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Posted on Dec 4, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like, War College

Life During The Dutch Occupation – Part 1

By Joeri Teeuwisse

Life During The Dutch Occupation – Part One

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The sun is shining and birds are singing, this should be a lovely summer’s day, but it isn’t. Ahead of me on the road I see the German checkpoint, my daughter’s grip on my hand tightens. The German soldier now sees us walking towards him, I know he must be suspicious, why would a woman be wondering around a dangerous area near the front with her daughter?

When we approach the checkpoint he stops us, “Papieren Bitte!” he snarls at us. Even though I am used to the way these soldiers talk to us it still sends shivers up and down my spine. I give him a friendly smile while my daughter pretends she is only interested in her teddy bear. We are both very scared but there is no turning back now.

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The German asks us what we are doing here; don’t we know the Allied soldiers are nearby? Yes of course we do but I really must visit my poor old grandmother who lives nearby, she is sick and has nobody to look after her. The German seems to believe my story and after a quick look at our ID cards he asks us to open our suitcases.

It doesn’t take him long to see we are not carrying anything we shouldn’t and he gestures us to move on. We make sure he doesn’t notice our sighs of relief.

As soon as we are out of sight my little girl hands over her teddy bear, I remove the microfilm from the bear’s sweater and quickly we continue our journey, not to Granny but to our secret contact who needs the information to prepare the attack on the local German stronghold. As we walk off I feel like a weight has fallen of my shoulders, I can breathe again but I can’t stop my hands from shaking. I am glad we got trough yet another checkpoint but I also feel guilty for using my daughter to bring my mission to a successful end.

As we walk away the German keeps following us with his eyes, as soon as we reach the woods at the edge of the field the public cheers and applauds.

The girl who played my daughter and I walk back to the German soldier, we laugh and shake hands, another performance that went the way it was planned. This was not a life-threatening situation in 1944; it was a Living History display a few years back.

I am a 33-year-old woman living in Amsterdam, for as long as I can remember I have been interested in World War II , especially the plight of the civilian population in occupied Holland. After studying the subject for years I decided to set up a Living History group specialized in portraying the Dutch civilians during the war, most living history events place the emphasis on the soldiers, weapons, vehicles or the US and UK home front. I felt the people who the war was fought for and over deserved some attention as well.

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In our group we aim to be as authentic as possible, we take authenticity as serious as some of the better military Living History groups. Everything has to be just right, from the paperwork in our wallet to the money in our pocket. Besides setting up this Living History group I also started a Historical Consultancy about the 1930′s and 1940s, we provide museum, film and television productions and schools with information about the era we care so much about. And because my home is also our office it looks exactly like a wartime house, people compare visiting me with time travel. So for the last couple of years my hobby, my work and my life evolve around the Second World War.

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Living History or re-enactment in the Netherlands is getting bigger and bigger, there are quite a few groups and recently people re-enacting German soldiers are being allowed to take part in events as well. In countries that were once occupied people are very careful about what we portray, it is still a very sensitive subject.

At events we try to show what life was like for Dutch civilians, we portray ordinary people trying to get on with their lives, getting used to the blackout, air raids, German soldiers everywhere, ID cards and rationing. Besides ordinary civilians we also take time to educate the public about the Dutch resistance and its role during the occupation.

I think that in the Netherlands Living History events are more about education then entertainment, we feel we have a duty to tell the next generation about the past, tell them about things we feel should never be forgotten.

The occupation of the Netherlands is a story on its own. Of course most people know Anne Frank and the battle of Arnhem but few know anything else about this tiny little flat country next to Germany. Outside of the Netherlands few people know about the February-strike, the underground press, the many volunteers in the Waffen-SS, the armed resistance, the hunger winter and the many other things that happened here. Sadly many Dutch people don’t know much about these subjects either, history apparently isn’t cool these days.

Having family members who fought on both sides helped kindle this passion for World War II history, but the war is hard to avoid over here. I live right in the heart of Amsterdam, the old Jewish Quarter to be precise, surrounded by monuments, plaques and statues telling me what happened in a certain house or on a certain corner of a street. Every single day I walk past the building where the Jews were held before being send to concentration camps, I walk past the statue celebrating the February-strike, I see where German soldiers mistreated prisoners, where resistance fighters were shot. The house I live in once was home to a Jewish family of 5, all were murdered during the war.

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Because of my work I have now met and interviewed former resistance members, Jewish people who went into hiding and ordinary civilians. They feel they have to keep the story alive; it has to be told even after they are gone. I would like to share what happened in my country during the war, the famous stories but also the stories most Dutchmen don’t even know. Things I have learned while talking to eyewitnesses but also some of the things I have experienced myself working on WW2 films and TV program, in museums and schools. I hope you will enjoy reading my stories as much as I look forward to writing them.

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Miss Joeri

www.joeri.net

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