"We built a cottage in a good camouflaged spot, of branches, grass, heather and rope; we also built in a high tree an observation post. We often worked at it in the evening (after school-time). It was a very pretty job, pioneering in that high tree, the re d setting sun in the waving branches… it was picturesque. One day we went there and found it all destroyed. It was clear that the boys of Hitler Youth had done their work."
The report, of which this is an extract, describes a scene repeated many times throughout Holland for five long years. The Dutch are reputed to be among the most obstinate or stubborn people in the world. They are the first when confronted by their enemies , and the second when fighting side by side with their friends. Both these national characteristics were displayed to the full between 1940 and 1945.
The story begins in a manner only too familiar, the sudden and violent entry of the Germans into Holland. That lovely May morning, the tenth of the month, Koos, Patrol Leader of the 6th Rotterdam Troop, on the way to his firm where he was employed as an apprentice electrician, heard gun and rifle fire. He turned back, hastily donned his Scout uniform, put his head into the office crying, "It’s war now and I’m going to see what I can do," and made for the bridges across the river. On the other side Dutch Marines were heavily engaged. Koos spent that morning carrying food to the front line and the wounded away from it. There were many wounded but he was not among them, though during one trip, the handle of the wheelbarrow which he was using to convey a wounded man to safety was smashed by a bullet.
Koos was one of thousands of Dutch Scouts who on that day were plunged into a new existence, one which for many of them held peril but no little glory. After the first four days of desperate fighting when the Dutch Army, overwhelmed, was compelled to surrender, a false calm fell upon the city. Of the many invasions which Holland has suffered in the course of her history, this was the last, the swiftest, the most overwhelming. But it was over now, and the fields and towns, except for the smoking ruin of Rotterdam, appeared unchanged. Tall spires above spacious churches, clean white and red houses in the midst of rich fields of corn, canals straight and edged as a sword blade, the very generosity of the scenery seemed to be a guarantee against chance, a contra diction of violence, an outward symbol of an inward peace. How different was the reality. An invader had appeared, one more to add to the list. He must be resisted by the old tried means. But it was important not to hurry. Everything must be done in due order, following a plan, and to begin with it was necessary to discover the intentions of the enemy.
They seemed innocuous enough, almost praiseworthy-at-first. Scouting continued unchecked, and since Scouting has always been popular in Holland, especially after the great Jamboree of 1937 at Vogelensang, which gave it a great impetus, there were many Scouts and many Troops. One great service they could and did render immediately. In every town they were among the most prominent members of Air-Raid Precautions organisations, and they had plenty of work to do, especially in Rotterdam on that terrible afternoon of May 14th, 1940, when 30,000 lost their lives in a bombardment from the air which took place after the Dutch had surrendered. "We had got some experience during the preceding days," writes the Leader of the 6th Rotterdam Troop, "but this was beyond every description. The centre of the town was ablaze, the fire brigades doomed to idleness for the water mains had been hit. All we could do, therefore, was to lend a helping hand in the evacuation of the hospitals, help the very large number of injured, and carry away the dead. We had to improvise, for there was no time to organise. Not a single Scout remained in our headquarters in Rotterdam West, which were outside the target area. All of them, and every Scout who could be found, rushed into the burning city, and each did what he could without orders." Such services, begun in May, 1940, never faltered till the day of liberation five years later. Long after the suppression of Scouting those who practised it continued to be the mainstay of Passive Defence despite the ever-present risk of severe punishment and its frequent infliction for disobeying the orders of Germany. The number of lives they saved, the number of buildings they preserved from destruction by air-raids, most of them unhappily made in the course of duty by the Air Forces of the Allies, was very great. For this contribution alone to the welfare of their country they deserve and have been given the gratitude of the whole nation.
Most of the misery air-raids were to inflict was still in the future when, in the autumn of 1940, the Germans first began to show the cloven hoof. The Scout Law, the very antithesis of Fascism, was still the guide of thousands of young Dutch folk by whom it was assiduously preached and practised. The occupying Power sought to impose its own brand of Youth Movement. The most notorious was the Jengstorm. To nine Dutch boys out of ten it made no appeal, and recruits were therefore very scarce. The Germans-there is a dreadful sameness about their procedure-were forced to sterner measures. Since the Scouts of Holland would not work for them and were not even content to remain passive, they must be suppressed. Scouting, which had already been frowned upon as early as August, 1940, only three months after the invasion, was on April 2nd, 1941, abolished altogether.
