Finally, in May 1945 the rest of Holland was liberated. It took some weeks until the news came that my mother would return to Eindhoven. I could not wait for that day to come. I was a nervous wreck when Oom Michael took my brother and me to the train station. I did not know what to expect. Would I recognize my mother? What would I say, what could I say? When she finally stepped off the train nobody could say a word, nobody said anything. We were all crying uncontrollably. My mother kept on feeling my face and after a long time said: "I don't recognize you. I can't believe that you are my little Freddy." She kept repeating that. I did not know what to say. I just stood there, all choked up. Of course, she could not recognize me. When we were separated, more than two and a half years earlier, I had been a chubby young boy with rosy cheeks. Now I was taller than she, I wore glasses, my face was still ashen and rather thin and with a five o'clock shadow and I wore old disheveled, passed down clothes which did not fit me too well. And I was a man! Not her little Freddy any more. Jacques was even taller but he had not changed that much. After a while we calmed down somewhat and we left the station with our arms around each other.
Again, my life changed completely. Somehow we had to get together and start our family life all over again, this time without the help of my oldest brother, Hans, whom we did not expect ever to see again. Only my mother continued to keep up some hope throughout her life, that somewhere, somehow, maybe from Russia or wherever, Hans would return. Alas, this was not to be. I do not know from where my mother got her strength and courage but she always, through the most difficult times, remained upbeat and hopeful. She had not lost her sense of humor and she managed to be able to sing and laugh when the occasion was there. She had suffered enormously. She told us her story.
Separated from her family and staying with strangers, she never wavered in her belief that everything would end well. By chance, the apartment where she was living was across a court from the apartment where her brother, Oom Philip Swaab and his family lived. He was made aware of the fact that his sister was hiding in that apartment and once in a while they exchanged some furtive greetings. One day he motioned to her from his window that he and his family were to be taken away by the German soldiers. My mother could follow part of that scene. It must have been heart rendering. I have heard about hundreds of family members and acquaintances who were carted away never to return but I never actually saw it happening. She saw her own brother and his family taken away by the Nazis. I will never be able to fathom the emotions that occurred within her at that time. Needless to say, we never saw or heard from them again. She also suffered real starvation from September 1944, when I was liberated until May 1945 when she regained her freedom. She told us how she had walked along the railroad tracks in the hope of finding little scraps of wood or bits of coal to heat the house during the long, cold Dutch winter and how, in the spring, they went into the fields to look for tulip bulbs and dandelions to still the hunger pains they had. There was absolutely no food available to them. She believed that many of the people would have died if the war had lasted much longer.
But, there were also some very happy days for her. The family which had risked their lives to save my mother's life, the Koens, were a simple but wonderful and strictly religious, Catholic family. They adopted my mother as if she was one of their own. One of the daughters, Ria, who might have been my oldest brother's age, was an opera singer. Needless to say, Mother spent many happy hours coaching her and rehearsing arias with her. I am sure that the fact that there was a piano in the house, was a great comfort for Mother. Ria's younger sister, Dora, was a happy-go-lucky young lady who, I am sure, often must have livened up the house. Later I will tell you more about these two sisters.
But now, this was all behind us. We had a family again, a truncated one but a family. However, we had nowhere to live. We had lost our house and everything else. We had absolutely nothing, no house, no furniture, no pots, pans, dishes, cutlery, only some rags for clothing and no money. Zero! Where to start? For a while I still had to stay with the Family van Dam. Then Ms. Tinbergen came to our aid. She had a friend and colleague, Mr. Bergman who was an artist. He had a garage converted into an art studio. We could stay there for as long as was necessary. I do not know whether it was rent free or that somebody paid the rent but we stayed there for six months. Here is how we lived: it was a narrow room, about twenty feet long with only one small window which my mother covered with a piece of cloth somebody must have given her. On two crates we placed a borrowed bed-spring, without a mattress bottom, and a thin quilt on top. There is where I, already fifteen years old, slept with my mother. Jacques slept on the floor. Then we had an upright crate, which became our table and a couple of folding chairs. Jacques had to sit on another crate. There was a little sink with a small counter on which we placed an electric single burner. I do not remember a toilet or shower in that small garage so we probably used the facilities of Mr. Bergman's house or, possibly, we took sponge baths. We had no refrigerator or icebox so the little food we had was stored in boxes under the sink. But we managed.
