Adriana (centre) with her sister, Willemina Seywerd (L) and a friend (R).
"The Dutch people in Arnhem helped the Allied forces, and helped to save as many of the Allied forces as possible."
I was born in 1927 and we lived in Arnhem [Netherlands] which is on the Rhine River in the middle of the country. And the thing was that they picked up many young people, young men who were outside on the streets going to work or so, and they picked them up and put them to work in Germany. And that was very bad. So many young men could not go outside at all.
And later on when we didn’t have any food and we had to go to the special kitchens where they were making food for the people who were displaced, which we were later on, then you only saw women because men would not go there to pick that up. Because when they were outside to pick that up they could be picked up by Germans and sent to Germany.
We had other family members who were involved in the “underground,” which means helping the Allied forces. And we had cousins and also young brothers of my mother and father. And several were taken to camps and killed even right near at the end of the war. And it was very, very bad. My father’s brother was killed. He was older than my father. And his son also [was killed] because they were both working for the underground.
The Allied forces also came over Arnhem from England and they went to the rural area in Germany and bombarded there. And that was a terrible thing because we were living up on the northern part of the Rhine there and we had a view from the distance over Germany. And we could see the bombardments that were going on and the big fires, it was very, very bad. And then also there were lights – searchlights – that picked out the airplanes in the sky and then tried to shoot them down. So we saw some of that happening too.
It was in September, 1944 that the Allied forces started a part of the war which is called [Operation] Market Garden.* And that’s a planned attack to get to the Germans behind the lines where the Allied forces were. And that was just north of Arnhem. And their plan was that they would save the bridge from being destroyed, the bridge over the river Rhine. So that the Allied forces who would come from the south could use the bridge to come over it.
But it was a very bad part of the war for the Dutch people in Arnhem because the Market Garden plan did not go as planned. The Allied forces sent big, big planes full of parachutists over Arnhem and to the north where the heather and the big flat areas were, and they sent also, they pulled zweefvliegtuig, they’re gliders. And the gliders were pulled by the big planes, and were cut loose to go down over the heather. And those gliders were full of guns and jeeps, and military stuff. And the personnel for those gliders was jumping out of the plane and came down on the heather, and then they would come together and empty the gliders from the stuff that they needed.
They could not, they could not do exactly as planned because the Germans were too strong, and many of them were killed while they were coming down from the plane. And it was a terrible time. And the Dutch people in Arnhem helped the Allied forces, and helped to save as many of the Allied forces as possible. And the Germans were so upset about all this that they ordered the city of Arnhem empty within five days. So we had to leave, and we could only take with us what we could carry. And we had to just go north because you couldn’t go south because that’s where all the fighting was. So we only could go north to areas where maybe we could find a place to stay.
So many people in the Netherlands opened their doors to the Dutch people from Arnhem who were without a home. And so we also went north to Apeldoorn, and we were with 12 people. Our family and one family from our street, who had three children. And we also had with us our grandfather and grandmother, who had come from the Zeeland area where the Germans had pulled down the dikes and the water had come in, and they had to leave. So they were staying with us.
The food became less and less because we got ration cards from the Germans because the Germans were in force there, of course, and they knew that all, we had all left Arnhem, and they gave us cards so we could get some food from those kitchens. And also cards to buy other things that we needed like maybe blankets or a mattress to sleep on. But we slept on hay in the attic of that little house where we were staying
Till the end of the war, later on in 1945 when the Germans went away from there, they pulled down the dikes there too, so the water came rushing in. So we had to leave and run away from there again. And we went on flat boats along with all the horses and cows and pigs, who all had to be saved otherwise they would drown. So we went to another area where it was a little higher and we stayed there. And that’s where we celebrated the final liberation.
The houses were so poor. They had to be fixed first. So we were sent, the school was supposed to open in Utrecht, which was in a much better position because they had not had this bombing and so on. So we went to Utrecht, and we were given the house of a person who had collaborated with the Germans, that’s called an NSBer.** And we were given his house to use and live in there while he was being sent to jail. And that was, that was done very often with people who had lost everything. They were given the house and the things from NSBers. But it was really a tremendous happy time, very happy time.
There was a very important bond that was formed there, and each year, lots and lots of Dutch people open their doors to Canadians who come back to the Netherlands to see where their family was, or to visit the graves because the graves of the Canadian soldiers are very well cared for by the Dutch in Holland, especially groups of children from schools have a regular task of tending to the graves and bringing flowers, and so on. That’s still being done, so they keep very well, a bond is being set, made that way between Holland and Canada.
*Operation Market Garden was launched in mid-September 1944. It was the largest airborne assault of the Second World War, dropping troops in rear enemy positions to secure bridges for use by Allied ground troops.
**Dutch citizens who collaborated with the Germans were known as “NSBers,” which referred to the Nationaal-Socialistche Beweging (National Socialist movement) active in the country from 1931 until 1945.