This action of the Germans had a double effect upon the Dutch. Here was a concrete instance of German harshness against an Organisation strictly non-political. It must be a good organisation or the Germans would not have taken such action, therefore it must be encouraged. The population of Scouts, already great, increased. They came to be widely regarded throughout Holland as martyrs for the cause of their country. True, the sternest measures had not yet been taken against them, but the nation’s youth had been forbidden to follow a healthy, popular and sound method of fitting themselves for the battle of life, a battle which for many of them was likely to prove more than usually strenuous.
The immediate result of the suppression was, therefore, that Scouting was carried on in secret. Here, however, an immediate difficulty arose. A general instruction was issued by the Scouting authorities to suspend the recruiting and training of Cubs, for these small boys were too young to understand the need for secrecy and might, therefore, expose those in charge of them to needless danger. Nevertheless, Scouting had taken too strong a hold in Holland to die out for lack of initial training. Somehow, in conditions of increasing difficulty and danger, summer camps were maintained in 1942 and 1943. Not only Cubs, but the young 2nd Class Scouts of twelve and fourteen were apt to boast to their friends about the way in which they outwitted the Germans and carried on their Scouting. The older boys from seventeen to nineteen found life very difficult, for if they wished to escape forced labour or even inclusion in the German Army, they had to disappear into hiding. Yet despite every difficulty, every danger, many still contrived to practise some active form of Scouting. "The elimination of Scouting had been a hard nut to crack for us," runs the report of the redoubtable 6th Rotterdam Troop. "It took us some time to recover from the blow. Moreover, we were not sure whether the German Sickerheitdienst (Security Service) was keeping an eye on us or not. We soon discovered that they were busily engaged with other evil things (i.e. wicked deeds) and didn’t pay attention to us. So we gradually rallied the greater part of the Group for renewed activities. It was perhaps more on behalf of (i.e. as the result of) the old friendships and the tendency for eating of the forbidden fruit than of aimed resistance that we stuck to Scouting."
This spirit burned all over the country. in the mining districts they played the game of Scouting resolutely throughout what they called "The Time of the Catacombs," but they had to stop work with Wolf Cubs, who turned themselves into choir boys, joined various religious organisations analogous to the Church Lads’ Brigade, and thus contrived still to learn something of Scouting. With the Troops the situation varied and, generally speaking, despite constant spying by the Germans and by Dutch traitors which increased their difficulties, many continued to hold regular meetings but always disguised. Following the example of their juniors, they became dramatic or sports clubs, choirs, missionary societies, and were thus enabled to meet without undue risk. By the end of 1942, however, the Germans had discovered these subterfuges and the Troops had to be disbanded, their leaders going underground.
Yet Scouting still continued, being made possible largely by the determination of the boys to hold summer camps at any cost. True they bore little resemblance to the camps of peace-time. The Scouts of Hulst, a mining district, used the caves of Valkenburg, where their ancestors of 150 years before had hidden from the soldiers of Napoleon. The Stork Patrol of Nijmegen slept "in lofts and barns." The Scouts of Tilberg once camped in a great castle belonging to Count d’Oultremont, completely furnished but empty. Here they felt themselves remote from the world of chaos and oppression outside. "How we looked through the Gothic windows over the silent dreaming moat…. How we cooked, dined, sang, fought and romped…. How we laughed till the tears rolled down our cheeks in pleasure and mighty remembrances. In a word, how we lived there as knights of old." For one brief moment the romantic dreams of youth had come true, and then on that last morning the "bailiff told us… of the break-out of the Allied armies in France, for it was August, 1944.
To tell the story of the Scouts in the Underground army of Holland would be to write, in effect, a history of the whole Resistance Movement. In every branch of it they were active, in all its battles they were to be found in the post of danger. The individual adventures of a few men and women, here in brief set down, must serve as examples, splendid and heroic but far from unique, of deeds performed also by their numerous comrades.
