During the summer of 1942 Oom Michael was a frequent visitor. Mother and he would have quiet talks. Later we realized that they were making arrangements in case we were in danger of being picked up by the Germans. Some time in the fall of that year we were told by Mother to each pack a little suitcase with things we might need in an emergency. And so I packed a little brown suitcase with some clothing and toilet articles and a few of my favorite books. By this time nearly every telephone call brought bad news and we always listened with great anxiety to the messages.

Some time in October, I believe it was the 11th of October, the phone rang. It was in the early evening. There was no doubt that there was great apprehension while my mother was talking. When she hung up she had tears in her eyes and told us to get our suitcases, that this was the time we would have to go into hiding, or "onderduiken" in Dutch.

How can one describe the emotions of a twelve year old boy when he has to leave the security of his home, say good bye to his mother and brothers, not knowing whether we would ever see each other again. Within minutes Oom Michael came and told everyone what had to be done. I must have been in a daze because I have absolutely no recollection what he told me. But after hasty farewell kisses I left the house and climbed, for the first of many times, on the back seat of Oom Michael's bike with the little brown suitcase squeezed between me and the hulking back of the man who was risking his life and that of his family to save my life. It was already dark and I had no idea where I was going even though I knew our city very well. It seemed to take forever till we pulled up in front of a large two story house. Soon the door opened and we were invited in. Then a routine followed that would be repeated many times during the following two years. First Oom Michael stressed upon me that I had to obey whatever my hosts would tell me, that I should be polite and behave properly at all times. Then a conversation took place which really shook me up: what I would have to do in case I was discovered and had to flee. The man of the house showed me my room upstairs and pointed at a window. I would have to climb out of that window, crawl over the roof, jump on a tool shed, then somehow climb over a fence into an alley and run as fast as I could without looking back. I would have to hide and take care of myself for a few days and then carefully try to contact Oom Michael. I was petrified! First of all, I had a great fear of heights. I do not think I could have done all that what was explained to me. Fortunately, I was never put to the test but I did not know it then.

And so, a new life started for me, without my family and mostly without anyone familiar and with a strange routine. First of all, I was told to remove my shoes so that neighbors would not hear footsteps when nobody else was home; also I could not flush a toilet unless people were home. During the day I was allowed to stay downstairs with the family but not at night when the lights were on , because in Holland it is customary to leave curtains and drapes open even when lights are on. Drawn drapes would cause neighbors to ask questions. That meant that I had to eat my supper upstairs in my room because it got dark early.

My first night there was awful. I was so nervous and I constantly listened for unusual sounds, which came along frequently in these strange surroundings. Somehow I did not cry. I seemed to have accepted my fate and made the best of my circumstances. The next morning I got better acquainted with my hostess {the man of the house had left early for work}. I do not remember what we talked about but we talked a lot. I was only twelve years old but I had matured fast. I remember that she had a large record collection which I played frequently, and of course very quietly, during my stay there.

One day followed the other. I adjusted to my new life very quickly but I was extremely lonely. I never seemed to meet the man of the house. Maybe I had to go upstairs before he arrived home from work. It would be that way for most of the next two years, so much so, that I started feeling uncomfortable talking to the men in the families where I stayed. And that feeling stayed with me for the rest of my life. Even today, I find it easier to talk to women than to men.

If I remember well, it was already during these first few weeks that I received an unexpected visitor, Ms. Tinbergen. I knew of her only by her reputation. My older brothers had mentioned her as a very tough German language teacher. To me she sounded friendly enough but later I found out that she was very strict. But now she was talking to me seriously about continuing my studies even though I was in hiding. She gave me some study and work books in different subjects and gave me assignments. I thought that she gave me too much work to do and when she came back a week later I had not nearly finished my assigned work. This time she was not nearly as nice! What was even worse, I received a stern letter from my beloved oldest brother, Hans, in which he lectured me about the importance of my continuing studies. He also made me aware of the fact that Ms. Tinbergen was literally risking her life in order to assist me with my education.

