The War Illustrated, No. 219, Vol. 9, November 9th 1945

This H o l hAs the Dakota swung in along the coast an echo from one’s pre-war conscious­ness suddenly returned. It is a beautiful sight, someone had reiterated, to fly low over the Dutch bulb farm sin the spring. But this was the autumn, this was the aftermath o f war, and staring down through the slits in the side o f the aircraft it was difficult to be sure which was the sea, which the land, flooded and ravaged when, a year ago, the dykes, which normally protect the island o f W alcheren, were busted wide open in three crucial places by the R.A .F. Did human beings really live here once ?Harvest their crops, give birth, grow old ?Somewhere beneath that apparently solid sheet o f water ?And then, as I peered more closely, my angle o f vision changed, and I seemed to be staring now into avast mirror, in which was reflected, not the outline o four aircraft, but the shape o f farmsteads, and whole village streets, submerged and crystal­lized beneath the flood. T fit makes an extraordinary picture from the air, it is equally unforgettable, though rather less spectacular, from the eye-level of the human beings who lost all their posses­sions last winter, and now huddle together, on the nearest dry land, refugees within their own little island kingdom. You find them Mat iddelburg, the beauty of whose famous town-hall has been only partially damaged by bombing, and in Vcre, where desperate efforts are now being made to stem one of the breaches in the dyke. In Vere I talked with a farmer who had nothing left but some photographs o f the considerable holding that had been in his family for generations. They invited us into their borrowed kitchen. The wife wore the traditional whitecap, her husband in his dark corduroys had a face that Hals would have delighted to paint. What is it that the younger boy peers at so eagerly in his brother’s hand ashe lounges by the door? A cigarette. And what is it in the centre of the table that the two little girls, with the prominent eyes o f the half-starved, stare at with such wonder? A tin o f cocoa. The farmer, Jacobus David Gideonse, was saying :“We do not hold any grudge against the British for the dyke. It was necessary.” It was necessary. I heard that phrase a hundred times during my visit. Even in The Hague, where there are large wastes of damage, caused by British bombing and again, in Arnhem ,where after the avalanche suddenly descended from the skies, and this pretty, harmless town became a battlefield, they had the bitterer aftermath o f seeing those of their houses which were still standing stripped and pillaged. I have been to Arnhem and seen whole roads o f houses without a st:ck o f furniture between them. Who Will Pay for Allied Damage ?So one began to understand what Total Occupation has meant for a country whose sufferings have been too little publicized, if that is the right word to use. One began to understand why there were so many gaps between the tramlines in Amsterdam —“last winter they tore up the woodblocks for fuel and the floors o f their houses, both here and in Rotterdam ,even the lavatory doors ”—and why, when we went to pickup a guide for a few hours, his small son clung to the car handle, and wept bitterly. The only cars the boy had known belonged to the enemy. If such a car arrived at your door and your father left with strangers, you never saw him again. But those were the only tears I witnessed. I heard no whining, no demanding, no expressions o f self-pity: I saw no holding out of hands, even for cigarettes. mid Need# MSy o p J >FREY W INN A S a gesture of admiration for our sorely tried Dutch wallies, j gladly reprint in “The War Illustrated ”this •brilliant article, slightly abridged, whose author generously gave all publishing rights to the Help Holland Council. W e have remitted a substantial sum to th iir Fund in recognition of Mr. G odfrey W inn’s action .—Editor. Just over the border into Germany much of the domestic loot was taken. It is still there today. And the Dutch ask naturally :when is it to be returned? That question and one other were constantly on their lips. Who is going to pay—especially for Allied damage ?For instance, that farmer at Vere asked, not unreasonably, from whom would he—and al! the others—receive compensation? “First they said the Germans would p a v then it was the British now 110 one seems to know .”Even Rusty Nails are Precious Tn any case, astronomical sums in a vague future mean less—so much less— than a ploughshare in your hand this very minute. The men are coming back from incarceration in Germany to find their families in districts near theM aas living in chicken-coops. They want to start rebuilding at once, and they are helpless because in whole villages the Ger­ mans have not left a single hammer behind. (On the waterfront at Rotterdam I watched a port official, with idle time on his hands, searching among the rusty rubble for nails.) While the dearth o fall agricultural instru­ments is so acute, film “galas ”arc held in aid o f the peasants. Admittance is with a novel coin. A tool. A spanner. A pair of pliers even. A rake. “Is soap, then, rationed in your country ?”