First the tale of Wim, a young citizen of Amersfoort. When the war broke out he was twenty-three years old and a Scoutmaster (there are now four Scout Troops named after him). By September, 1942, he was an active member of the "K.P." Group (the Knok Ploeg) -a very active group which specialised in raids on German offices with the object of acquiring ration cards. Such raids were carried out on a large scale, the object being not only to provide food for the increasing numbers of young men and women compelled to "dive" in order to escape forced labour or the concentration camp, but also generally to confuse and hamper the Germans in their efforts to control Holland. Wim led a very successful raid in Tilburg which resulted in the capture of a special stamp used by the Germans on all identity cards. This was followed by an equally successful operation in the small village of Maartensdijk in which a quantity of ration cards were taken. These raids had been comparatively easy to execute, for in each case the guards attacked were what was known as "good" Dutch, police who had been compelled, very often for family reasons-they could not see their wives and children starve or be transported to Germany-to take service with the invaders, but who were determined to do as little as they could to help them. Confronted by Wim and his friends, they put their hands behind their backs and allowed him to tie them up. The third attack, however, carried out against the Germans in Amersfoort, was a failure. Wim had been against it from the start, for by then a sufficient number of ration cards had been collected, and to run further risks for more was unnecessary. He took no part in it, which was as well for its leader was arrested and found with the names of all his Troop upon him. Among them was that of Wim, who was seized in his bedroom. In an effort to shield his friends, he immediately assumed full responsibility for all the raids which he had undertaken, and swore that the ration and identity cards found in his bag had been stole n by him and him alone. He was kept in close confinement in Amsterdam, then transferred to The Hague and soon afterwards shot.
Van D., a Troop Leader of the same town, had better fortune. At the age of nineteen he was Leader of a Scout Troop in Amersfoort and was certified by the local doctors as unfit for forced labour. He was therefore set to work in a German office of which the main business was to choose those Dutch who were to be transferred to Germany to work in her factories. His duty seemed to him obvious; he must prevent as many persons as possible from being drafted to forced labour. He soon learnt to imitate the handwriting of the doctor whose task it was to examine them, and very soon the number of certificates issued to unfit persons began to rise sharply. Even when Van D. was unsuccessful with medical certificates, he contrived in many cases to send the persons chosen, not to some distant city of Germany such as Berlin or Breslau, but to a town just across the border from which they could effect their escape. When they returned, he provided them with ration cards. It was naturally impossible for him to help every one on the lists with which his office dealt, but he found himself able to aid about one in four who passed through his hands, and altogether in eighteen months one thousand of his compatriots were thus saved from forced labour or a concentration camp. Eventually in February, 1944, through the indiscretions of a young medical student, the Germans discovered his activities. He was arrested and condemned to five years imprisonment and was serving this sentence when the end of the war freed him.
The stories of Frans, a Scoutmaster, and Else, also of Amersfoort, are especially revealing, showing, as they do, not only unselfish bravery but also the cold ferocity with which the Dutch Underground did their work. Else was the fiancèe of Frans, and a lady Cub-Master. When Scouting was suppressed in 1941 her Pack was disbanded and she presently found herself working entirely for the Underground. One of the first tasks given to the group of which she was a member was to shoot a number of quislings who had befriended the Germans and, worse, betrayed a number of their own countrymen. Resolutely she set about her grim duty. In the neighbourhood of Eiper was a wealthy farmer who was a determined quisling and a very active traitor. Else, her fiancèe, and two others wearing the uniform of the Dutch police, set out to settle his account. They went separately to the rendezvous, the quisling farmer was duly executed, and the little group dispersed. The next day one of them reported that in the hurry of departure he h ad left his soft hat behind and that it had his initials stamped on the sweat-band. This was a very serious blunder and for days they lived in fear, till they learnt that a local quisling, a friend of the farmer who had paid the penalty for his treachery, had been arrested. He, too, had lost a hat, his head was the same size as that of Frans’s companion, and, moreover, he bore the same initials.