For the following two years Ms. Tinbergen would visit me every few weeks to check on my progress, give me new home work and bring me additional study and reading material. I am forever grateful to her. Even though I missed two and a half years of schooling, I was set back only one year when I returned to school after the war. As of this writing (September 1998) she is still alive and well, well up in her nineties. I always visit her during our frequent trips to Holland.

I became increasingly worried about my mother and my brothers. It was only after a long time, after many months, when Oom Michael finally told me some news about my mother and Jacques ( Hans was still free at that time because he worked for Philips, a contractor for the German army). My mother was living in Den Haag with false identity papers, as a free person and under an assumed name. She was doing well. She lived with the family Koens consisting of an older father and mother and two daughters. One of the daughters, Ria Koens, was an opera singer and there was a piano in the house, so Mother was very pleased to be able to play the piano and coach Ria with her singing. I found out later that they all became very close friends. Jacques, my middle brother, also lived as a free person with false papers. He lived with a farmer in Limburg, in the south of Holland. According to Oom Michael they were both completely safe. I was very much put at ease, although I felt a little unhappy that I was the only one in our family who was in hiding. From then on I heard from Oom Michael regularly how they were doing.
Hans Groenewoudt, my oldest brother.
Circa 1940.  Killed during Holocaust
I want to interrupt the flow of my story to tell you about what happened to my oldest brother during this time. He worked for the "Philips Gloeilampen Fabrieken" and because this factory made things for the German army Jews working there were exempted from being hauled to the concentration camps, at least for a while. During that time he regularly wrote letters to me which Oom Michael brought me. He was a big brother and a father all in one. Unfortunately, half a year later he also had to go into hiding. It seemed that he had trouble staying indoors, so he had to be moved away. I do not know exactly what happened to him. Things I heard I do not want to accept or believe. I was told that, when he finally had to go underground he was taken to a family but that he was restless and after a while could not stay indoors. They tried a different place but the same thing occurred. Finally, he became a danger to the people who tried to save his life. One night he was taken across the Belgian border with the intent of getting him to Southern France and from there into Switzerland and freedom. One story is that they got caught by the Germans and were shot on the spot. Another story is that the underground people themselves shot him because he was a danger to them. That does not matter and it does not alter the fact that he never returned. He disappeared without a trace, never to be heard from again. For me this has always remained one of the hardest things to accept about that whole miserable time. One night I had a nightmare. I was walking on a long bridge and far in the distance was my brother, Hans, walking towards me. Even though we kept walking towards each other we never got closer. I kept calling him and waving to him to come closer but it never happened. I woke up crying for the first time since I had left home. I am convinced that this was the night Hans died. How, I will never know. For years this dream would come back to haunt me. Even many years after the war, as an adult with a family and children, I often woke up at night reliving this nightmare and crying uncontrollably. Anita would ask me what was the matter but I never told anyone, not even Anita, about this horrible dream. Only much later, after the death of Anita, was I able to live with this memory without crying. The worst part of all this is the fact that there is no place marked where he died and no real date of death, only an officially created artificial date for all victims of the Holocaust whose date of death is unknown. I have made an adjustment to this after a great many years and learned to accept it.

In the course of the following two years I had fourteen different "addresses" or safe houses where I would stay two or three weeks, never longer. To most of these families I only went once. I ended up circulating mostly between five families. Oom Michael would let me know ahead of time when he would pick me up. I prepared my little suitcase and early in the morning, usually just before day-break, Oom Michael would come with his bicycle, I would climb on the back and with his one good leg he would pedal fast to my next destination. This was always an anxious time for me. It was the only time I was allowed to leave the house and I could not wait to get to my new place. Freedom was not a pleasurable option for me at that time. Only once did we have a close call. Early in the morning while changing addresses a German soldier approached us on the country road where we were and we could not get away from him. It must have been in the late part of the year because it was just daybreak. Oom Michael told me that if we were to try to escape we certainly would be caught. So, he instructed me not to say a word even if the soldier were to address me. Fortunately he did not. The soldier and Oom Michael exchanged some words in German and we were on our way. I was shaking for many hours; I was petrified.

