Hilversum, Spring 1945
The winter of 1944–1945 swept over them extraordinarily harsh, which led to “hunger journeys” to find family or acquaintances who could provide assistance, especially for growing boys and families with many children to feed. Jan had already escaped to their Oom and Tante’s house nearly six months prior, steadily hid away from notice in Friesland. Severe malnutrition plagued the country, as they endured four winters and little provision for many years of stressful war. Diny heard of many cases of starvation, exhaustion, and disease, and eventually thousands succumbed to such a fate.
This winter known as the Hongerwinter (“hunger winter”), or Dutch famine of 1944, arose following a railway strike ordered by the Dutch government-in-exile in expectation of German collapse near the end of 1944. As a result, Germans cut off food and fuel shipments to the 4 million people in the western provinces, a place which had no escape and little opportunity for assistance from Allied troops. By springtime, more than 18,000 people had died, and Hilversum suffered additionally from a 20 March 1945 bombing, which claimed the lives of more than 200. Relief finally came in April 1945.
The city of Hilversum began to feel the rumblings of change in the wet springtime, but Mam shared apprehension against believing the war could be ending, especially after rumors surfaced in September, only to still cope with additional air raids, bombardments, and their long wintertime famine. They later learned the South had been liberated, including Rotterdam, but the North — including Amsterdam and their Hilversum — was forced to face the long winter.
Their salvation finally arrived in the form of 5th Canadian Armored Division troops, who bravely chased out the frazzled, unraveled German Werhmacht Army, and genuine hope was realized on 12 April 1945. Their Queen announced victory and peace for the Dutch people and claimed 5 May 1945 as their Victory Day, as papers were signed in Wageningen of a treaty the day before, with Germany’s admitted defeat. Hundreds of American B-17 bombers roared overhead during those weeks of change, no longer dropping loads of bombs, but food and supplies, much to the relief of Dutch citizens.
The Netherlands was liberated, and citizens marveled at how the Dutch remained strong and determined, with courage through adversity. On Liberation Day, bells across the northern part of the country chimed once again, and activities in each place came to a silent halt, a both moving and powerful end to the war.
Food drops on the 2nd of May provided relief for the starving Dutch citizens, with a white cross and green flares serving as drop-spots for British planes on the important mission of dropping 500 tons of food.
As the war ended, Diny thought of Nico and wished he was alive to witness this glorious day of rescue. To aid the liberation of the Netherlands, the Dutch government requested each family house several Canadian soldiers, and the Dekkers happily complied, since they were so thankful — and relieved — to be alive, and for God’s grace in sparing them. The soldiers shared Jan’s room, as Jan remained in the countryside with Oom and Tante until they could deliver him home to Hilversum.
The two Canadian soldiers living with them post-liberation brought along gifts of chewing gum and toffees for their new Dutch friends, and Diny slowly savored each bite of toffee; chocolate tasted especially sweet after many years without such a luxury. Chewing gum tasted just as wonderful as ever, and she quickly allowed herself to recall little indulgences they lived without for four years.
Shipments of food began arriving and the care packages which airplanes dropped included white bread, butter, and sardines. White bread tasted like cake after years of eating tulip bulbs! The United States also dropped Enriched Sunshine Crackers which saved many lives, as Dutch citizens were severely malnourished.
After the war, they learned of real annihilation and devastation, and Diny brought those feelings before the Lord to ask for healing. She sought to reconcile, a way to move forward, away from hatred and bitterness. Post-war was an intense season of emotion for being alive, shock the war had finally ended, and later, once those initial feelings subsided, incredible gratitude coupled with disbelief and sorrow for those who were lost.
Friends were lost, entire lines of their families, candles of their own generation extinguished without memory or testimony. Grief seethed through their bones over lost potential and festered concerning altered futures.
adapted from In Those Other Lands