Eventually Else was captured, but Frans continued his Underground activities, having broken away from the police guard who was taking him to court to be tried, for he, too, had been arrested. For a time he worked for "Uncle John," the held of a Resistance group, and then in September, 1943, he took a grave and courageous step. He determined to join the Dutch National Socialist Party so as to climb as high as he could in their councils and at the same time, by wearing the hated uniform, to be free to move about and help the Resistance. To do this was no easy matter, but by staging a love affair with the daughter of a Dutch National Socialist living with her family near Schutfen, he eventually succeeded. Frans posed as a young man who had suffered imprisonment for backsliding. He would do all that he could, he explained, to be restored to favour. His charm and the power of his wooing convinced the girl, who prevailed upon the local National Socialist authorities to admit Frans into their ranks. Once in, he showed himself so keen and active that he was sent to the officers’ training school of the Dutch National Socialist Security Service. Having completed his training, he was posted to the Office of Administration and found himself handling all its correspondence . Much of this consisted of that most treacherous of all forms of denunciation, the anonymous letter. Frans was soon busy warning the people whose names were contained in these missives, and presently felt himself strong enough to go further. Arrested persons were frequently brought to his office. On seeing them, Frans would fall into a rage, scream and shout at all of them in general, but reserve his special wrath for one or two in particular. To these he would be especially abusive, yelling at the top of his voice and thrusting his finger at them. At the same time his thumb pointed in the direction of the door. He had little difficulty in making them understand, so he said. "Being in the Underground made you quick on the uptake." After a time Frans felt that if he stayed much longer with this office in Amersfoort his identity would be pierced. He accordingly obtained a transfer to the Utrecht office, where he found himself in charge of all outgoing and incoming mail. His activities were redoubled and he was able to deal with anonymous letters to the number of between thirty and forty a day and thus to continue his work of warning.
September, 1944, arrived. The Allies were close at hand and Frans was faced with a difficult problem. For a year he had worked as a Dutch Nazi. How would he be able to reestablish his true identity? If he failed, his own countrymen would do justice upon hi m. He considered the problem and one evening found himself in a new officers’ mess built for the Security Service of the Dutch and German Nazis. It was the day appointed for the official opening but the German officer chosen to make the speech was too drunk to do so. By a common impulse the audience, all of whom regarded Frans as an energetic and efficient young Dutch Nazi, called upon him to speak. Frans rose to his feet and to the occasion. His audience, like the German officer, was for the most part drunk. They were treated to a "very rhetorical and allegorical" speech filled with long quotations from Hitler’s speeches and those of Mussert, the leader of the Dutch quislings. Towards the end of his discourse, Frans frequently introduced the words "good times are coming," a phrase which was the password of the Resistance army. The German and Dutch Nazis cheered him to the echo, "put him upon a table and gave him the distinctions of an officer." On leaving the mess he pocketed all the revolvers in the ante-room, stole the new bicycle belonging to the commandant, and set off for The Hague, twenty kilometres distant. On the way thither he stopped a German convoy of twelve lorries and obtained a lift. His parting gesture was to direct the lorries on to the wrong road so that they became jammed in a "cul de sac."
Frans was at The Hague when he heard of the arrest of Else. The news inspired him to undertake the most dangerous of all his missions, the formation of a special Underground group dressed in German SS uniforms. These were obtained by shooting the necessary number of Germans and removing their clothes. Frans soon had twenty men under him and carried out a series of operations, which, since they were wearing German uniform, could be performed in daylight. For a time they were very successful, notably in the arrest of certain chosen Dutch and German Nazis who were kept in a secret prison so that they might be tried for their crimes when the war ended. Eventually, however, his group was betrayed by one of their number and two were arrested. Frans determined upon their rescue. Still wearing his uniform, he bluffed his way into the prison past three sentries. To the first two he gave a password, but he knew that the third would require a different word which he had not learnt. Summoning up all his Scout training, he went up to the man and holding out his hand, said, "Comrade, how are you? We haven’t met for two years. You remember that place on the Russian front-I forget its name." The sentry had never seen Frans before, but did not like to confess his ignorance, a weakness upon which Frans, knowing human nature, had counted. Not only did the German let him pass, but he obligingly produced the two prisoners. Frans instantly said that he must take them away for an interrogation, marched them off under the noses of the sentries. One of the prisoners was his brother and he survived the war. The other, as was subsequently discovered, was the traitor. He was shot.
