Hans Vree

I’m almost 82 years old and I like to tell my story about my experience at the Dam on May 7 1945, I was then a boy of 12 years old.

 

My eldest sister, who lived across us in the Rombout Hogerbeetsstraat, came in the afternoon with us to say that she went to the Dam to see the entry of the Canadians.
I heard it too and asked my mother if I could join her. That was allright, and my sister promised to take care of me, not knowing how this day would end.
We walked via de Rozengracht to the Dam, it was already crowded when we arrived. We queued up and stood in the middle of the Dam. In a wink the square was filled with people.
As a little boy, I didn’t see what happened in front of me, so I looked up, a.o. to the Grote Club. There was a machine-gun on the, upwards, against it a German soldier. At an young age, I found it strange, I told it to my sister.

On the oblique angle of the Grote Club was a big window, it was closed. In the mean time the square and the pavements were crowded. Now and then the Domestic Armed Forces appeared on trucks around the square, that caused cheering. I asked my sister if I could go in front of the row. She understood it, because as a grown-up you didn’t get the change, but a little boy like me could do that. I had to promise to return, at once.

I squeezed me forward and stood on a nice spot. I looked again at the roof and saw that the soldiers and the machine-gun were gone. Probably he laid on his belly behind his gun. Suddenly a bang sounded and another one. Somebody shouted ‘they are shooting’. I looked at the window, it was open, some Germans laid with their rifle at the ready. The shooting became heavier. People started to scream and running away. I would like to run to the back but I didn’t got the change.

The nightmare started. People fled to all directions, tumbled over each other. I was swept away in the direction of the Nieuwendijk. At the Nieuwendijk laid a lot of people and I landed on the outskirt of the Nieuwendijk and the Dam. The Germans kept shooting, so I had to stay. I just lay still, thinking at my sister. I don’t know how long I lay there but suddenly everybody was gone, for me it was a riddle. Afterwards seems that they were going to the Nieuwe Kerk. The shooting reduced and I looked in the direction of the Damrak. Behind a lamppost with a broad base I saw people laying and sitting. I thought “that’s a good spot”. When the shooting reduced, I ran as fast as I could to the lamppost and let me fall behind the last man. I just lay on the ground when the shooting started all over. Suddenly I realized how many people lay on the ground, seriously wounded, and people who didn’t move, like a Domestic Armed Forcer who lay in the gutter. These are images you will never forget.

 

Photo: W.F. Leijns, Collection Nederlands Fotomuseum.

We still lay behind the lamppost, in the direction of the Grote Club. I lift off my head a little when suddenly a loud bang sounded. Maybe it was a bullet, I was lucky it didn’t hit me. My right ear was numb for hours. People were leaving gradually, most of them to the Damrak. At a certain moment I sat there alone and didn’t know what to do, but I had to go, that was clear. I looked at the church and saw that the doors stood open and now and then people went inside. That must be a good place. I ran back to the church, when the shooting stopped, and went inside. They took care and reassured me. In the meantime the shooting started all over and I walked further into the church.

I didn’t believe my eyes what I saw. Next to the church is the Gravenstraat. In their fear people climb through the stained-glass windows and came down via the pulpit. Unbelievable what people do when they are terrified. In the evening, around 07:00pm, two German officers with their large hats, long green coats and shiny boots, came on to say that it was over. I never ran that hard to go home and to be kissed by my sweet mother. She already knew what had happened because my sister managed to get away and went straight to my parents.

The next day I got a bonus. I walked at the Rozengracht on the right side in the direction Astatheater. Nearby the Rozendwarsstraat the shooting started all over. Along the pavement stood a wooden cart, I lay under it, shaking. What was going on? The police or the Domestic Armed Forces, I don’t remember, were chasing after rogue traders and other scum who always hang around the corner of the Rozenstraat. I went back home again.

 

This article was published in The Amsterdammer, April 2015

Views: 1020

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.