Growing up in the Netherlands during the Second World War, Marleen Pruys’, 80, childhood seriously contradicted the peaceful atmosphere of Heemstede, Haarlem that is found today. Taught to look over her shoulder and check her words by the age of 7, it was a childhood unimaginable for so many today.
“I was six years old when Germany attacked the Netherlands. They bombed Rotterdam flat…The Netherlands’ army wasn’t big enough or strong enough. I don’t think they really expected Germany to attack because [we’d] been neutral in the first World War. This time, they wanted to use us as a stepping stone to England.
In May of 1940, the only thing I knew was that Holland had capitulated. I remember the German army came over the Heemsteedse Dreef with trucks and tanks, singing war songs. My mother sent my sister, Anke, and I to the deli to buy strawberries and cream because “we [wouldn’t] have those again for years.”
“It was a scary time. My father was a part of the underground movement… he felt like it was his duty. My mother didn’t like it; she was so scared. It was all very hush hush. They had certain signs to communicate with each other and nothing was ever discussed when I was around.
Our house was three stories, and in the third floor there was a cavity where the roof kind of [went] diagonally. My father made a room, filled it with a chair, mattress, non-perishables, things like that. It was suddenly ‘my playroom.’ They even moved in my doll’s house, to make it look as though I was there all the time. I didn’t understand [at the time], because I already had a playroom downstairs.
The stairs to the third floor were very creaky, and I remember lying in bed and hearing whispering and people going up the stairs at night. Of course, the next morning I asked who it was- I was told I was dreaming.
However, they were actually Jewish peoplemy father was helping them escape from the Netherlands. They would creep in… I don’t know at what time. We weren’t allowed outside between seven at night and six in the morning, so these people came just before then and would only go outside in the most ridiculous disguises. Eventually they’d walk from Holland to Belgium, to France, to Portugal, to reach neutral territory.
Eventually it stopped because it became too dangerous… but we still had people who came for meetings of the underground. I didn’t know that, of course, I just thought they were people my father knew. My father listened to the radio through the walls?, to the BBC, and he got the news and printed little leaflets. My sister would distribute them in a little bag to to the people in our town that we knew. I’d have to go with her; I was the decoy. I guess it was less suspicious if we were just walking down the street together.
…At night, the resistance would also destroy important documents the German Army wanted: birth certificates, things like that. The Germans had access to these, thanks to Dutch sympathisers, and they were trying to call up people of a certain age for conscription, or forced labour in Germany. The Underground would burn these, rip them up- they destroyed the things the German’s wanted, put booby traps on their trucks, things like that.
When the war ended there was immediate relief. The Dutch flags were put back out; you felt as though you could do and go where you wanted- you could be out at night; it didn’t matter anymore.
However, the thing is, all the people involved, and especially the children, missed out on five years of their youth. For five years we couldn’t do what normal children had done. We had to look over our shoulders all the time, be careful of what we said or our parents could be blamed… In other parts of the world, life had gone on. [Yet in the Netherlands] you lived life on tip toes.