And so this was my routine: every two or three weeks I went to another place. I asked why this was necessary and he said that in this way nosy neighbors or delivery men would not notice an extra person in the house. By staying in one place, sooner or later somebody might hear something unusual and think that there was a burglar in the house or someone might ask questions. I am constantly reminded of this when I hear about the fate of Anne Frank. She was my age, went into hiding approximately at the same time I did. She and her family were caught. People started to notice things after a while. You can be on the alert constantly only for so long. I am convinced that Oom Michael saved my life by taking the risk to move me to a different address every two or three weeks.

From all the different families who literally risked their lives to save mine I can only recollect two names: the Zwakenberg and the Zijlstra families. With these two families I spent most of the time in hiding and also some time after my liberation. They became like substitute families to me. The Zwakenbergs were one of my first "addresses." They took me in as if I was a lost son. Mrs. Zwakenberg wanted me to call her "Moeder" (mother). I agreed reluctantly but, even though she was a wonderful woman and really treated me like a son, I never felt comfortable doing so. There was also an eighteen year old daughter in the house and even though she was six years my senior we got along beautifully. We had long conversations and she confided in me whenever she had problems with her boyfriends. I really was too young to understand it all but I must have been a good listener. Many a late evening we would sit by an open window, upstairs and out of sight, and had long talks. I almost felt normal. Mr. Zwakenberg often chided me whenever I did something wrong, very much like a father. I was happy that I returned to them more often than to any of the other places. I was in their house when I was liberated in the fall of 1944. I will describe that unforgettable day later.
The many days spent with this family were, relatively speaking, the happiest days of my time in hiding. Even though I spent most of my time in my room on the second floor, I did have regular contact with one or more of the family members during the day and sometimes even during the evenings (they had a living room in the back of the house and out of sight of neighbors). Yet, most of the time I was alone in my room for so many days and so many hours. This was one of the most difficult things for me. Every morning I got up early with the family and I had breakfast with them. I must have had a need to do this, to have a more or less "normal" routine. But what was normal about it? For hours and days and weeks and months and years I was alone, trying to keep myself gainfully occupied. But how many hours can a boy in his early teens study or read? Sometimes I became so restless that I did not know whether to sit, to walk around the room or to peek from behind the curtains at the people in the outside world, going about their ways in a normal, free fashion. I vividly remember the days I spent looking down, from behind the curtains, at the rainy sidewalks, following with my eyes every person as far as I could. I longed to be able to step outside and to join them or to call out to them. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to control that dangerous urge. I felt no jealousy, just a feeling of longing. The seasons passed in an orderly fashion. It made little difference to me whether it was spring or summer or fall or winter. One followed the other and somehow the time passed. I was lonely but not extremely so, I was unhappy at times but not continuously. I must have made an adjustment. I accepted my fate. I was always happy when I went to another "address." It was a change for me and, for a short time at least, I was outdoors in the real world. It is difficult to put into words how I felt during the transfers. I was scared, yet exhilarated. I was thrilled to be out and yet I was relieved when I entered the safety of the new surroundings. I was uneasy during the first few days with an unknown family, yet I was often anxious to get away after a few weeks stay with one family, even with my favorite families. I suppose that I was a confused young man but I got through these difficult years.
During the first year of hiding, Dec. 1942
During the years in hiding, with
my new glasses. Circa 1943.
The second family I remember clearly is the Zijlstra family, Tante Paula and Oom Jan. They were a younger couple without children. The first time I stayed with them I felt ill at ease. They talked so easily with each other and I started to have problems communicating with people (even now, after so many years, I am not good at small talk). They had conversations about different subjects about which I knew little or nothing. They were intelligent people; he was an engineer at the Philips Factories. I just sat and listened to them. When they asked me about my family, I really did not know what to say. And the instructions I received there, as to what I had to do in case of an emergency, scared the devil out of me: jump out of my upstairs window onto a storage shed in their back yard, then drop into an ally, climb over a fence, somehow get through another alley to a street I did not know and then get away as fast as possible. Somehow, it was never clear to me where I would end up after all that. That was one of the many unknowns.

