This is a story that I hope will be the first of many about the Holters, Reyenga’s, Schneiders and the DeJong’s and their struggles during World War Il. This story belongs to Stef van Hage, Frank van Hage. Edo Das and Tineke van der Heide-Das. This was written with the help of Stef van Hage for whom I am forever grateful.
When the Nazi’s began rattling their swastika’s in the early 1930’s and then when Hitler came into power, the Dutch were not too worried, after all World War I bypassed their country completely. There was the thought that if a European conflict did emerge, that the Netherlands would not be affected.
Poland was invaded by the Nazi’s on September 1, 1939. The Dutch began to shore up their defenses, but for the most part, they believed that the Germans would leave them alone.
The Battle of the Netherlands began on May 10, 1940. The main army of the Netherlands surrendered 4 days later, after the devastating bombardment of Rotterdam and the German threat to destroy Amsterdam and other Dutch cities too. The Dutch province of Zeeland continued to fight bravely for three more days. They were defeated on May 17th. Dutch Royalty went into exile to the United Kingdom. The British government crumbled. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
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Amsterdam, 1944. Nazi occupation continues. Holland suffers one of the worst winters on record.
The Jews had all but disappeared either by murder, or were barely surviving in Nazi death camps, or they lived hidden in secret places, like Anne Frank. There was nothing for the Dutch to burn to keep homes warm. They found furniture, wall slats, and garbage to burn. I find it is ironic that the tulip which became so valuable during Holland’s Golden Age (17th century), contributed to the countries great prosperity and is the flower the country is most famous for would be what eventually kept my family alive. They ate tulip bulbs. Everything else was gone. When I look at a tulip, it has much more meaning to me than just another pretty flower. It meant the survival of my family.
Gerrit Holter and Greet Reyenga were my Great Uncle and Great Aunt and the Grandparents of my cousins in the Netherlands, Stef and Frank van Hage and Edo and Tineke Das.
In 1944, Gerrit Holter and Greet (Reyenga) Holter lived in an apartment on the Retiefstraat in the eastern part of Amsterdam. Their son, my cousin Demp, was being held prisoner by the Nazi’s in Berlin. The war had been brutal to the Holter and Reyenga families.
Earlier in 1943, the Nazi’s outlawed and then proceeded to confiscate all radios in the Netherlands. The Nazi’s wanted to stop broadcasts from Radio Oranje. It was the Dutch government radio station broadcasting from London, England. Radio Oranje provided hope to the Dutch people. Possession of a radio by anyone in the Netherlands was considered an act of resistance against Nazi authority. If one was caught in possession of a radio, one would be arrested, held in jail, maybe face a firing squad or they were sent to a Nazi death camp.
Confiscation of the radios was important to the Nazi’ in 1943. The Nazi’s were taking a beating in Russia. Battle after battle was lost by the Nazi’s. News of this being broadcast into occupied Holland would stir the underground resistance into action.
Many Dutch families had a radio despite the ban. They stashed them under the floorboards of their apartment, or in the closet behind a pile of blankets, or in the attic. Radio Oranje was the only thing for many families that gave them hope. I am proud to say that Gerrit and Greet had a radio too!
One gray evening the Holters were startled by a loud banging at their door. Greet opened the door and there stood the Dutch policeman, fanatic Jew hater and Nazi sympathizer Sam Olij. With Sam were several Gestapo officers. Pushing Greet aside, Olij and the Gestapo searched the apartment and found what they were looking for. A radio. Gerrit and Greet had been betrayed. But by who? It remains a mystery to this day.
Gerrit, being the head of the family, was immediately arrested. Greet pleaded with the Gestapo officers to let Gerrit go. Gerrit was recovering from a stroke and was not well. She begged them to arrest her instead of Gerrit. And so they did.
Sam Olij and the Gestapo handcuffed Greet, took her from the apartment, put her in a car and drove her away. Where was she taken? As far as the family knew, Greet had vanished into thin air! Gerrit, who was ill from a stroke and their three young daughters, Ans, Aat and Tineke were now alone. How were the small girls going to be able to take care of their ill father? How would they survive?
Several days passed and there wasn’t a single sign of life from Greet. This was bad, very bad. The children were in shock. Gerrit the consummate soccer fan STILL went to the Ajax stadium to see his favorite soccer club playing that week’s match. Needless to say his daughters were furious with him.
The girls went to the local authorities in Amsterdam but they were dismissed out of hand. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. The girls were desperate. They were at wit’s end. There was only one thing they could do. It was their last ditch effort. The girls went to see their German Aunt Annie.
Aunt Annie was the second wife of Wiebe Johannes Reyenga. He was known as Jan and was Greet’s brother. Aunt Annie was GERMAN. One can only imagine how the girls felt enlisting the help of a German woman to save their mother.
Aunt Annie had special skills. Before she married Jan, she had been a nightclub “dancer”. It’s not certain if Aunt Annie worked in the nightclub after her marriage, but it has been said that she did her best work from the horizontal position.
Aunt Annie did know some of the German officers and found out that Greet was being held at the Sicherheitsdienst, which was the headquarters of the intelligence service of the SS-Nazi’s in Amsterdam. Willy Lages, a German Nazi fanatic was in charge of the prison. Aunt Annie knew Willy too. Aunt Annie was able to win Greet’s freedom!
Greet’s release came just in time. She was physically and mentally in shambles. Greet had shared a cell with many other women, who one by one disappeared. After the war Greet inquired about them. Most didn’t survive the war.
The great mystery of course is how did Aunt Annie obtain the freedom of her sister-in-law Greet? Was it by reasoning with Nazi flunky Willie Lages and the authorities of the Sicherheitsdienst? Or was it by Aunt Annie applying her special skills?
Greet never talked about this time in her life. She may have felt guilty and ashamed because she was saved by her German sister-in-law who most likely gained Greet’s freedom by applying the skills that she, at one time, made a living by.
Greet recovered and outlived many from the war. She brought great joy to her family and friends. Stef van Hage comments that his life would have lacked a lot of fun and laughing. Greet passed away in 1970.