Interview with Johan Boogaards
Spiegel, Volume 81
Official newspaper of the Delftsch Studenten Corps/ June 2005

Dear Readers,
Last May, the 60th anniversary of our liberation was celebrated with the march-past of the Canadian veterans. Johan too was liberated by the Canadians, not in The Hague but in Anjum in the far north of Friesland. How had he arrived there? It was the end of 1944, the Hunger Winter. There was virtually nothing left to eat in The Hague apart from tulip bulbs and sugar beets. Originally, there were seven of us at home. My own mother had died suddenly in 1940. I had two half-brothers, Adriaan (1922) and Koos (1924) from my father’s first marriage. My father had remarried in 1943 and Gerard was born of that marriage in 1945. There was also Leo (1931), Willem (1932) and me, Johan (1934). Adriaan and Koos had registered for “Arbeitsdienst” in Germany in 1943. They were put to work in a timber factory in Ulm.
My father had heard from acquaintances that it was possible to arrange for food and shelter in Friesland. The plan was to travel to Lemmer by boat from Amsterdam. There was virtually no public transport so we had to walk from The Hague to Amsterdam. The entire country was frozen stiff, some 15 or 20 degrees below 0. In poor condition and weakened by lack of vitamins, we set off. My father (49), Leo (13), Willem (12) and I, Johan (10). When we saw the first houses of Wassenaar I asked my father optimistically if we had arrived. “Stop whining,” my father said, “We’ve only just begun!” My father had just relieved himself in a foxhole at the side of the road about 10 kilometres from Amsterdam, when a military armoured car drove up. In desperation we flagged it down, and, yes – it stopped. We were hoisted in and dropped off in Amsterdam. And then came the final straw: “The boat to Lemmer cannot depart due to floating ice”. So we went to the train station. There was a German officer at the entrance, checking everyone’s papers. We were refused entry. When my father continued to press the point he was told that he had better report to the Ortskommandant for work in Germany. We left and waited a bit further on. And then we saw what my father was planning. We saw someone walking behind the gatehouses. A little later a businessman started making a huge fuss because his papers were not in order and when all the soldiers gathered around him, we sneaked round the back into the station. After a two-hour wait a train arrived that was only going as far as Utrecht. By now it was almost night. At the station there was a closed-off Red Cross waiting room with the sign “For Mother and Child”.
My father walked in and asked: “Does that also apply to a father and his children?”  We were allowed to sleep under a blanket on one of the benches.


In the morning we were given a sandwich. At the end of the afternoon, a German officer arrived.  He disappeared with the nurse behind a curtain. We must have bothered him because when he left in the evening, the nurse warned my father that we should leave if we didn’t want to be picked up. So, back to the station we went. Suddenly, at 4 in the morning a train arrived that had empty freight wagons. It was going to Zwolle.  This was a stroke of good luck. Hundreds of people – including us – climbed into the wagons. We sat there like sardines in a tin, but we were moving. In the course of the morning we arrived in Zwolle. A cook-shop had been set up in a former cigar factory and for twenty-five cents you could buy a helping of potatoes mashed with vegetables served on the lid of a mess tin. My father managed to get us a place to sit in the boiler room where we could warm our feet against the boiler. We rested there, among the coal and briquettes, for a few hours. It’s not very clear to me now, but suddenly we heard that a train was on its way that would travel on to Groningen. Freight wagons again, but we didn’t mind. We rushed to get places for ourselves. At the last minute, several German soldiers and a sergeant came to our wagon. They needed to get to Assen. The trains could only travel at walking pace due to the ice and snow, so progress was slow.  At a certain moment the train stopped. The door of our freight wagon was opened and there stood the conductor: “Aussteigen, Assen” he called out. The Germans looked outside but could only see snow. “Wo ist der Bahnhof,” they asked. “Kaput, ausgradiert,” replied the conductor, “Snell. Heraus!” They got out into snow that was about 30 cms deep.  The conductor got into our wagon and closed the sliding door and the train started moving again. Five minutes later he burst out laughing and said: “Assen is still 20 kilometres away. Let them walk, those f*****g krauts! A cheer went up in the wagon because laughter remains no matter what. I don’t remember anything about Groningen. Anyway, from there we caught a train that was going to Leeuwarden. Our destination was the hamlet of  Lioessens, near Lake Lauwers. At Kollum we had to leave the train and travel to Lioessens via all kinds of villages like Oud Woude, Westergeest, Engwierum, Metslawier and Morra.  All in all, that was a trip of about twenty kilometres. So on we went, taking that stupid suitcase with us – I never found out what was in it – but it certainly wasn’t food! At a certain moment we passed a few houses. A man came out with his bike and asked us where we were headed. He then went inside and came back with pieces of bacon for all four of us to chew. He told us that he worked for a farmer two kilometres further on. He took the suitcase and said he would arrange for food for us. When we arrived there one and a half hours later, the table had been laid. A large dish of steaming potatoes arrived at the table, followed by vegetables and a gigantic dish of porridge.


It was as if we had landed in a fairytale. A little while later, the farmer turned up with a kind of sled. He had taken the fertiliser out to the fields.  After talking to my father, some boards were placed on the sled, the farmhand nailed a couple of wooden boxes on top, and we were ready to go once more.  By now it had started to snow again. We arrived in Lioessens half frozen. I was undressed immediately. My feet were almost frozen from sitting still for so long.  And I had a fever and so forth. I spent six days or so lying in bed under blankets with hot-water bottles. And then I got better. There was an old woman of about 70 from Arnhem in the house as well. I had only just recovered when she gave me scabies. For three days I was covered from head to foot with a smelly yellow cream. But I recovered from that too.  My brother Leo was taken in by a tenant farmer in Morra, Willem by a gentleman farmer between Metslawier and Morra.  In the mean time, my father had regained his strength somewhat, had filled his suitcase with food gathered from the farmers in the neighbourhood and had even acquired a bike. Via various people he had learned that the boat from Lemmer to Amsterdam was sailing once more. He should have been able to take it but things worked out differently. When my father arrived in Lemmer, the boat had just left. He had no choice other than to cycle across almost the whole of the Netherlands back to The Hague, through snow and ice and freezing cold. And yet, this turned out to have saved my beloved father’s life. Divine intervention. The boat my father had just failed to catch was bombed and was lost with all hands and passengers in what was then Lake IJssel. The boat had been carrying many Germans as well as Dutch women and children. My father returned home safely. We spent over nine months in Friesland.  In early May 1945 we heard the news that The Hague had been liberated and that Adriaan had returned unharmed from Germany. Koos was on his way back to the Netherlands and had saved two people from a burning house along the way. The mayor awarded him a medal for this but he exchanged it for a packet of shag tobacco. And then we received word that in Anjum, two kilometres away, Polish and Canadian troops had arrived and that the Germans had retreated. From school, we ran ourselves into the ground to get to Anjum. It was there that I tasted chewing gum for the first time. Two weeks later, the municipality arranged through the church for a truck to carry us, singing all the way, back home via Arnhem, Utrecht and Amsterdam. A few days later Koos walked down our street with a large rucksack. On his way out of Ulm he had looted a toy shop. So there I was, ten years old, intensely happy with chocolate, chewing gum, my first banana, white bread – and all of us had survived the war! Thanks to the Canadians and the Poles! And that’s why I was so moved and had tears in my eyes when I saw those “old mates” once again on 5 May 2005.