Jan Verdonkschot

Jan Verdonkschot
Nationality: Dutch
Location: Eindhoven • Heemstede • Holland • Missouri • Netherlands • Overloon • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Family Resisted the Nazi Party • Resisted the Nazi Party

Mapping Jan's Life

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“I have a vivid memory of when the war started or when the Germans invaded the Netherlands because from my home you could see the smoke coming out of the gasoline tanks that had blown up when they invaded.” - Jan Verdonkschot

Read Jan's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1 (Bernstein)

BERNSTEIN: This is Rick Bernstein interviewing Jan Verdonkschot at his home on 5/9/85. Could you please tell me your name, your age, and where you were born?
VERDONKSCHOT: My name is Jan Verdonkschot. I was born in Heemstede near Haarlem in the Netherlands. I’m 56 years old.
BERNSTEIN: Could you tell me a little bit about your family and your childhood and where you grew up?
VERDONKSCHOT: I grew up in Heemstede and my dad was a tulip bulb grower and we lived outside of Amsterdam. I have a vivid memory of when the war started or when the Germans invaded the Netherlands because from my home you could see the smoke coming out of the gasoline tanks that had blown up when they invaded the Netherlands. And I very much remember them marching into our town and that was when I was a small child, of course—in the ‘40’s—1940.
BERNSTEIN: And how old were you, once again, in 1940?
VERDONKSCHOT: In 1940, I was 11 years old. In 1942, the latter part of 1943, I was witness of several murders in person, and I was never too quiet a person. My dad was well known in our town and they had attacked two collaborators of German regime. First, he hacked them out of a State car with a rake and I was there, and the police came to my home because I’d already been witness to the killing of a guy on his bicycle and they thought I was involved in this because it seemed that every time something happened, it never did happen, you know. It very seldom happened because murders, or things of that nature, were hardly ever heard of in the quiet place where I was born. So, the police had then suggested that it might be better if maybe—it would be better if I depart and then my parents brought me to North Brabant, which then you have to take a train to Amsterdam from Haarlem which is near Heemstede, Haarlem, Amsterdam, and I ended up in a very small village in the country by the name of Overlone. Overlone was—also in the town there was also a camp for laborers…a labor camp, they called it, but they were young kids who marched with shovels rather than with guns. Later on in the war, though, they used them as protection from the Germans. They’d chase them ahead of the troops so they could get killed easily. Also in this town, there was more people living underground and there was more resistance movement in this one town than virtually any place else in the Netherlands, and how come I got shipped over there, only God knows. But—so I knew quite a few, or many illegal people, who virtually lived underground and I arrived there in 1943 in this village called Overlone.
BERNSTEIN: Were your parents with you?
VERDONKSCHOT: No, no. No, my parents, when they brought me there and then they left me there.
BERNSTEIN: So who did you stay with?
VERDONKSCHOT: I stayed at the home of a barber. His name was Van Klopek, and I stayed in that home. And his brother was the head of the resistance movement in that entire area. Even later on, I remember him being a very asthmatic person. He was later on made the director of the War Museum. There is only one War Museum in Holland, and this happens to be also in Overlone and I have some newspaper clippings from this over here. Though traveling in the train, I don’t recall ever going home again.
BERNSTEIN: Did you go to school in Overlone?
VERDONKSCHOT: No—I was out of school. You know, even during the war, schools—wherever I went to school—schools were taken over by the Wehrmacht, you know, and I remember having my last class sitting in the grass over a ground where there was a Catholic Seminary, and that Seminary had been taken over, too, by the Wehrmacht, see, by the German soldiers. School was just about null and void.
BERNSTEIN: So, what did you spend your time doing during the day?
VERDONKSCHOT: We were working, gathering in the yard at these people’s home, helping this guy in his place, in his barbershop, running errands, doing things that were sometimes totally illegal because we had other young kids there—young men—and we even had four in the underground scout troop. Because that was another thing against the regime, you know, the German—
BERNSTEIN: What kind of illegal things were you doing with other young men?
VERDONKSCHOT: Well, this will come up later in the story when the Battle of Overlone comes, you know, where they sent me out to spy on the Germans. However, traveling through the Netherlands by train, you know, I saw many train loads of Jewish people being shipped to a camp, and we stopped—the train stopped in a camp and I was in Werft, and we saw the people in the cattle wagons and so we were well—everybody was well aware of the fact of how the Jewish were treated.
BERNSTEIN: What did you think at that time? Where did you think the Jews were going? What did you think was going to happen to them? Did you have any idea at that time?
VERDONKSCHOT: You know, the Dutch have a—in most instances—they have a closer relationship to Jewish people than I think most other people have. They have another—a different type of affection for Jewish people, especially because—close by—in Amsterdam was a very Jewish city. Later, after the war, when I started to go to sea, you know, I worked with many Jewish people—boys, you know, and young men and stuff, and you know, even in the language, in the slang of Amsterdam—and by the way, Amsterdam is called Mokum*, which is a…
BERNSTEIN: A Yiddish word?
