What a story she had to tell. You could have heard a pin drop as Whilhelmina Beukhof of Willmar, and formerly from Holland, talked about her teenage years when Germany occupied Holland. She was 14 when the Germans took over the country and 19 when they left. “All our teenage years were taken during this horrible time. We didn’t know what holocaust means, but it was not very good. But it happened and that was a very sad thing.” Beukhof talked about what it was like with the Germans occupying Holland. “When we say Germans, we’re not thinking that all the Germans were oppressing us. This was mostly Hitler’s troops, the SS, and a lot of people in the Netherlands who were also sympathizers with Hitler’s troops.” That was very sad, she said, because the sympathizers would watch and listen and if someone would say something or do something wrong they would report them to the Germans. “We are so thankful that the Americans and Allies came to free us, because five years under an oppressive government is a long, long time and it really took away all our teenage years.” And freedom is not free, she said, because it comes with a very, very great price. “It’s really sad that we would have to lose it first to realize what it even meant.” She told the group of women listening to her speak that the people in Holland that belonged to the Nazi organization were a lot more fanatic than sometimes the Germans. Beukhof said she had a wonderful family and while they were poor, they never knew it, they never realized it because their parents instilled in them faith in God. “Until I was 14 years old I lived in the lower part of Holland where all the dikes are, where all the grain is grown. In April 1940 we moved to the eastern part of the Netherlands which was right next to the German border. It was a really nice area. It was hilly and we lived on the hilly side overlooking the Rhine River.” They moved there April 13, 1940, and on May 10, not quite a month later, they were awakened during the night by a terrible lot of noise and hollering and screaming. “We heard bombs falling. We had been invaded by Germany.” They never even declared war on Holland, she said, they just walked in and took it over, and after they bombed a couple of the bigger cities, like Rotterdam, there were over 10,000 people killed in that one bombing and more after that. “After five days of fighting the Netherland soldiers had to capitulate and we lost the war.” The Germans took over every building, every school, every place they wanted or needed, she said. “Our men even had to stand watch so nobody would harm any of the things the Germans took over. They didn’t ask us, they just took things from us.” You had to obey the Germans, she said, and if you didn’t you were in trouble. “Many went into hiding, young men especially. If they were caught they would be sent to Germany to a concentration camp or another place.” A little town close by them housed a higher up German who was killed in that area. “They took 600 people from that little town of Putney and we know that real well because one of my brother’s friends married a girl from that town and her father and brothers and some of her uncles and cousins had been brought to concentration camps in Germany and only 60 or so came back after the war, the rest were all killed during that time.” It wasn’t only the Jewish people that were sent to concentration camps, she said, but people who did different things like blow up a train, blow up rails, blow up things the Germans were using. “They would be caught, and even for working in German factories the young men all had to sign up for that and when they didn’t they went into hiding and if they were caught or the people hiding them were caught, they would be sent to a concentration camp.” There were many people in their town that hid people just like Corrie Ten Boom and her family did, Beukhof said. Beukhof herself worked for a family where the mother was expecting her fourth child. “I was 15 years old at that time.” Across the street from them lived a Jewish family of four where the father was an engineer at the rubber factory. Their two children were in Amsterdam at the University. “When I had to stand in line for food for the family that I worked for, the people that handed out the food would put two extra portions in my bag. I knew what it was for, but it was never talked about.” One morning she came to work for the family and as she arrived she saw a bunch of furniture that had been taken out of the house the Jewish family lived in and piled up in front of their house, and the windows and doors all open. “They had been taken away to Germany to a concentration camp. Those people had never done anybody any harm. But on the same road, at the end of the road, lived a German sympathizer and Nazi man and he must have reported them.” The Germans came during the night and took them as well as their two sons in Amsterdam. “We heard after the war that one of the sons came back and became a doctor so that was one of the people we knew very well that had been taken, and also other people from our town.” In May of 1943, they lived in a rubber factory town. All the people worked for the factory, whole families worked in there. “My dad had said ‘I will come and be your gardener but my daughters are not going to work in your factory, I don’t want my daughters to work in a rubber factory. I don’t want them to work in a factory at all and especially not in a rubber factory.’” All of a sudden the Germans took over that factory and said ‘now you’re going to work for us, your factory is going to make parts for us for the war effort.’ All the people went on a strike, she said, and hid in the surrounding woods. “It didn’t take very long and they had herded everybody like cattle back to the factory and let them stand there for a whole day.” Beukhof said she didn’t work at the factory but was walking home from her job and was told she had to go to the factory too. “I said ‘I am not working in the factory but they didn’t believe me and told me to go up there. Then I ran to my father’s home and this one German that was standing by the gate by my parents’ house said ‘terrible war . . .hurry, hurry, terrible war.’ He didn’t want to do anything to me. But if he would have been mean he would have probably shot me too.” That night, after this all happened, she said, they took seven men from town into the woods, men that were foremen and had higher up positions like that, and killed them. Their bodies were found after the war. The people went back to work because they were afraid more people were going to be killed, and there would have been, she said. “Being they were working for the Germans now, the bombings and everything became a lot more severe too. So the men and people in town started to build shelters and we spent lots of time in bomb shelters because of the danger of the bombs.” She added, “that’s when Psalm 91 became such an assurance from God to us that we could be sheltered under his wings if we dwelled with him. My dad said ‘he may not remove the storm but he will calm us in it’ and it brought this calmness.” In 1944, a whole year later, it was the Normandy Landing. “We did not hear much about that. We didn’t get any news from the Germans unless they wanted us to hear it.” And of course the Germans told them they were winning. They didn’t want them to have radios, she said, they didn’t want them to hear what really was going on. “There was a secret radio program and people had radios hidden in haystacks, cellars, whatever, so we did hear news from Radio Orange. That was what it was called. That came from the queen’s family and from underground.” What they heard about Normandy gave them hope that maybe someday they would come up from the south, from France and free them too. “But it took a long time because they had a lot of things happen coming up north with the tanks and everything and there were a couple bridges they had to cross. She said the Germans tried to have forces on the bridges so the Americans and Allies couldn’t get over them. “Sept. 17, 1944, that is such an important date to us yet, even after 9/11, that will never get out of your mind those dates. A real big airborne dropping happened in our area. They thought if the airborne troops that landed by us could take the bridge, then the Allies could come over and we would be free.” They were airborne troops from England and Poland, Beukhof said, and first they came with gliders and did a lot of bombing. “After a week of back and forth fighting they lost the bridge, the Germans blew it up. So they didn’t ever come over the Rhine River because the Rhine was connected with the bridge, which was too far.” Most of these paratroopers were killed on their side, she said. “We lived right where it all happened. That whole thing happened in our area where we lived and they are all buried in the little town, those paratroopers.” Every year, she said, they have a special celebration, a remembrance, a memorial, with over 2,000 people attending. “Some who had been able to survive and some of the Dutch people helped them back over the Rhine in little rubber boats. One of Gijs’ (her husband) cousin’s did that too and he was put into prison in Holland. When one of the higher German officers was killed, a whole bunch of them were taken out of prison and killed also. Well, if that isn’t holocaust I don’t know what is. They took a whole town and killed all the people.” Then came a terrible winter, she said, and they had no food, the Germans got what little food there was first. A soup kitchen was set up and they would stand in line for a ladle full of soup for every family member once a day. It was mostly made of tulip bulbs, some grain and water. They also made war bread, which was sticky and gray and everybody got one slice of that each day. They also got some sugar beets, which they grated into pulp and let them drip out. They used the thick stuff to make pancakes and the drippings for syrup on those pancakes. “Now more than 40 years later I can still taste them.” They were evacuated from the home they were in because it was in the war area and they couldn’t stay there. They stayed in other parts of Holland and nobody had much. She stayed with her uncle and aunt and they had four daughters also. “It got so bad that they sent some of the children to the northern part of Holland in a Red Cross truck. My cousin and I were too old for that. You had to be under 13. Christmas came around and she wanted to see Gijs, who was then her boyfriend but who lived in a different part of Holland. They had nothing anymore, she said, no clothes no bicycles, so she borrowed a bicycle from someone and went to see him. “We had a wonderful time because his parents had been able to go back to a little farm his grandfather had for a little while and we could spend Christmas with them and go to church with them.” But on the way home, she said, it was so sad because he had to hide away a couple of times. “And here I was sitting on the side of the road going back to my aunt and I just felt like God had completely forgotten us. I started to feel really sorry for myself and that’s not a good thing to do. But when you’re young like that and don’t have anything anymore….we didn’t have a home anymore, we didn’t have food, we didn’t have clothing, we didn’t have anything, and our family was spread out all with different people who helped feed us.” Then all of a sudden, she said, it was like the Lord said to her ‘you belong to me. Even if you don’t have anything else I belong to you and you belong to me.’ “That was a great comfort.” After Beukhof returned home, she and her cousins started knitting for bread. As a young girl she had learned how to knit and always asked why she had to know how to knit. “But then during the war that winter we were glad we had learned to knit because there were some farmers that had some things yet and they said if we bring you some old sweaters would you knit some mittens and socks and scarves and things like that for us and we’ll give you a hunk of bread.” She said they were fast knitters and the bread they earned by doing that helped out some. “We called it knitting bread.” In May of 1945 Germany capitulated. “A terrible nightmare ended and the people that came to liberate us were just wonderful. They freed us, they loved us, they brought healing, they brought food and support and we said later on it was just like we started feeling like human beings again. We had been trampled on so much.” Beukhof did return with her father to see what was left of their town. There wasn’t much left of their home or their belongings. Most of the houses had thatched roofs and the Germans had burned everything. Their home had a tile roof but the roof was gone, the windows and doors were off. “There was such a smell of destruction and stench hanging over everything and I don’t even want to tell you all the things we saw happen there. But in the debris, in the garden, there was still a rose blooming and it gave us hope that with God’s help we would be okay again.” The Red Cross was a tremendous help, she said, and they were so glad the American soldiers came to free them. “We’re so thankful for all that. It wasn’t anything we did but I want you to really believe and know that if it ever happens in your life that we can trust God, that he is true to his promises that he will help us through because he’s the same yesterday, today and he always will be even if things aren’t going so good.” In 1948, after the war, she married her sweetheart, Gijs. The two of them came to America in 1951.
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