(Their own ration, I discovered—after three years o f no soap at all— is for two months one half o f what we receive each month.) I got tired o f answering such questions, and exasperated, too, until I came to the realiza­tion that in the whole of Holland is not to be found a single English newspaper, review, or recently published book on sale. This, in contrast with Brussels and Paris, where the kiosks are piled high with news from England. Yet many more ordinary people in Holland speak our tongue and would like to think our way still, if they only knew what way it was. The new decree, recalling the old currency, was being received everywhere 1 went by all classes o f the community with satisfaction, and, indeed, acclamation. The honest will have nothing to fear, while those who sought greedily to benefit by the scarcities of Occupa­tion are struck off the pay-roll at last. It is thought that there will be many prosecutions but many more secret bonfires. "You can cleanup your currency, but that does not fill your shops with goods. I walked through the square at Breda, and was almost deceived by a giant cheese—a beauti­ful example of modern plastic art. Only the flowers are real, the flower shops piled with outsize blooms o f gladioli, and huge waxy dahlias, possessing all the colour that the pale ghosts o f passers-by lack. While the final irony was that the flowers were so cheap that everywhere we drove we saw them in the windows the wide windows o f thew orkm en’s dwellings, so attractively designed that you could not designate them slums, even down by the docks at Rotterdam ,even in Plarctstraat, where I spent an afternoon going from house to house with a young Red Cross doctor. One remembers the mother, just back from hospital—“ starvation made their limbs swell page 419 like dropsy ”my companion said— upholding her two babies to the open window and the sun. One remembers young Johan Peperzak at No. 55, dressed in a cut-down Canadian uniform ,complete with three stripes on the arm (but this w asn't a children’s fancy-dress party, this was his only suit) and most o fall, one will remember the family that lived 011 the ground floor at No 44. Today their living space is one room, because none o f the other floors are left. So what will they burn this winter ?What clothes will they wear when it is really cold, I thought, fascinated by the two little girls, in one corner, solemnly making dolls’ clothes of the last scraps, as clean as their own cotton- thin, m uch-patched dresses. A s though she could sense what was in one's mind, their mother, with a rough gesture, pulled them towards her, and showed us their bare chests. “You sec, no lice, no vermin,” she cried with passion and anger. “But they cannot togo school because they have no shoes, no coat. And my eldest daughter cannot take a place as servant, for the same reason.” In the ensuing silence my eyes went past the group to the table where, aloof and impersonal, stood yet another vase o f white gladioli. Outside in the street again, 1 reminded my companion o f the stack o f garments, col­lected by the Help Holland Council, that I had seen an hour before being sorted in a warehouse down by the blitzed docks. He explained that first the victims o f the Allied battlefields, the refugees from the far-off flooded areas must befitted outwith some­thing and when I was not altogether con­vinced, he added that so far, despite, all that voluntary organizations in Britain and America are doing, only ten percent o f the immediate help needed was being received. Cabbage and Thin Soup a Luxury Ten percent. That is a fact, checked and counterchecked. Here are some more. Last winter one bulb grower alone in Haarlem sold 2,500 tons o f bulbs, crocuses for coffee, daffodils and hyacinths for fodder, tulips for human beings. (“They taste alike sweet swede, and aren ’t bad if fried in fat, if there is any fat.” )In Amsterdam last Sunday, at the “best ”restaurant, our lunch consisted o f cabbage and a little thin soup. I am sorry I cannot offer you any salt, our host said, but I haven ’t the coupons. Auto­matically one looked down for apiece of bread to crumble that wasn’t thereA/T ci:r if u l l they old city has been spared much bombing, and its serene autumn loveliness was assuaging one’s stomach, when suddenly there came into view a sight that is all too common today in liberated countries. One more hotel turned into an Allied leave centre, and therein the window, guzzling away, were a frieze o f happy warriors, tack­ling the Sunday joint, piling their plates, and spreading several pats o f butter on their bread. 1 know now why from time to time respectable citizens long to throw a brick through the window. What must bethe feelings o f those who pass that way everyday and always lunch off cabbage !As you approached the Rijks, you saw them in a queue a quarter o f a mile long it seemed, waiting in their shabby Sunday best for their meal. At last there is space for another batch inside, and now, too tired to stand anymore, they flop down on the rows o f benches in the improvised gallery, whereon the walls all the Rem brandts in H olland—salvaged from their hiding-places in the sand-dunes—aie gathered together today for the first time under the same roof. It is good to have that as one’s final memory.
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