They were sociable people. They often had company and they would all sit for hours talking and laughing in the back yard while I was sitting quietly upstairs listening to all these goings on. Sometimes they would play records. I liked that. They loved classical music which I could hear and enjoy while hiding in my attic room. Occasionally I would try to peek outside and try to see some of the people without being seen myself. I only did that when it started getting dark but I was scared enough not to do it conspicuously. Luckily, nobody ever saw me. It was very hard to control the urge to sneak a peek once in a while. I fear that this urge cost my oldest brother, Hans, his life.

And so, days followed days; weeks, months and seasons went by and one year replaced the next. My routine did not change. I did my studies, did some reading, occasionally was able to play records, but most of the time was spent sitting up or lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. It actually never occurred to me that I could be caught and end up in a concentration camp. I felt that, with patience, the time of my liberation would come. Only once did I think that I had to use my escape route to save my life. It was late at night when I heard a car stopping in front of the house where I was hiding. I heard voices speaking German and then the staccato of the metal heels of the German soldiers. They seemed to come directly to the house. I quickly got dressed ( I always had my clothes ready on a chair next to my bed, a routine I still follow) and rehearsed in my mind the instructions I had received for my escape. Luckily, I was more afraid of jumping off roofs and climbing over fences than I was of these soldiers. They just were dropping off a girl next to our house and left. What would have happened if I had tried to escape? I do not want to think about that. I do not remember any other time that I felt that my life was in immediate danger.

During the last year in hiding things became more exciting and lively for me. Almost every night we heard thousands of airplanes flying right over Eindhoven. For hours there was a constant drone, the sound of high flying aircraft on their way to bombing targets in Germany. We literally cheered them on. Often the Germans, who had a ring of anti-aircraft guns around Eindhoven, tried to catch a plane in their searchlights which were swaying back and forth through the night sky. If they were successful they quickly aimed a second and third searchlight at the plane and started a rapid series of gun fire at the aircraft. Occasionally they hit one and then the plane came screaming down in flames. Some fell very close to our house but from where I looked I could not see it hitting the ground. Those nights were very exciting for me, especially when I could share this time with the family with whom I was hiding.

When I stayed with the Zwakenberg family we regularly listened clandestinely to the BBC overseas news late at night. That was always very special. We listened to the speeches of Churchill and followed the progress of the allied armies in Africa and elsewhere. They also mentioned the bombing raids of the planes we had heard the night before and told about the results of the bombardment and the number of aircraft which were lost. Fortunately, the toll on the allied side was mostly very low.

One night we heard the thrilling news of the invasion at the Normandy beach. I was so lucky that it took place while I was staying with the Zwakenbergs because they followed the progress daily. Mr. Zwakenberg even found a map of Europe of which he made many copies to spread around to his friends. I volunteered to put different colors on the borders of individual countries and to mark where the armies were going. Eindhoven, which is located near the Belgian border is not very far from the Normandy beach if you go by car on today's super highways; but slugging it out with the stubborn Germans it took the armies quite a while to get into Belgium. We followed all their successes and failures daily. Once they crossed the Belgium-France border they could easily have reached Eindhoven in one day. But it took them quite a few weeks. One morning we could clearly hear the rumble of the guns and we expected to be liberated any moment. I was excited but I could not imagine what I would do with my freedom. As it was, the armies were held up at a river near the Belgium Dutch border for more than two weeks. That was the most dangerous but also the most exhilarating time for me. We saw the German Army withdrawing through our streets. The Zwakenberg home was on the main North South highway and I saw little groups of soldiers and sometimes an individual German soldier walking, carrying everything on his back or sometimes they loaded their gear on doors stolen from homes under which they had attached roller skates. What a difference from the noisy, proud German army which had marched so magnificently through my hometown only a little less than four and a half years earlier. The soldiers looked pitiful and I do not recall seeing one of their officers. There was also some shortage of food; there was absolutely no meat, fish or chicken, fresh vegetables, salt or sugar. I was lucky because the Zwakenbergs lived at the edge of town. They knew a farmer down the road who supplied them with eggs and cheese and milk. Bread and potatoes were also available. And so we had a limited menu but we did not starve as happened later to the population in the north-western part of Holland where my mother resided.

