Veteran Stories:
George Zwaagstra

  • George Zwaagstra when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, February 1954.

    George Zwaagstra
  • A photo taken by George Zwaagstra of German prisoners being marched back to Germany from the Netherlands. 1945.

    George Zwaagstra
  • A German helmet George Zwaagstra received from his father in 1985. Mr. Zwaagstra says, "My father never told anybody how he got this helmet. All I know is that a German soldier was shot by the resistance."

    George Zwaagstra
  • A cap badge from a soldier in The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. This regiment helped liberate George Zwaagstra's town in Holland and to thank them, the soldier and a friend were invited to Zwaagstra's home for dinner. The soldier and Mr. Zwaagstra were reunited in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1951, when Mr. Zwaagstra immigrated to Canada.

    George Zwaagstra
  • George Zwaagstra in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. September 2011.

    HDI/The Memory Project
Enlarge Image

"When the first shot went, one fellow jumped in the water. He was shot at. He survived. And, he floated amongst the bodies down the river."


The 9 – we were occu[pied] – the 10th of May [1940], actually, officially.  That was on a Friday, I believe, and the 12th of May was on a Sunday.  And, that's actually when for us, the war started.  Sunday morning my father at the grocery store, and it was quite early when there was an ungodly noise on the front door.  And my father – we were closed.  My father walked to there and he said there was, "It's over.  The war is over."  And what he meant by that actually is that the fighting between the Dutch and the Germans at that moment was finished.  And they wanted to come in and they had to have a few things from the grocery store.  So that is actually the first I remember of – of the wartime.

On one particular morning, there was a big banging on the door, again and there were the Germans.  And I – through the noise I got out of bed, in my pyjamas, I came down the stairs.  And, Dad looked at me and he said, "Go up right away and go in bed and put the blankets all over you."  So I did.  I had no idea.  The Germans came up, up the stairs.  They came in the room and they saw me there.  And, he turned around to Dad and he said, "Sick?"  And Dad said, "Yes, he has a child's disease."  And, the Germans were very afraid of diseases.  So, automatically he turned around and went out the front door and they put a big ribbon (laughs) – “Not to be answered under no circumstances because of disease.”

On another occasion, that I remember, they had taken Dad's bike away.  And, they were doing their exercises.  And, of course in those days when this happened you were not allowed to be out of your house at all.  And, we – the village has a big canal running in front of our houses and of course you have your bridges.  And Dad happened to look out the window, and there was a German soldier standing with Dad's bike.  And, he looked at Mom, and he says, "I would love to have my bike back" – or "I wonder if I'm going to have my bike back."  So, I sneaked out of the back door, and I went down to the bridge. (laughs) I walked on the bridge and he stood there, one bike in one hand, his rifle in the other hand.  And Mom and Dad didn't dare go after me.  And, I put my hands on my sides and I looked him right in the face and I told him that Dad wanted his bike back.  And, he let some ungodly words out of him and he took the bike and he threw it right at me.  And, later on – I didn't know at the time.  Later on, Mom said, "Do you know why you have a crooked nose?"  And I said, "No."  Well, she said, "That bike hit your nose.  When you came in you were bleeding like anything."

My father, I don't know – I believe it was around 1940, 1941 when he started with the Underground, and then he became an area leader.  So he was quite – quite involved in the Underground [Dutch resistance].

Quite often there were meetings at our place during the day.  And, when one or two people came in, then, we knew as kids it was time to get out of the house.  And, quite often Dad would come over and say, "You know what you have to do" and, "Yep."  So, we used to go to the end of the street, actually, across the canal, and we were watching there, just in case the Germans would come.  If they would come – and quite often we would have a fishing pole with us.  And the fishing pole would be in the water.  And if we happened to see any Germans coming at all, the fishing pole would come up and then the person on the other side would know (laughs) what is going on.

There was a adjutant and his captain, were in the army, and they were brought under in our village, about four houses away from where we lived.  And they came there I believe in 1943.  And, he was – they were the big… the high brass in that section of the Underground.  They had all the papers with them, what was going on in that area.  And, during the time that they were there, I would have to go quite often at nighttime, with messages there, or pick up messages from there, until 1944, 19th of February, I'm not quite sure, the Germans came and they – somebody had squealed.  They took them away.  They found all the papers, all the addresses, all the people that were involved in the Underground.  So, Dad had to go, under as well.  The results of that – and they called it a razzia [raid] – the results of that, were that, from that day on almost every other day there was a razzia somewhere, and of course they picked up a lot of people and they were shot immediately.  These two people, officers in the Dutch Army at the time, they were taken away, and the Underground found out that they were going to be transported from “A” to “B,” and they were going to derail the train.  However, it was decided not to, because some feel it would have gone flat if, as the Germans wouldn’t just – would have just flattened the place [his town].

So, they were taken to – they were going to be taken to a concentration camp with, of course, a lot of other people on the train as well.  And, so, in a city on the River Ijssel, the train stopped and they took ten off the train.  And they lined them up on the river and they shot them.  Of course, they fell in the river.  They floated.  The bodies floated down the river.  When the first shot went, one fellow jumped in the water.  He was shot at.  He survived.  And, he floated amongst the bodies down the river and, he actually told Dad where this happened.  So shortly after the war... this one fellow, his son, who was just a little older than I was, and Dad went to the place where his father was shot and what happened there I can't tell you.

Wartime, like I said earlier, we had the good times, we had the bad times.  The good part about the war is that, during the war it brings people together, and it's just a shame that it doesn't take very long after the war that, that togetherness seems to grow apart again, and this is actually a shame.

Follow us