Mr Henry Versteeg

Mr. Versteeg: So you have to know when the war starts?
Rudy: Yes, so that we learn first-hand from you and listen to your story. So how old were you during the war?
Mr. Versteeg: How old I was? I was seven about seven years old when the war started and it took five years. I was twelve, twelve years old when it ended. Twelve, thirteen. Twelve to thirteen. Twelve to thirteen years old roughly.
Rudy: Where did you live during the war?
Mr. Versteeg: Where I lived? Enschede. Just a minute, I’ll show you… Ok let’s see. There is Holland. Holland is not that big by the way. No its 200 kilometers this way and a little bit further that way. But where I came from is right over here. Enschede. That is the way it is spelled. And I was to be exactly… see this is Gronau and there is the Germany already, this is the German, the German border. See this is Germany. See so we where living outside of the city, the city itself we were living approximately right there just right almost to the border there right by the border that little round thing there that is about where we used to live. Close to Gronau see this is Gronau, that’s Germany. That’s where I came from.
Rudy: So right close to the border?
Mr. Versteeg: Close to the border, we were I think about only three kilometers, three kilometers from the border. But then we were outside of the city. We were right in the country. The city was a little bit further away.
Rudy: Did you have to move for any reason during the war?
Mr. Versteeg: Did we have to move? No, we didn’t move. As a matter of fact, when I was just a kid, we lived right on the road to Germany. It was called ‘the road to Germany’. We were living on the road to Germany. That road was specifically marked, the name of the road was Knalhutteweg, the road to Germany. That road went straight into Germany. That was where we were living
Rudy: Were the Germans in your area a lot?
Mr. Versteeg: Oh ya, oh ya. We had a country school that was a school in the country, where we were living. The school was approximately about a few hundred meters way, that far away. Was a country school, and that school was practically occupied with German soldiers the whole wartime through and the war lasted 5 years. The war in Holland started in 1940, the 10th of May. That’s when the Germans invaded Holland. The real war actually, the real war actually started on the first of September 1939. That was when the real war started. That was when Hitler invaded Poland and that’s when England, the allies so called, we were all ally countries, like England and France and Belgium and Holland. They were all ally countries. They declared war if Germany was going to invade Poland, they would declare war. And that is exactly what happened, he invaded Poland on September the 1st 1939. So the official war started at that time. But then Holland got invaded on May 10th. That’s when the war started in Holland. And we were one of the first ones in because we very close to the border. The first German I ever saw was a German soldier on his motorcycles with a sidecar. They came through our street that was the first one I saw when I was seven years old. I was just about to go to school to grade one. I missed school during the war because my school was also a Christian school from our church and it was in the city. I had to walk. If I walked slowly it would take me almost an hour not quite. I had to walk to school everyday when I was a kid. The first few years the school was okay. But then in 1943, we had a bombarding of bombs that flattened my school. Luckily enough there were no classes at that time. See Enschede got bombed an awful lot because there was a military airfield on the opposite side of the city from where we were. So the Germans had their warplanes out there and the allies the English of course they tried to bomb that airfield quite a bit. Those bombs were not very accurate sometimes, cause we got quite a few on the city. And one time there were two major bomb raids. One was the 10th of October. There were all those heavy bombs, five hundred pounder. Big bombs. And there was one on the 22nd of February. They were all those firebombs. Small little bombs that when they hit the ground they could cause a fire. I remember I had no more school during those years cause we got bombed quite a bit. Because we were just in the line where the planes would come over always, the allies the English going into Germany going to bomb Germany. Because Germany got bombed an awful lot. Sometimes, the trouble was sometimes, the German fighter planes on the airfield from Enschede they got up and tried to shoot down the planes from the allies. Some of those bombers from the English had to let those bombs go right on the city. Our city got whole subdivisions wiped out and a lot of people died.

I was pretty close one time. I was with a friend of mine from the neighborhood. His brother was just a little kid, and we walked down to the barbershop in the city. We hadn‘t had a bombing in quite sometime. So we went to the city to the barbershop. We were sitting in the barbershop, and there was an old man sitting beside me with only one leg. He was waiting for a haircut also. And he was just telling me that he had lost his leg in the bombing raids. When he was saying this, planes were coming over us, and he said that we were lucky we didn’t have many bombings for a while and right when he said this, and there came a bomb. You can here them go because when they come down they really whistle. The barber yelled at us to get on the floor. We all did and the bomb came down a block away. The big window in the front of the barbershop blew out. And during this whole thing we had forgotten my friend’s little brother in the highchair. Luckily no one got hurt. And I tell you I was pretty scared. My friend and I grabbed his little brother and ran as fast as we could home.

When a bombing was going on an alarm goes off warning the people to go in shelters. I don't know how strong the shelters were. They were good for shrapnel but probably not to good for bombs. Those bombs were pretty big, 200's, 500's. They could wipeout a whole house. My dad always said that if there was a bomb warning during school I was to run straight home. Because the teacher told us to hide under our desks. That probably won't do much if a bomb hit the building. As soon as I heard that alarm, I ran as fast as possible back home because in the country was the safest. Then later on there was no school. I missed almost two years of school