Frans’s final feat, which he performed in October, 1944, was to hide thirteen young men for whom the Germans were searching, in the gallery of the Opera House at The Hague. They thoroughly enjoyed a performance of Fledermaus while he was obtaining false id entity cards for them. Frans was as brave and resourceful as the "Scarlet Pimpernel" of fiction and as fortunate. He must stand out as a shining example of those young Scout-trained Dutchmen who dared all and triumphed.
Many, equally daring, did not. Luck was against Piet of Lunteren, who was described as "a very good Scout, an Assistant Scoutmaster, and a great enthusiast." In June, 1943, he "dived" and helped an Organisation providing thousands of young men who had done likewise to acquire false ration cards. He then became a member of a signalling group, and as such was caught and shot by the German SS.
The same fate befell many of the gallant Dutch Scouts who helped the men of the 1st Airborne Division in the battle of Arnhem. Throughout the ten days during which they strove first to capture and then to hold the bridge across the Lower Rhine, they received every help possible from the townspeople. No one was prompter with it than the Scouts. Of these, Hans and Bert, aged fifteen and sixteen in 1940, had formed a secret Troop of Rover Scouts. Together with their leader and three others they went at once to the hospital set up in Arnhem by the parachute troops soon after the fighting began, laboured there among the wounded, and when the last of them had been taken away by the Germans, remained behind for three weeks to bury the dead. Only then did they think of their own safety. They started for Appeldoorn but on the way were arrested by some Dutch SS. Three weeks later they were found lying face downwards, having obviously been shot "while trying to escape."
One of their comrades, Piet, had no better fortune. After the battle of Arnhem he established a ferry service across the Waal, his object being to help airborne troops left behind in hiding, to escape to the British lines. They were taken across at night, and by day hidden in a fruit farm owned by a friend of his. On the 23rd October he was caught, having been denounced by a Jewish couple who informed the Germans that Piet was in possession of a rubber boat. He and his two helpers were seized in the act of pumping it up. They were taken away to a school at Tiel, and Piet was shot dead while attempting to escape through one of the windows. He was one of four of his Scout Troop, all of whom died fighting for the Underground during the war. "I think that Scouting did much to make him active," said his father, "and to give him the feeling that he must not give up."
Eddy of Haarlem was a Patrol Leader in 1939. He joined the Underground Movement as soon as it was founded and was still working with it when the British and Canadian forces entered the city. Before that joyful day arrived, however, he worked for their Intelligence Service and when, like Piet, he found himself in a position to help airborne troops left behind in Arnhem, he made use of a hidden telephone which connected the house in which he was staying with British headquarters back beyond the Waal. A German officer was billeted in the house, and whenever Eddy had occasion to telephone, its owner or his son played Beethoven and other composers upon the piano, to the delight of the German officer. The escaping British soldiers were taken across in boats at previously arranged spots, the remainder of the river being subjected to a heavy bombardment. Eddy conveyed these men across in a rubber boat, and brought others away by lorry and ambulance, using roundabout roads. "It was lonely work and he stayed in Arnhem to perform it from September, 1944, to March, 1945."To carry it out successfully, Eddy organised a Troop of twenty-five boys of whom many were Scouts.
As long as the British Army endures, the name of Arnhem will have an honoured place in its annals, nor will those gallant Dutch, so many of them Scouts or former Scouts, who helped during the desperate battle and for weeks and months afterwards, ever be forgotten. In May, 1945, when the war was over at last, the Boy Scouts of Arnhem sent this message to their brothers in England:
"As Dutch Boy Scouts we bring a salute to our brothers and sisters in England. For more than five years our contact with you was broken, but the news we got about your actions was so splendid that we are proud to be members of this world organization.
"Since the 1st April, 1941, Scouting was forbidden by the Germans, but secretly we continued our Scouting, and those of us who were not able to do this remained a Boy Scout at heart.
"Soon after the liberation we met some of your English brothers and sisters, and we are glad to hear what fine work they are doing, especially for the hungry people in the west of our Country.
"We soon hope that we ourselves can do our duty as Boy Scouts and help our population in the west of Holland.
