Shortly after midnight on May 10th, 1940, eight year old Catharina's life abruptly changed forever. Her Father woke her shouting, "Wekker worden, wekker worden! Moeten we nu vertrekken!!" (Wake up, wake up, we have to leave NOW!) In the pitch black of the the wee hours of the morning, taking only what they were able to carry, Catharina, her parents and her little sister began walking west to her Grandmother's home ten miles away. Less than 30 miles away, to the east, the German army was marching into the Netherlands, bringing tanks, artillery and an air force that would, in the following 6 days, drop 10,000 paratroopers and thousands of bombs. This came as a violent surprise to the Dutch people considering that The Netherlands had not only declared neutrality but, Adolf Hitler had publicly expressed his sincere admiration for the Dutch only months before. So much for the integrity of a dictator. Within 72 hours, German troops, tanks and artillery were spread across Holland and Dutch forces had been all but neutralized. The Nazi's gave General Winkelman, the commander of the Dutch army, an ultimatum. Surrender and cease all resistance or have Rotterdam bombed to rubble. In an effort to save the lives of his countrymen, Winkelman surrendered. The Nazi's bombed Rotterdam anyway, killing 30,000 Dutch men, women and children in only 90 minutes. The bombing of Rotterdam was a cold blooded atrocity that the Dutch, to this day, have never forgotten and consequently, served to ultimately create several major resistance organizations that would operate within Holland until it's liberation by the Allied Forces in may of 1945.
The Netherlands, "Holland" was home to 140,000 Dutch Jews and the Germans quickly began the removal of them. Watching their neighbors, friends and coworkers being arrested and forcibly loaded onto trucks, never to be seen again, enraged the Dutch people and quickly eroded any tolerance the Dutch people had left for the Germans. Further economic hardships forced upon the Dutch by Germany spurred the Dutch into action and resistance efforts began to take shape. One of the first Dutch responses was a strike. Public services like trains, street cars, post offices etc., came to a screeching halt. This, of course, was quickly put to a halt by German soldiers. Nevertheless, it was the first significant show of defiance and was effective in identifying a minority of Dutch Nazi sympathizers. As in any society, Holland had it's share of cowards and traitors. Some of them even reported to the Nazi's, telling them where Jews were hiding and locations of resistance safe houses. By 1945, hundreds of Dutch Nazi sympathizers would be assassinated by Dutch resistance groups. 2,000 Dutch men, with the help of the underground, were smuggled out of Holland to join the British Army. Allied airmen were hidden and smuggled back over the English Channel by the Dutch. It is estimated that nearly 300,000 Jews, allied airmen, allied collaborators and other military and resistance personnel were hidden by Dutch resistance groups. The underground press published over 1,000 pieces of resistance literature. By 1943 underground presses had a circulation of over 500,000. They also became proficient in creating false documents and identification to smuggle Jews and downed airmen out of the country. Dutch resistance fighters were successful in sabotaging German equipment, vehicles and fortified positions. Dutch radio transmitters were used to relay German positions and other intelligence relating to German troop movements and operations to military intelligence in London. Much of this information was valuable in the execution of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. By the time allied forces invaded German occupied France, there were 4 major resistance organizations operating within Holland busy providing allied commanders with information such as German unit compositions and locations, locations of German headquarters, locations of German industrial interest, information on controlling members of the Reich and there names and ranks and command, control and communication hubs vital to the Germans. I think we all know how this ultimately turned out for the Hitler's Third Reich.
It is imperative that we recognize who the bulk of the Dutch resistance was. They were citizens. Men and women and even children, just like us. They were shop owners and teachers, firemen and bricklayers, mothers and fathers. Understand, members of the Dutch resistance literally risked their lives. Any and all Dutch citizens caught doing anything for the resistance were interrogated and then shot by the Germans., Dutch families caught hiding Jews were shipped off to concentration camps like Auschwitz or Buchenwald or they were shot.
Remember Catharina? I mentioned her in the first sentence. I said that after May 10th, 1940 her life would never be the same and, it wasn't. The next five years of her life were not childhood. Instead of playing with her friends she was doing things like eavesdropping on German soldiers and officers and bringing that information back to her father. The Germans were very arrogant and bold and often spoke openly about which houses they were going to raid in search of hidden Jews or what orders had come down from Hitler. It never occurred to them that a 10 year old Dutch girl would relay their conversations back to resistance fighters. It was also Catharina's job to make the sometimes weekly 20 mile round trip on her bicycle to fetch eggs, milk and vegetables from the closest farm. Children were often given tasks such as this because the German soldiers did not consider them a threat. Catharina's father was busy with the resistance. He was successful in hiding 29 downed allied airmen and successfully aided in smuggling them back to England. On one occasion he hid a pilot underneath of a pile of hay for 3 days, bringing the pilot food and water under cover of night until they had obtained transportation and false documents to smuggle the pilot out of the country.
Catharina moved to the United States in 1963 and on April 8th, 1966 she became my Mother. If you want to know what the real face of tyranny and oppression look like, she can tell you. If you want to know what the average man and woman are capable of when faced with tyranny and oppression, she can tell you that as well. Unfortunately, she can also tell you how unfaithful and unpatriotic citizens can betray their own countrymen and how they will side with evil and sacrifice their fellow countrymen to save themselves, or so they think. Tyranny and oppression come in many forms and many faces. My Mother knows this. She's seen it and she knows how it can grow like an evil cancer if it isn't confronted. Ignorance and apathy can be deadly. Our country has too much of both. My Mother knows this too. She looks every day at the country she came to love with all her heart in 50 years ago, and she doesn't recognize it. Tyranny has it's foot in the American door. The seeds of tyranny have been planted. What will you do? What will we do?