“The war has taken away my childhood”
On one site Leo Vleesschhouwer (Amsterdam, 1923) had a lot of luck in the war. He rescued his Jewish father from the Germans and he escaped to death in May 1945. On the other hand he was hit hard by the war because many of his relatives died in the concentration- and extermination camps. A large number of his Jewish acquaintances who stayed behind, are still not able to talk about that period.
Vleeschhouwer was only 16 years old when the war started. He lived in Amsterdam-Zuid and saw the planes in 1940 who were on their way to bombard Schiphol. Vleesschhouwer tells us:
“A lot of people were standing on the roof and saw the German parachutists land. ”What I recall, as I think of the war, is what my father told us with a serious face, that we would face a difficult time.” He remembers that in the beginning, the consequences had no that much influence on the daily life. That goes also for the Jewish people but this changed quickly. In 1940 small forms of resistance arose. People made jokes about Hitler and insulted the NSB. On June 29, the birthday of Prins Bernhard, people wear en mass a white carnation. It’s the beginning of Carnation Day. Such expressions of patriotism were forbidden or discouraged. The police officers had mixed feelings when they had to press down this form of resistance. It happened sometimes that people try to tear of the carnations of your lapel,that’s why some people attached razor blades on their carnation. Also words like ‘orange’ were forbidden. To the annoyance of the NSB’ers we shouted ‘carrot up’.
For Leo Vleeschhouwer meant the war “that it has taken away his childhood”. There was not much pleasure, just playing on his guitar. As the war last longer, the consequences of our daily life became tangible. Bicycles and radios had to hand in and my father got fired because he was Jewish. He worked then at the Diamond Exchange at the Weesperplein in Amsterdam, the heart of the Jewish Community in Amsterdam. In the only pub in Amsterdam were the Jews were allowed, my father was picked up in the last year of the war by a raid by the Dutch SS. He was forced to take off his diamond ring. He found that shocking. The reason that many Jews had a great interest in diamonds, is according to me, to buy back their freedom in captivity. “That threat always hung above their head’, according to Vleeschhouwer. His father ended up, after the raid, in the Jewish Schouwburg, from where many Jews from Amsterdam were carried away to Westerbork and from there, deported to German concentration camps. “When I heard that my father would be released if we payed fl.200,00, I delivered the money. When he was released, he went into hiding, afraid of being arrested again. It didn’t happen but we saw him not until the liberation. In the mean time we lived in great uncertainty, about his safety. The last year of the war was hard. In the west of Holland there was a shortage of almost everything. I have been eating sugar beets and bulbs and I also remember that we didn’t had electricity in the houses and there was a lack of necessities of life. To remain warm during the hungry winter everything what could burn was used. Attics were cleared out, furniture and trees. Everything what was made of wood disappeared in the stove or divided amongst the neighbors. Even the wooden sleeper between the railway.
What Vleeschhouwer the most seized were the public executions in Amsterdam. At the Weteringplantsoen I saw how a number of resistance fighters were executed by firing squad. Everybody who passed by was forced to look at the executions. It was shocking, to scare off the people the bodies lay there for a while and at a given moment the dogs licked up the blood. After a while the bodies were thrown on trucks to be transported. The euphoria was immense when the occupiers surrendered after five long years. At the Dam in Amsterdam the liberation was celebrated, exuberant, on May 7 1945. Thousand of people, including Vleeschhouwer and his girlfriend, who became his wife, were there. The Canadian liberators awaits a warm welcome until it went completely wrong that afternoon. After a few shots from behind the Palace, at 03:00pm, it went wrong, German soldiers from the Kriegsmarine started to shoot. It’s still not clear why it happened. Vleeschhouwer got the impression that they started to fire because they were abused, but there are also stories that it were members of the Domestic Armed Forces who wanted to disarm the soldiers. It would have been better if the Canadians did that. Other claim that it were drunk frustrated German soldiers who realized that it was over and out. When it escalated, people search a safe place in the surrounding streets of the Dam. At the square was no possibility to hide. A picture of the consternation that arose shows that some people hide behind a lamppost, while a child that walks around, while nobody cares about her. Vleeschhouwer ran with his girlfriend into the church. “The bullets were literally flying around your ears.”That afternoon 19 deceased and more then 100 wounded people fell. In memory of the victims of this dramatic massacre at the Dam a memorial stone is placed on the corner of the Kalverstraat.
In 1945 Vleeschhouwer worked for the police for three months. There was an acute shortage of staff. Several policemen, who were at the resistance, were executed and there were hardly Jewish policemen. At that time I nearly weight 56 kilo because we had hardly any food in the last months of the war.
Vleeschhouwer worked for 38 years at the police and retired. In the period that he worked at the police he was present by a lot of commemorations. I think it’s important that the commemorations are honored. It has never been that worse as in 1940-1945. It’s important to talk about it in schools.This period may never be forgotten. Amongst his Jewish friend it’s still difficult to talk about the war but also in his own family the war has left his mark. He never saw his cousins and grandmother back because they were killed in one of the extermination camps. Only one of his four aunts and one of his three uncles survived the war. My uncle never talks about it when he was released from the camp. Because of these experiences I’m very aware of the privilege to live in freedom.Through this I have a lot of understanding for people, for what they experience during a war all over the world.
We must ensure that there will never be another war. That’s why we have to commemorate.
With permission taken from the book “Ereschuld”, written by Laurens Aggelen.
Leo Vleeschhouwer deceased in Hoofddorp in 2012.