"In all our Scouting we shall take your work and that of B.P. as an example.
"THE DUTCH BOY SCOUTS OF ARNHEM."
It was warmly reciprocated. Each year British and Dutch meet together in that city to commemorate the fight and the fallen, among whom those who were Scouts are not the least honoured.
Out of the many acts of bravery and cunning which the Scouts and Scouters of Holland performed in the service of their country, those of Mr. B. of Amsterdam must not be forgotten. He was a Scoutmaster, and being employed in the labour office of that town, showed great ingenuity in helping his compatriots to avoid forced labour. He paid particular attention to those who were Scouts, and doctors engaged in medically examining persons detailed for forced labour were also the object of his solicitude. He was able to extract from them large quantities of bogus health certificates which he gave to the Scouts, and the standard of health in Amsterdam quickly began to decline. Mr. B. presently found a printer able to forge on a large scale. Certificates, ration books, every kind of official paper were manufactured with care and dispatch, and the exemption curve rose still more sharply. Then Mr. B. discovered that the Germans had a rule that persons with black blood in their veins must never be sent to Germany lest the Herrenvolk should be corrupted by their presence. This was a wonderful stroke of good fortune. Mr. B. himself had a brown face and curly hair, and allowed it to be known that not far back in his family there had been an East Indian mesalliance. The word went round and soon anybody with black hair and brown skin—and there were not a few of them—discovered a similar black grandmother in the cupboard. All were exempted.
But the pace became too hot to last. The printer was caught and sent to a concentration camp, where he died. Undeterred, Mr. B. prepared the special stamp which the Germans used on the cards. He worked in a small cellar hidden in the midst of the city, proceeding to and fro in a motor hearse, frequently saluted by the punctilious Germans. One day the inevitable happened. The certificates which Mr. B. was issuing so lavishly were scrutinised and found to be forged. Mr. B. left the labour office in a hurry but continued his work on a smaller scale, stealing genuine cards from the Town Hall and altering them. In October, 1943, however, his activities were temporarily stopped by his arrest. For a year and a half he languished in various concentration camps until he reached Siegberg. There, awaiting his opportunity, he hid for a fortnight with a friend in a disused steam boiler and thus escaped.
One of the Scouts of Middleburg was L. K., a Rover and a champion wrestler of the Dutch Navy. He joined the K.P. organisation and being a skilled fighter and a man of abnormal strength, would, "whenever he passed a German sentry post, make a practice of knocking down the guards. Then he would go away, put on a different hat or clothes and come back to see how much damage he had done." His two most memorable feats were the blowing up of "an important bridge in the north of Holland at the moment when a column of Germans were on it. This he did all by himself on his own initiative. It was his hobby." The second deed was the substitution of harmless sand for the explosive charges placed by the Germans under the Post Office at Leewarden. Though there were eighteen German soldiers on guard, L. K. succeeded in performing this feat, but to this day refuses to tell how he did so. To physical strength he added resource and sagacity. When, as inevitably happened sooner or later in the lives of those who fought for the Dutch Underground, the Gestapo came to arrest him, he was ready for them. At that time he lived in a large house in The Hague. Three agents knocked upon his door and said they wanted to speak to Mr. K. He replied, "Oh, Mr. K. is living on the third floor." In they went, out he went.
Let these stories of what Scouting meant in Holland, and of the deeds of some few of the many Scouts in her Underground Army, be concluded with the tale of Nellie. In 1939 she was Cub Commissioner for the whole of Holland, and as such organised the work of the Cubs throughout the country. There were many charitable tasks which could be performed and were. Nellie directed them until Scouting was suppressed on the 2nd April, 1941 She then threw in her lot with the mayor of a little village who was the head of a section of the Underground. Their labours were many and varied. They sent messages to London, they helped Allied airmen and others to take the long road to Spain, they provided " divers" with false identity cards and ration books.
In June, 1942, the mayor was arrested and Nellie took over his work. Equipped with a false identity card and a season ticket on the railway, she threw herself into her dangerous tasks, and from then until her arrest never slept more than one night in the same place.
