About this Report
Peter Mansbridge hosts The National from the city of Wageningen in the Netherlands, with an in-depth look at Liberation Day events.
Ties between Canada and Holland were forged during the Second World War when Canada helped bring an end to the Nazi occupation of Holland and brokered a surrender agreement between Germany and the Allies. The National is on location in Wageningen where celebrations marking the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland are being held.Peter Mansbridge tells the story of a group of Canadian soldiers who liberated inmates from a Nazi transit camp. The camp was where Anne Frank spent her last days before being transported out of Holland to her final destination - an extermination camp.
Peter Wall follows some of the hundreds of Canadian students attending the ceremonies to capture their stories of how they will commemorate this pivotal event in Canadian military history and help keep the memories alive for future generations.
Brian Stewart examines the bonds that still exist between Canada and Holland and unite these two countries in their present-day efforts in Afghanistan.
Read Olga Rain's thank-you to Canadian and Allied vetrans
65 years after the end of World War II
When the Second World War broke out I was living in Holland and was 14-years-old. When the Nazis overran our small country I did not realize what the next five years were going to be like. I learned the realities of life as I watched hardness and cruelty with my own eyes. I saw Jewish people being taken out of their homes and put into trucks like animals to be sent to the concentration camps and gassed. Two of my girlfriends ended up this way.
As the years went by everything became more gruesome. The Nazis became more sadistic because the Dutch people would not cooperate with them; we did everything we could to sabotage them. Slowly my family was robbed of everything they had worked so hard for. Young men were sent to Germany to work and most never returned.
Girls my age had to peel potatoes, onions and carrots by the barrel. We received a lot of harassment from the German soldiers because we would not date them, or even talk to them.
On the day I wore my new watch (a gift for my 15th birthday) a German soldier came over to me and asked me to take it off and give it to him, he wanted it for his daughter. This was only one incident of so many over those five horrible years.
Then a curfew was imposed - first 10 o’clock, then eight o’clock and the last year of occupation it was six o’clock. I sat for hours at my bedroom window and watched the Allied bombers go over on their way to Germany. They would return hours later and sounded much lighter. I often wondered then if I would ever meet one of those courageous men who risked their lives. Over the years I have met many of them.
One evening the Germans decided to pick young girls off the street and put them in the cellar of the city hall in the center of the city where I lived. After hours of questioning they let me go, because I was one week under the age of sixteen. One of my girlfriends who was older was not so lucky, she was sent to Germany and never returned. A week later as I was rode the train to the southern part of Holland; it was attacked by English planes who thought that train was full of German soldiers. The bullets flew around me but I came out alive, all I lost were my shoes.
When the education system became Nazified my parents took me out of high school. The last year of the war became hell – things got so bad that no men of any age were safe on the street. Women and young girls became the sole support of their families and food became scarce.
After the liberation of the southern part of Holland, the Nazis in the occupied north, where I lived, tried to starve us to death. The winter of 1944-45 became known as the Hunger Winter. We lived only for survival. The stores were empty; there wasn’t even salt and vinegar anymore. Sugar, tea, coffee and milk had long been off the shelves.
Our water supply was rationed to two hours a day. Even then, the pressure was so low that only a trickle came out of the taps. Tap water was used only for cooking the sugar beets; rainwater was what we used for keeping ourselves clean.
In order to keep alive, people traded whatever they had - swapping pianos for 50 lbs. of potatoes. My parents burned their Queen Anne furniture to keep warm because the electricity and gas was cut off, and there was no fuel for our stoves. It was the coldest winter we had for many years. We cut down trees out of parks and took the small wooden blocks that were between the streetcar tracks.
My mom and I used our old worn-out bicycles with solid tires to travel for hours to the north, in search of food among the farmers there. We traded what we had left and what the Germans had not already stolen. In return we got turnips and sugar beets. We balanced the heavy bags on our bikes for the ride home, which was no fun on a windy dike and an empty stomach. I often wished I would die.
The last two months of that winter we ate mostly tulip bulbs, which gave us eczema. Our resistance to disease was very low and many people became ill. I got diphtheria and nearly died -there was no serum, no medicines.
Twenty thousand people died of starvation and disease that winter. The sight of someone collapsing and dying on the street was an everyday occurrence. If they didn’t die like that, the Germans would kill them. Two days before the war ended, twenty innocent people were killed on the corner of the street where I lived.
Families of the dead had to pick up the bodies and do the burial. It was a common sight to see a body in a paper bag on a board between two bicycles on the way to the cemetery, a shovel sticking out on the side. Women and young boys and girls had to do this job - all the men were gone. People would help each other to keep alive and to not let the Nazis break our spirit. Because of the lack of food we were so weak we couldn’t even think properly anymore. We were more dead than alive.
Then the Allies liberated us in Holland, they were mostly Canadians. They were like angels sent by god.They came with food, but because we were so weak we couldn’t eat it right away. I was wearing a dress made out of curtains and wooden shoes with holes in them, but I was alive.
Now I know, so many years later, all of what happened. I know how hard the Allies fought to make us free again and without their help I would not be alive today. I thank God for being alive and I thank the Allies for liberating us.
In 1945 I married one of my Liberators in Haarlem, Holland. God willing we will be married 65 years in 2010. We have three sons, ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. My husband is Lloyd Rains and he served with the PPCLI regiment.
I want to thank all the veterans across Canada. God Bless you all.