One night during the last two weeks of the German occupation we had one of the many air raid alerts. The Zwakenbergs told me to follow them outside to an air raid shelter. I was more afraid to be caught as a Jew than I was of the bombs that now came raining down on Eindhoven. I certainly did not want to be caught now, so close to my liberation. But Mr. Zwakenberg convinced me that nobody would pay any attention to me under those circumstances. He gave me a large blanket which I wrapped around me and we crossed the highway and entered the grounds of a brick factory. The doors must have been unlocked because when we arrived at the main building many people were already huddled inside the enormous ovens normally used for baking bricks. And there we sat for several hours in the dark, the only light coming from a lantern somebody had brought. We listened silently to the explosions and the sirens of the ambulances and the anti-aircraft firing. It seemed like many hours before finally the "all clear" siren sounded and we went back into our house. I had my first small taste of freedom, at least for a few hours in a brick factory oven. It felt extremely strange. I did not feel comfortable at all. I asked the Zwakenbergs if I could go out again. Of course they told me to be patient and that they would tell me when I could. So, back into my room I went, but things would never be the same again. The smell of freedom was in the air. It was only a matter of time.

Then, finally, the day arrived, September 12th, 1944. Early in the morning we heard a distant and constant rumbling which gradually became louder. Suddenly, planes flew high over our part of the city, some pulling gliders, some were light planes protecting the formation. Soon the gliders were released and landed on a field behind our house. A few were shot down, but generally the defenses of the Germans were very weak. Parachutists dropped from some of the planes. It was an exiting time.

My adrenaline started to flow. When could I leave the house? "Not yet, not yet" was the answer. For the first time, after nearly two years in hiding, I was getting anxious. That night of the bombing had given me a little feeling of freedom and now the allies were close! "Not yet." During these early hours the rumbling grew gradually louder. We received the news: the rumbling was the sound of the approach of an enormous army of tanks and armored vehicles, our liberators! They were only a few miles south of Eindhoven! Not much later came the joyous news: it was safe for the hidden Jews to come out! I got permission from Mr. Zwakenberg to go outside. But now I was hesitant. What if things went bad and the Germans returned? I was re-assured that chances were practically nil. The Germans were defeated, they had retreated, except for some isolated small units, north of the rivers (about sixty km. North of Eindhoven) and I should now consider myself a free person. I was fourteen and a half years old. Finally free.

I stepped outside the house. I must have been quite a sight: I had just some old clothes, an old sweater with a hole in the sleeve, an amateur haircut (I had not seen a barber during all that time) and shoes in which I had not walked for nearly two years. I do not remember if these shoes were a proper fit. I only remember that I started walking towards the sound of the approaching army. It felt so strange walking outside in the street. I was in a daze, in a dream-like state. I did remember where to go: straight into town on the main highway. I walked fast, at least it felt as if I walked fast. Many people were walking in the same direction. I do not know whether anybody noticed or recognized me. Probably they were not paying any attention to me. Everyone was anxious to meet our liberators. I just kept walking in a daze toward that sound that now was very intense. I rounded a bend in the highway and there I saw the lead armored car. I do not know who was in that car, I just kept walking and walking for miles meeting all these tanks and hundreds of trucks and armored vehicles. How different was the behavior of this army from that of the German Army when it marched through our town some four and a half years earlier. These soldiers were sitting on top of the tanks, smiling and waving and offering chocolate bars and cigarettes. For a long time I did not approach any vehicle. It was all so enormous and overwhelming and the soldiers all looked so big and their faces so round. They were not underfed like we were. Finally I dared to approach an enormous tank where a soldier bent down and gave me a couple of chocolate bars. Then I walked on and on, for hours. I began realizing that I had walked very far and started thinking of returning but I wanted to see more of that army. Finally I sat down to rest for a while. I was exhausted and dehydrated and my feet were hurting. I took my shoes off. To my surprise and shock, my socks were soaked in blood. In the emotional state I was in I had not felt the blisters on my feet. I was not used to walking in shoes anymore. In this state of mind I had not noticed that the blisters had burst open and that I was now walking on raw flesh.