In March, 1943, she saved the life of an agent of the Netherlands Intelligence Department who fell into the Zuyder Zee, the aircraft from which he was to parachute having been shot down by a German night fighter. With him she worked until he returned to England, and she then "organised the going back of crashed pilots via Belgium and France." It was dangerous work, for the Gestapo had a habit of planting "stool pigeons," persons who pretended to be Royal Air Force pilots. Through the help of "such a damned inferior Dutch quisling"—Nellie does not mince her words—"my group fell into the hands of the counter-espionage department of the Gestapo." It was only a question of time before they found Nellie. On the 27th September "the Gestapo had luck!" and she was arrested by no less than eight of their officers.
It seemed impossible that she should escape death. Had she not been engaged on espionage work and did not the "Convention of Geneva give the Germans the right to execute spies ?" Moreover, had not " a German general declared in Brussels that my group had caused the death of thousands of German soldiers ?" To her astonishment, however, she was politely interrogated. " I had the luck," she records, " to find Gestapo officers who were no beastly sadists. A Hun is a Hun, I will never forget that, but my interrogators never beat me." The first day she remained silent. On the next, the Germans took her to the prison at Scheveningen. "The first night in your cell you don’t sleep. You’re thinking, what’s the best thing to do. Only for a moment did I have the thought of suicide. I said I would prepare the Huns a good surprise when they found me the following day as dead as a doornail. But immediately your common sense gets the upper hand. There is only one way for me, fight against the Huns to the end."
The following day she was interrogated from 8 a.m. till midnight, every member of the Gestapo taking a hand. Her fame had spread through Holland and they were eager to see her. " As each came in they made the same remark: ‘ Das ist die Nel,’ as if I was a good old friend of theirs." She gave them no information that day or on any other. In July, 1944, Nellie was tried by a Court of German Air Force officers sitting in Utrecht. She was condemned to death on two counts, espionage and helping Allied pilots, and of the twenty-one who were in the dock with her, all belonging to her own Resistance group, ten received the same penalty. "I am still proud of the behaviour of them all," she writes. "Nobody showed his emotion, nobody said that he regretted his work. That 4th of July we saw death in the face and nobody was afraid of him." Even the German President of the Court was impressed by their demeanour.
Before the confirmation of the death sentence arrived, the Allies had reached Holland, and Nellie with others was thrown into a cattle truck and transported to Germany, taking three days to perform a journey which in peace-time took four hours. In Germany she and her companions were confined with a group of Nacht und Nebel prisoners, victims of perhaps the greatest of all German crimes, the Night and Fog decree under which arrested persons were never seen or heard of again, their fate remaining an unsolved mystery to their relatives. With these, Nellie and her companions spent the rest of the war, in a grim prison at Kotbus at hard labour, her food "two thin slices of mouldy bread and for dinner a litre of water with something in it, that we in Holland give to cattle." She contrived to keep up the spirits of all by making them play Scout games, learn Morse and see each other puzzles. She also contrived to teach embroidery.
Transported from Kotbus in February, 1945, they were taken in cattle wagons in the depths of winter to Waldheim in Saxony. The journey took three days and nights, seventy women being thrust into one cattle truck without food or water. Many of them died, but Nellie survived though by then she had lost four stone (fifty-six pounds). In their new prison they could hear Russian gunfire. " These last weeks with practically no food and the Allies so near I will never forget. They were the most heavy days of our imprisonment. It was on the 6th May, 1945, at IO.30 p.m. that some drunken Russian soldiers smashed our cell doors and liberated us . . . they were rough fellows but we were free."
Nellie is now back at her work forming Cub Packs, promoting Scouting throughout her country. She and thousands like her are convinced that Scouting must and does play a major part in the rebuilding of any country ravished by war. It will certainly play its part in Holland, for the traditions which it has created in the five years from 1940 to 1945 will not easily be forgotten. After a slow start the Dutch created a movement of resistance to their oppressors as powerful and as successful as those which won them independence from Spain and thwarted the ambitions of Napoleon. In it all classes played their parts and all ages, from the ten-year-old Cub taking a message or forged ration card to a "diver." to that old lady of many ancestors who said that the Germans could never reach the height of her disdain.
|Hilary St George Saunders, The
Left Handshake, 1948
Chapter IV: Resolution. Scouting in Occupied Countries
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