Now if you looked out the front of our house you could see the country school and the Germans were in that school. That school never got bombed cause it had an excellent cover from the trees and could barely be seen from the air. The Germans used that school as a resting place for troops. When the troops were tired they could rest and new troops would go out. We had the Germans all over the place, like our whole neighborhood had officers in their houses too. If you had those German officers, they don't want to sleep in the same room as their privates. The Germans were a bit arrogant. So they demand from those people a place to sleep and you had to give them what they wanted. If you don't, they'll just lock you up or shoot you. There was one thing about this. It was that all the houses in our neighborhood had German officers but not us. My dad was pretty smart about it and because he had grown up in Gronau, he could speak very good German to them. And that was a bit of an advantage in those days. There’s one thing about the Germans: they were so scared for diseases and illnesses. And my grandmother was staying with us because my grandfather had passed away in the first year of the war. My dad knew this, the Germans were scared of sickness, so he said ‘I don't want any Germans in the house so if the Germans come to the door and demand room’ then he told his mother, she was pretty old, to look pretty miserable and do a lot of coughing to look and act pretty sick. So my dad would speak German to the soldiers and tell the Germans, 'I’m sorry but my mother here is a very sick woman and I actually don't have room for you cause she is also here.' then my grandmother would come to the door coughing like crazy. 'Oh no oh no' they would say and just take off. We always had new troops coming in and that trick always worked.

About that time also we were hiding my cousin. My cousin was in that dangerous age, he was 18 years old and that was a dangerous age at that time. The Germans would pick up guys like that to work in Germany under slave in those factories. But he was in the resistance group. He was part of the KP group and that group was dangerous. They would break in to offices and steal rations cards for the people they were hiding to feed them. We hid him for a whole year but he got restless because he wanted to do more action. He was in the group that came from Rotterdam and there was a traitor in that group and the Germans picked up a lot of his group. That is why he stayed with us. We hid him by the chimney right behind the woodpile.

The Germans were always looking for people to work for them. The soldiers would go into all the houses to search for anybody they could find. But they always came just up to the school never behind it and we were living behind it so we never had any searching because the whole neighborhood had German officers in their houses, so there was no use to search those houses because there were Germans in them. So we were actually pretty safe from searching

And I saw someone shot. I was walking on a road and not far away a policeman, who was also a Dutch collaborator for the Germans, was biking down the bicycle path and he passed me and all of a sudden he fell off his bike. When I got there, there was a big puddle of blood. I kept walking, but I never heard the shot. It was a silencer. A gun with a silencer. Somebody must of biked up behind him and shot him. The bad thing was that the Germans picked up about 15 men and when the resistance killed one of them they would pick one out of the jail and shoot him because one of them was killed. Just some innocent people with nothing to do with the war. There was no food in the stores. It was pretty scarce. Lucky for us our neighbor had a farm and my dad was a good friend with them so we got some food. We raised rabbit for food, so my dad had me go out and kill a rabbit for food once in a while during the wartime. Sometimes my dad would ask me to get some potatoes for supper, so I would take my bag with me and go out and crawl threw the fields so no one would see me. By the way, this potatoe field was for the Germans to ship back home. So actually, I was not stealing them because it was our land and our potatoes.

I almost go shot once though. I was out with my friends picking up newspapers that the English had dropped overnight and would deliver them to the neighbors. So that morning the front page had a picture of Hitler on his knees with Winston Churchill’s foot on his neck. My friends and I were laughing at the picture but that bicycle path, which was dirt so you don’t here anybody coming. All of a sudden a German solider came up behind us and was reading the paper over our shoulder. He stopped us and grabbed my shoulder and turned me around and grabbed the paper out of my hands, ripped the paper and stomped on it. I not sure what he all said cause it was in German but the only thing I did understand was that he could shoot me. And boy was I scared. He was mad but he let us go because we were just kids.

I remember during the night, my dad threw me out of bed in the middle of the night and told me to get out of bed and get outside in the ditch. There the ditches were a lot deeper than the ones here. And there was a huge fireball coming straight for us and the Germans happened to shoot one done from below in their searchlights. But it went over our house and landed still another kilometer away and our house just shook and the front window broke. In the morning I went straight there but you couldn’t get too close. They kept you away because all the men had died but two had jumped out.

Another day, the Germans had a train on the railway running into Germany about a few kilometers away full of oil. The resistance put on the radio with contact with London telling them that the train was loaded. During the daytime, three spit-fighters came over and flew to where the train was and all three in row like an air show pulled the plane straight up and came down again and fired at the train with 20mm bullets. They went around about four times. The thing burnt for a whole week.

We got liberate on April 1st 1945 tanks were going around the city on what we called the round road, the Canadians and it was just like the perimeter here it was not far away from where we lived the Canadian troops encircled the city with tanks and trucks. We went out right away when we heard about this because the Germans had disappeared. On our shed we had a German machine gun that was continually shooting, and a cannon on the corner of our dirt road and the road to Germany. A .88. That was a mighty cannon that destroyed many tanks. My dad opened all the windows in the house because of all the banging of the bombs would bust all the windows. Our front window did break but not from a bomb but a English Lancaster that had been shot down.

When we got liberated we were in the basement, not really a basement but more a cellar. We were in there, about 10x10, with 17 people in there: friends and family from inside the city. We also had our dog down there and it was my job to keep the dog quiet because the Germans were walking right by our window.

But then there was a one-seater airplane that was really light, built out of wood and canvas. The Germans never dared shoot at it. That little plane was in contact by radio to the tanks on the round road telling them where exactly the Germans were. There was one tank that turned off the round road toward the German cannon. He only fired once but missed the cannon by just less than a foot right threw the hydro pole, which was right next to the German cannon. The Germans got so scared they just ran away. There were a lot of shell lying in the ditch and I picked up the few copper ones cause the rest were basically iron. I took the copper ones home and filled them with water and played tunes on them. I drove my parents crazy and finally my dad took them away and probably sold them to the scrap yard. That was all the excitement I had during the wartime but food was scarce. Luckily we didn’t have to eat tulips.

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