It never occurred to me to ask for help. There were thousands of people in the streets who could have helped me or I could have asked some soldier or ambulance which was part of the passing troops. I just sat there for a while. After I regained my strength I slowly walked back. You could not call it walking. I limped for a while, sat down for a while and then continued again. It took me many hours in awful pain until I finally arrived back at the Zwakenberg address. It was already getting dark. The Zwakenbergs had started to worry and were very relieved to see me. They told me to take a shower and especially to wash my feet thoroughly. Did that ever hurt! I could not stop the bleeding. "Moeder" put a strip of linen tightly around my feet tearing it off a sheet and, after eating and drinking something, sent me to bed. I could not sleep, no way. I was exhausted and in pain but I was also excited. And there was a lot of noise in the streets: people were celebrating their liberation, singing and dancing all through the night. For the first time in years the street lights were lit. I could also hear the sound of tanks and armored cars turning in front of our house: they were setting up a large military base on the grounds of the brick factory where we had found shelter during the bombing raid a few nights earlier.

Early the next morning I walked across the street to talk to these heroes. To me they all looked to be ten feet tall. They were sitting in their tents or on the tanks, cleaning their weapons, washing and polishing. There was a lot of laughter and singing. I suddenly realized how little joy and laughter I had had for the past few years. It certainly sounded good to me. I could not understand the language they were speaking. The little English I had learned while in hiding was not enough to follow their conversations. They noticed my swollen feet and bloodied bandages and instantly I became their personal ward. The rest of the day I spent in their camp. They washed my feet, put a disinfectant on them and bandaged them properly. And they fed me all day long! I joined them when they ate, and between their meals they fed me chocolate, cookies and candy. I felt like a prince! And they enjoyed having me around. Maybe I reminded them of a younger brother or son. They spoiled me terribly and I let them. I was having a good time and I was free and could move about without fear for my life! Many years later, around 1996, I met a man who told me he had been in Holland in 1944-1945. When I told him that I came from Eindhoven he became all excited. He was stationed there and he recalled a young Jewish boy who had come out of hiding and who needed some medical help with his bleeding feet. I told him that I had been that young boy. Needless to say, we had some reminiscing to do.

The next morning, still uncomfortable and in pain, I hobbled to the highway where the Army was moving North to the rivers. It was moving slowly and once in a while it stopped for a short time. People around me explained to me that there were some skirmishes going on but that everything was all right. After a while this enormous column, which stretched for many miles from south of Eindhoven to many miles north of it, stopped in its tracks. We expected it to move on again but that did not happen. There was a hush over the area, quite different from the victorious noise of the previous day. I learned from people who understood English, that there was some problem at the head of the column. I tried to picture in my mind how there could be something far away that could stop this enormously powerful army, but I could not comprehend it. Later I found out that they were stopped on the bridge near Arnhem, about forty miles North of Eindhoven, a tragedy later described in the film "A Bridge to Cross"(?). From the middle of September 1944 until the middle of May 1945 they were stopped and remained stationed in our area.