People donated old clothes to us and my mother sewed things together, piece by piece, to give us something halfway decent to wear. After a few weeks we really looked rather nice, so much so, that we had the reputation of being rich. And my mother, the wise woman, would say:" Keep them guessing. Don't say yes or no. It is nobody's business. Just keep your head up high. You have nothing to be ashamed of. And keep them guessing....!". Well, that is exactly what I did. We were proud of every little improvement in our way of life. Even though we had nothing, we never felt poor or deprived. Later in life, talking to friends about this time of my life, I always said: "We were not poor, we just did not have anything." That is how we felt and that is how we survived a very difficult time without it leaving any scars.
About a half year later a law was passed: people with large homes had to share them with families without homes. And so we moved upstairs into a lovely house in a fancy neighborhood, where we normally could not have afforded to live. I was not aware how the owners of the house felt about it and I do not know whether they received money from my mother or from the Dutch government. I suspect the latter because my mother had no way of making a living. She gave some piano lessons but that was not enough for rent and food. But we moved in. It was not much of a move because we still did not own much. However, little by little our small upstairs apartment started to look like a furnished place. We probably received some furniture and other items as gifts. I do not remember anything about that. I was very much involved with my own problems and Mother never burdened Jacques or me with her troubles. I do remember that she decided one day to call on the people who lived in our pre-war house. As she was let in she saw many items which were ours from before the war. After some bickering, the new occupants of the house agreed to give us a few of our belongings. It was not much. I remember a picture, a reading lamp and a crystal wine bottle and some other little knick-knacks. But it was an improvement and it must have meant a lot to my mother to have some mementos from her pre-war life.
September was approaching and it was time for me to start school. My mother requested an appointment to speak to the son of Anton Philips, the founder of the Philips Gloeilampen Fabriek. When she spoke to him she reminded him of Hans who had worked in his chemistry lab during the war and she told him that he had not returned after the war. As a favor she asked that Jacques and I would be admitted to the Lorentz Lyceum, a very exclusive school, mostly for the well-to-do people of Eindhoven. He agreed and so I was one of the fortunate ones to go to that excellent school. I chose the Gymnasium which prepares one for future university studies. Thanks to the good services of Ms. Tinbergen I was only one year behind and finished the six years of Gymnasium in four years instead of the usual six. The curriculum included, besides Dutch, English, French, German, Latin and Greek, mathematics, chemistry, biology, Dutch and world history and some sports. I was an average student. I never failed a test but I had to study hard and for many hours. It never came easy to me. But I passed from one year to another without failing.
A bigger problem was my social life. I had a terrible inferiority complex. I had a hard time talking to my peers, male and female alike. I remember walking a young lady home, she on a bike and I walking next to her. I liked her very much and I was trying to get better acquainted with her. I really did not have much to say to her. She was very pretty and one of the most sought after girls in school. She was very gracious. She did not insult me in any way or make me feel out of place but I knew I was. Needless to say, that was our last rendez-vous!
Somehow, as the years progressed, I became friends with
four classmates, Kees Sparling, Henk van Amerongen, Lo Roggeveen and Hans
Schellekens. We met regularly and discussed the latest events and school
happenings. We also did some hiking and camping with one or more of them,
especially with Kees Sparling, who was an Eagle Scout and a top student
at Lorentz Lyceum. After graduating from the Gymnasium I lost touch with
all except with Hans Schellekens who became my life- long friend.
|When I was about sixteen years old I decided that I wanted
to learn how to play the flute. Why, I do not know. My Uncle Philip had
been an excellent flutist. Before the war he had been the first flutist
of the Residentie Orchestra in Den Haag. He had played under the baton
of famous conductors, such as Mengelberg and Toscanini and I remember that
we often listened to concerts on the radio and my mother used to say: "That
flute solo is played by Uncle Philip." I also had seen a professional picture
of him, a very handsome, tall man with a mustache, standing straight and
tall with his silver flute in his hands. Today, still, I think of him whenever
I hear flute music which he used to play. So, this possibly influenced
me to want to take up flute playing. Again, my mother helped. She wrote
to Oom Philip's son, Ben Swaab, one of the two cousins of mine who had
survived the war, and asked him if he had his father's flute. He had two
of his father's flutes, one silver and one wooden. He agreed to give them
to me together with a large collection of music which had belonged to his
father. I cannot imagine what must have gone through his mind, when he
gave them to me, to give up these precious remembrances of his father.
I took the flute study very seriously. Mr. Bergman, who had so graciously allowed us to live in his garage studio and who was a very good flutist, became my flute teacher. It took me several weeks before I could get a decent tone out of the flute on which my uncle had played so beautifully. But eventually, after about two years, I mastered the technique to such a degree that Mr. Bergman said that he could not teach me a higher level and that I should look for a better teacher. Again, my mother helped. My new teacher was the first flutist of the provincial orchestra. However, he lived in Den Bosch, about forty km. North of Eindhoven, so every week I hitch-hiked up and down to my lesson. I do not know how I did it but I always arrived exactly on time, even though I often had to walk a mile or more from the place where my ride dropped me off, and I arrived back home in time to practice the flute and to do my homework.
