeek

Memories of World War II

I interviewed my grandparents, Hank and Ellie vanBeek.

I started by asking them how old they were during the war. They told me when the war began, they were 13 years old, and when the war ending, they were 17.

They lived in the Enschede, Holland, 10 km from the German border. Both my grandparents lived in the same place.

My Oma told me this story: “I was out and while I was walking home, I saw flames from a distance. I told my friend that I had a feeling that it was my home. I was right. My family’s house was bombed. I had nowhere to run. I had nothing but the clothes on my back.” Then she went on by saying, “Then someone came to my father and told him terrible news that my aunt, uncle, grandmother and 3 kids (1, 3, 5 years old) were killed.”

Opa’s outstanding memory was the planes. “I was in Sunday school and the alarms went off. Everyone rushed out. I ran home and I saw bullets shooting from the planes. The airplanes looked like a flock of geese.”

Oma told me, “We weren’t allowed to listen to radios. W had to bring them in. Most people tried to send in old radios that didn’t work so they could keep their newer one, to catch up with the war in other places. My uncle went to concentration camp because the Germans caught him listening to a radio.” My Opa added to that. He said, “We were not allowed to have any copper or brass, including bikes. They needed it all for bullets.”

“My curfew was 8:00. After that, it was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything even 1 meter in front of me. For example: I went for a haircut during the day, and when I came out it was extremely dark.”
Oma also had something to say about the darkness. “I was walking home from catechism and it was dark. I couldn’t see anything in front of me. Then I heard voices directly in front of me while I was walking so I walk around the voices. But there was a bar there, so I flipped over it.” I asked what the reason was for all the lights in the town out. Opa said, “It was to prevent getting bombed.”

Then Oma had an outstanding memory to share. “I was about 15 or 16 when a German came around with a flashlight in the cellar where we slept. But little did the German know, it was a double cellar. Her brother had escaped from Germany so he was hiding in the other cellar attached to the one that the rest of the family was. My brother was on the other side and he was so scared. I, too, was dead scared. I pretended to sleep.
It was a good thing the German didn’t catch him. Part of the reason was because my sister wasn’t home. So when the German came into the cellar, it looked like my mother was coming from the bed, not the door."

Opa’s father didn’t have to go to the army. "He had a pink slip from the doctor because he had major stomach pains. Then he gave the note to people so they could copy them. But if he was caught, he would’ve been in major trouble.”

There was also a shortage of food. My Oma said, “My dad had to hide milk in a vacuum cleaner so people wouldn’t steal it.”
My Opa added, “It took me two days to walk for potatoes (30 km)."
Oma concluded, “It was a terrible time.”

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