A whole new life began for me now. I was free but I had no home. My mother was in hiding in Den Haag (The Hague) and would not be liberated until 1945. I did not know what to do with my newly found freedom. I had no friends my age. I still could not enter school right away. I had no proper clothing for going outside and I was very uncomfortable leaving the house. Except for the frequent visits to the soldiers in the camp across the street, my routine was not very different from what it had been while I was in hiding. Of course, I could now go if I pleased, I could wear shoes(!) but mostly I stayed in the house. Oom Michael arranged for me to stay with the Zwakenbergs part of the time and part of the time with the Zijlstra's. Ms. Tinbergen came more frequently now to prepare me for the day when I would return to school.
One year after I was liberated, August 1945.
I was very thin and I did not look well. I have a picture showing what I looked like and it was not very good. Oom Michael decided that I needed some fresh air and good food and exercise, so one day he picked me up and someone took us in a truck to a farm in the North-East of Holland, in the province of Friesland. This was extremely dangerous because we had to go through areas still occupied by German soldiers. I think that the Nazis were in such disarray that they had no time to notice us. And so we arrived safely at this lovely old farmhouse far away from the busy city life I knew. The closest neighbor was another farmer a mile away. I spent three glorious weeks there helping with the hard work on the farm, the kind of life I was not accustomed to. It strengthened me and that was what Oom Michael had in mind. I did not talk much with the farmers. I had a terrible sense of inferiority and was not capable of having a normal conversation. But they were very understanding and gave me time to spend with a little calf in the field. It was my companion for many hours every day. But early in the morning I had to get out of bed, eat an enormous breakfast with pancakes, home made bread ( I can still smell the aroma of the freshly baked bread) with eggs and bacon (not kosher!), full fat milk with the oat cereal. Then outside early, we walked through the dew wet grass field to get to the cows. The farmer (I do not remember his name) tried to teach me how to milk a cow but I never managed to do it properly. The farmhouse was very old. It had a huge kitchen where we ate our meals which were prepared on an enormous black iron wood burning stove. There was always a large kettle for hot coffee ready. For lunch we had big slices of bread with ham or bloodwurst and for dinner fresh vegetables, lots of potatoes and pork or chicken. Outside it was very cold ( it was probably October or November) but inside it was toasty warm. The kitchen was separated from the cattle barn only by a Dutch door, one that was separated in the middle so that one could open the top half while the bottom half was still closed. You would think that this would make the house smelly but that was not the case. The barn was kept immaculately clean and the straw on the floor was changed frequently giving the barn a dull, sweet smell even though it was full of cattle. Outside lay a large pig, fenced in a muddy area. Occasionally he made a lot of noise. Beyond that there was a dirt road leading to a country road and a fenced area for chickens and a colorful rooster who woke us up every morning at daybreak. After three weeks I went back to my home town looking a lot more fit.

One morning , I was home alone at the Zijlstra house. The doorbell rang. I opened the door and there stood my brother Jacques whom I had not seen for three years. I was totally speechless as if I was seeing an apparition. I was not in the habit of cursing but after a long silence I could only say: "G'dverdomme!", a terrible Dutch curse. And all he could say was: "That is a nice way to greet your brother after all this time!." We both started laughing and crying at the same time. I did not even have the presence of mind to invite him into the house until he said: "Won't you let me in?". After a while he told me how he had survived the war. For a year he had remained at a farm. He had had some problems with German soldiers, he was even arrested once for some underground work he had done, but they never suspected him of being Jewish. He did not look Jewish and that saved his life. After a while there were too many problems with the Germans. Oom Michael found him a place with a family in Utrecht, a university town in the center of Holland. There he stayed until he was liberated. That family was very active in the underground. They published an underground newspaper in which they brought people up to date about the progress of the allied army. They were communists and there was some communist propaganda mixed with the news. Jacques helped them distribute the paper which was extremely dangerous. He seemed to have enjoyed the excitement of that time but he also was relieved when he was liberated and relieved of all danger. I do not remember where he stayed while I was still with the Zijlstra family. He became re-united with the few surviving Jewish boys who were his age. I did not see him often after that.

After several months the surviving Jewish community felt that I should stay with a Jewish family and return gradually to a normal Jewish life. I moved in with a wonderful Jewish family, Mijnheer and Mevrouw van Dam. They were an older, Orthodox couple. He said the traditional prayers every morning. They never tried to force me into religious practices but they sat an example and I am sure that, even though for many years I was not actively involved with Jewish religious life, they had a great influence on me. They spoke Yiddish, a mixture of German and Hebrew, with which I was unfamiliar, but I learned some expressions. They got a real kick out of it when I used these expressions, sometimes incorrectly. She was a very good cook and she managed to fatten me up in a short time.

This was an unnatural way of life but, looking back, I believe that it was an excellent transition time to get me used to living like "normal" people do. I still was ill at ease. I had little or no contact with peers and I had no way of keeping up with their conversation. I was not used to talking to people and especially not to teenagers my age. I felt extremely awkward. And I missed my mother and a normal family life more now then I had done during my years in hiding. Oom Michael often took me to his house which was full of young people, his children (he had nine) and their friends. They played games and sang songs with which I was unfamiliar. They were happy and laughing and joking. I could not do that. I just listened and smiled. I wanted to learn to talk like they did but it never happened. And nobody seemed to make an effort to get me into a school.


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