Veteran Stories:
Joe Knypstra

  • Joe Knypstra in his new Dutch Army uniform in Hemrik, The Netherlands, June, 1946.

    Joe Knypstra
  • Members of the Dutch Army, shown here in Hemrick, The Netherlands in 1946, were civlians hired after the war to guard imprisoned Dutch collaborators and German soldiers. There were no uniforms at that time, though eventually they did arrive. The men in this photogarph had also been in the Dutch Resistance. Joe Knypstra, back row, third from the right, was the only one to have been in a concentration camp.

    Joe Knypstra
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"We were in a group, you know, for the working in the Resistance against the Germans. Torture; torture every day. I been there for about two years and then I came out, I was 70 pounds."


In the Resistance [during the German occupation of The Netherlands], I looked after the people getting something to eat. Later on, I did a lot of trading with the ships, you know. We lived on a canal; and German ships, they came through and they anchored there for the night. And those people, they were really against the war too, those guards on those ships. And I got in contact with them and I did a lot of trading. Like they had everything, butter and sugar and coffee, and tea, and you name it. And I traded with meat. All the stuff went to the people that were hiding and Jewish people. I felt I should help the people. I mean, they’re all my brothers and sisters, and my country people. And I feel I had to help them, so much I can. And I did. Some of the people you think you trust and then they were Nazis. They still squealed on you. And that has happened to me. The fellow that betrayed me wasn’t really a farmer. The first thing I got in jail. So was in jail for about two months in Leewarden. And on one day, a German came in and he said, "oh, how are you?" I said, "fine." Oh, he said, "you look healthy." I said, "oh yeah;" so that was it and he went away. The next day, a guy came over with a pair of scissors, cut my hair off; and the next day, I got loaded into the train in the boxcars and went to the concentration camps. It was all Dutch people; and all people for the same thing, all for the same thing. Some people were in there for stealing or murder. But we all had different groups. Like we were in a group, you know, for the working in the Resistance against the Germans. Torture; torture every day. I been there for about two years and then I came out, I was 70 pounds and then I came in hospital, my whole body was bruised and in a terrible shape. While I came in there, I was almost 150 pounds and I came out, I was 70. So I lost 80 pounds and that is a lot of weight. Some times during the night, we had to go out in the nude and go on our knees, and take our, what do you call them, muts [hat], our hat and go on our knees and pick up little pebbles and little pieces of, whatever you could find and fill it up, you threw it up and run about 100 metres; and you’d come back and do it over again. Now, if you didn’t run fast enough, then you got hit with a billy club. And the billy club, that was rubber and they have five prongs on it. And the five prongs, there were knots in it. And they hit you with that. And they were hitting so long until the blood came and if there were no blood, you got more torture with that. That I came out of that. Well, that was something else. I was in a barrack with about 80 people. And so far, I knew, most of them were all dead. So we came out with four people. But I didn’t know much because I was unconscious. I was 70 pounds; and they put us, I know that they put us in a car or a jeep, whatever it was. Then I came to it, and then they put us in a jeep or a car, whatever; and then I came to the hospital and then I was unconscious. The time I came out of hospital, I was very hateful. If I saw a German, I just could kill him, you know. I wouldn’t do it, but I could, like, you know. I was so hateful. So hateful. And then I was… Oh yeah, I have to tell you this. I was so hateful that I was in the camp first as guard and there were all [Dutch] collaborators in that, the prisoners. And so we let some of the prisoners have little pieces of rock and hammer and cut that rock used in like flour, you know. So fine. And then they were bleeding out their fingers and they were really hurting. We did that for three days and then I said to my fellows, I said, you know, we had to have a meeting. I said, you know, we are not any better. If we do this to those people, we’re not any better. We had to show those people we are better. So from that time off, we had to be treated those people very fair because I felt if we do those things, you know, we’re not any better than those guards that we had in the concentration camps. I’ve been a better person from after the war. Like I’ve been through an awful lot, you know. And I joined the Salvation Army because I like helping people. I got that from the war too, you know, that I like to help people. And yeah, I think myself, after all that I went through, that I am a better person.
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