Hans Capers sent us this report about the incident on May 7 1945. At home nobody spoke about it; the subject was taboo. He is now 75 years old and he wants to write down his life on paper for his children, and his experiences of that day are a part of it.
“I was only 6 years old, some memories are deeply etched in my memory. We went to the Dam to see our ‘liberators’. On May 7 1945 I stood with my mother at the corner of the Nieuwendijk and Dam looking at the building opposite us.
There were German soldiers inside and one stood outside, in front of the door, holding the gun to his chest. Now and then he called something inside, but I didn’t understand what he was calling.
I was 6 years old and didn’t understand German. Around me I heard people calling “they’re in town”. A minute later “they are already at the Rembrandtsplein”.
The atmosphere around me was chaotic and full of excitement. “They’re coming.”
At one point my eye caught sight of a cyclist who came riding from the Nieuwendijk. He seemed rushed and frightened. Then a shot sounded, one single shot. The cyclist fell without a sound. He lay with his feet towards me, on his right side, and didn’t move anymore. I didn’t see who had shot at him.
At once the German soldier reacted by shooting one shot. The man who was jumping all the time in front of him with his hands up, ran away, in the direction of the Nieuwe Kerk.
Everyone was frightened of those shots. Only one thought came to their minds – just run away. I saw people running in the direction of the Nieuwe Kerk. Most of them went in the direction of the Dam. Just like us. We ran hand-in-hand to the Damrak. We heard the shooting behind us, people rushed on all sides.
To take shelter a lot of people went into the best restaurant of the Damrak. It must have been a group of 10-12 people, men and women. I still remember how dark it was inside. And how quiet it was. I had entered a world I knew nothing of. I was completely surprised that somebody was eating at a table.
The image of that man eating – I carried it with me for a long time. He was a bald man. He sat at a table along the wall, just eating. He looked at us and continued with what he was doing.
Then the staff that were present they got rid of us very efficiently!!
“Yes, but they are shooting”, I heard a woman say. The man in black said that he had nothing to do with that – out!
Through the side door we came to the alley next to it. That alley wasn’t straight, standing in the bend they couldn’t see us from the Nieuwendijk or Damrak. Everyone kept standing in the bend. I didn’t hear any shooting, but people were scared. Nobody dared to leave.
There was somebody who constantly “peeked around the corner”, and I heard them say “they are still there”. Afterwards I heard from my mother that they were afraid of those men who walked with guns through the city.
I felt as though we stood there for a long time before we had the nerve to leave.
Through the Damrak and Prins Hendrikkade we went home. We lived at the Herengracht. The next day we went again to the Dam, to the same corner. We went to the Dam to see the ‘liberators’, just like yesterday. A cart stood at the corner of the Nieuwendijk, filled with lost shoes.
I could see the place where the cyclist had been shot. I had to see it. In the asphalt I saw a big spot. Afterwards it became clear to me that the man bled to death there. He lay so long in a pool of blood that you could see the shape of his body.
My mother pulled me away from there. Years later I wondered if this cyclist was shot intentionally. He was afraid and was fleeing by cycling as fast as he could.
To shoot an unarmed civilian after the capitulation. Who would do such a thing?
The very first shot that was fired came from the side of the Dam, from the Nieuwendijk, and was aimed at the cyclist. The second shot, one second later, was the reaction of the German soldier who stood on guard. The shooting that we heard as we ran came from behind us.
In the eighties I saw a report in a national newspaper by a journalist who was present that May 7 at the Kalverstraat. He wrote about a shooting by Hotel Polen.
A shooting where (these are his words) the Domestic Armed Forces were involved. The shooting incidents at the Nieuwendijk, and at the same time in the Kalverstraat, had the effect that many people fled to the Dam, an effect that the German soldiers probably were not happy about.
I have served my country as a soldier for more than 30 years and I have wondered for a long time: “how is it that, relatively speaking, so few victims had fallen that afternoon?”
Supposing they aimed at the crowd, then they were very bad shots. That’s why I keep thinking: “maybe the German soldiers tried to chase the crowd away by shooting over their heads”.
For soldiers a square filled with people is very threatening, certainly after the capitulation. The rumours (and messages) about revenge being taken by civilians and people from the resistance would have strengthened the unsafe feeling of the German soldiers.
Squares full of people and soldiers is a bad situation – there are many examples in the history with many victims.
The question that has been in my head for years is: “how many victims in all were overrun or died at the spot?” In other words: “how many people showed signs of bullet wounds?”
The shooting at the Dam has affected me deeply, and I would therefore like to share this experience with you in your search for witnesses.
I was there, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
Hans Caspers, March 2014