Soon I became an accomplished flutist. I played only classical music and was lucky to receive the music library of Uncle Philip from cousin Ben Swaab. I still remember the tears in my mother's eyes when she saw her brother's handwriting and his name on every piece of music. But not for long. She was so brave and she was so proud of me. Around the same time I was introduced to a gentleman who played the clavichord very well. We would spend many hours every Sunday afternoon playing music by the classical composers. Soon, we were invited to play for groups, in churches and once as background for a local television show. I even got paid for it! That surprised me because I just loved to play and I felt honored that so many people enjoyed my playing. At home we started to form ensembles with other, much older musicians and before we knew it our house was again filled with music, similarly as it had been before the war. Once, while visiting friends in Belgium, I was asked to replace the second flutist of the Antwerp Orchestra who had become ill. I had to sight read that music (It was the "Moldau" by Smetana). I was extremely nervous but it went very well.
And so I was busy all day and every day with my school and flute studies. My social life also started to improve. I gave talks to groups, giving the background of upcoming concerts in my hometown. I would borrow a record of the upcoming concert program and discuss the work and its composer. That meant, of course, that I had to do a lot of reading and preparation for the lectures. This, plus my studies and other activities, kept me busy day and night, literally. I never slept much anyway, so I used my sleepless hours fruitfully.
The time approached for my graduation. Graduating from the Gymnasium came all but easy. I needed some tutoring in Greek and I was very weak in chemistry. However, my weakest subject was geometry. Many times I went to the house of Hans Schellekens who helped me with the problems. To him everything was perfectly clear ( he later became a professor of theoretical mathematics at the university of Utrecht in Holland) but I could not see it, no matter how he tried to explain it to me. Several weeks before the final exam, during which any subject ever studied during the six years of Gymnasium could be asked, I, in desperation, learned the answers to the three most complicated problems by heart. I just repeated sentence by sentence the complicated solution till I remembered the answers to all three problems. That took me many hours of drilling them into my head. Luck had it that, at the final exam, one of these problems was given as the test. Needless to say, I passed the geometry test with a perfect ten, the highest mark! My lowest mark at the final was for English which later became my main language! I was so happy to finish my studies at the Lorentz Lyceum without having to repeat that last year. It also helped to build up my self confidence.
After graduation I could not wait to leave my hometown. Jacques had already left two years earlier when he had finished his high school studies; however it was not his influence which made me decide to leave home. I am trying to think what my thoughts and feelings were during that time. I had no problems living with my mother. We got along fine and I never minded accompanying her whenever we went somewhere. I just felt ill at ease in my hometown. I occasionally went to the synagogue on Saturdays and always during the holidays but it was not the same without my grandfather, father and my brothers next to me. Mainly all the people I remembered from before the war had disappeared and the synagogue was mostly empty. I had no reason to sit in the front where we used to sit. Mostly I sat by myself in the rear. During the holidays there was a lot of crying for the lost families which made me feel very uncomfortable. Mother and I felt that life had to go on and that we should build from the start and not complain too much. Furthermore, I felt uncomfortable with the few Jewish youngsters around me. There was nobody left of my age and Jacques' friends had a light- hearted and easy way of conversing with which I was unable to partake. Physically I also had a problem. It seemed that because of my lack of walking during my years in hiding, I had developed a strange way of moving. Once I was walking with Jacques and some of his friends when one of them remarked: "When Fred goes around a corner you first see his nose, then his head and then the rest of him." I did not become mad. I actually appreciated that he made me aware of it. I started to look at my mirror image in store windows and I saw that he was right; I was bent over and I stuck my chin far out while I was walking. So, I made sure that I gradually improved my posture. Yet it did not help my inferiority complex. Looking back now at the rest of my life I think that I had a need to accomplish something on my own. I wanted to be independent. I was then nineteen years old and, even though I was prepared for college studies, I knew that there was no way we could afford it. I had to earn money somehow. I wanted to be free of everything that seemed to keep me back in Eindhoven. Most of all, I wanted to separate myself from everything reminding me of the war years. My poor mother, who must have felt awful to see the last member of her family leave her, never discouraged me. As a matter of fact, she helped me. She contacted the Koens family, with whom she had stayed during the war years, and she arranged for me to stay with them.
Next -> CHAPTER 5: MY FIRST ADULT YEARS
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