VERDONKSCHOT: Yiddish, Yiddish. In the language of Amsterdam, there are many Yiddish expressions, you know. Like schlemiel**, and—well, so many that I, you know—anybody when they start talking, I can understand virtually a lot of it, you know. So I was not necessarily raised with Jewish people, but we always had very high regard for them. We had some very close—and I can show you a painting of a Jewish lady who painted me here and were very close friends of our family. So we had—we had a high regard for Jewish people. So when we saw the Jews being treated—they were being stigmatized with a mark, you know, of the Star of David, you know, that really pulled them down, you know made them so much less than—like a cattle being branded, you know. And I know that—
BERNSTEIN: Did you have—what were people saying about what was happening to the Jews?
*Mokum might possibly be Mr. Verdonkschot’s pronunciation of “Makour,” which in Hebrew means “place” or “my place.”
**Schlemiel is a “fool” in Yiddish.
VERDONKSCHOT: Well, I guess they didn’t do as much as they did in Denmark, but a lot of them did—went underground, you know, like Anne Frank in Amsterdam—where they were up in attics and hidden, you know. I know they were—later, after I came home, after the war, I found out that people had also been stashed away in cellars because basements—they don’t have, you know, because of the water problem—or in attics and in farms, you know, in false haystacks and stuff like where they have been kept for years, you know, and fed and protected, you know. But, many were dragged away, too.
BERNSTEIN: Uh-huh. Did you—once again, I’m just curious—at that time, when you saw the Jews being loaded in boxcars and being transferred wherever, where did you think they were going? Did you have an idea, did you think—
VERDONKSCHOT: I know, I know, but I’m sure they were not gonna go to a summer camp because you could see that, you know. Because—you know what always surprised me? That they were so silent and they had been—I don’t know why—you didn’t hear any screaming, yelling, or hollering, you know. I mean, you saw a lot of shoving and pushing and dragging, but I never heard too much noise. Now I do remember one case where a fellow who was a (Dutch word), more or less like a fruit handler, behind his wagon and hookup, beat up because just like a lot of punk…Nazis, you know, like some of the Dutch collaborated. They had the—what they called the N.S.B.-ers. It was a National Socialist Bund or a National Socialist Organization.
BERNSTEIN: The Dutch Nazis?
VERDONKSCHOT: You know, the Dutch Nazis, you know, the traitors, who were just as bad, or even worse, because they were the trash of the earth, you know, who had followed. But I guess because of the style at my home, where everything was very neat, but my dad had lots, many brothers, and I went to a Catholic school. And he had one brother there who had—was in the underground and he got shot in our town because of clandestine radio operations and stuff like that. And I guess that was the first inkling, at my young age, those people are enemies, you know. And I guess they must have talked about it quite a bit in my home, so it was kind of instilled in you, you know, that those people—you know, if you talked to a young kid, telling them day after day, you know, that blacks are no good, well after a while, they are no good, you know. And I guess it was the same thing with the Nazis. When they marched into our town, you know, there was nobody on the street waving them in. So even for curiosity reasons, they said, ‘I don’t want you to go out there and look because these people are coming over here and gonna take our stuff away from us,’ you know. And they took it away and sent the Queen away and everything else, so you kind of were—and also, with that school thing that happened. So we knew who and what was bad and indifferent.
BERNSTEIN: Can we go back to the—I’m not quite sure I understood—the two incidents that occurred in your home town that your parents thought you should be—
VERDONKSCHOT: Ok. One was at night in my home town. One was on the border, but being that everybody knows my dad and the police and everybody, you know, this was a small, very nice town. It’s something like, I guess a portion of Ladue, attached, you know, something like that. But these were—there were two guys and there were two collaborators and it was not a drunken street fight or a—
BERNSTEIN: Two Dutchmen were collaborating with—
VERDONKSCHOT: The Germans.
BERNSTEIN: With the Germans.
VERDONKSCHOT: And this happened when the streetcar came by and they had fled into the streetcar and while they were standing to get into the streetcar—and these were rather big streetcars, not like the smaller ones they had staying in this city, for example—they were more for long distance running. They’d look like a train, what that means, that there was high doors and high steps to get in. And they were both racing in there but the thing was full, and some guys who had come from, to work the fields, and we had what we call a strofel, which was the device which they use to weed with, which could be very sharp because of the sand ground there, it sharpens itself. And one guy slammed it into the back of the neck of this one collaborator and the other guy had a rake and he slammed it into the back of the head of the other one, and they pulled them out of the streetcar, see. And it really started then. And the other occasion was in front of a barbershop. They had killed the collaborator and he must have had some smart alec remark or Lord knows what happened. I just happened to be there, too. And they pulled him off of his bicycle and so many people got involved. The guy was under the bicycle and they just stomped him to death.
BERNSTEIN: So, life was not easy for a German collaborator.
VERDONKSCHOT: Not necessarily, because after the war I was in this place the first day, but when they were liberated the first day in my home town, of some people I knew, life was not easy for them then because they did just almost anything to them, you know.
BERNSTEIN: I see. So your parents thought you might be in danger because you witnessed these—
VERDONKSCHOT: That was because the police say, ‘It seems he’s there when two of these terrible things happened.’ It was too quiet of a place, you know.
BERNSTEIN: Ok. Did your formal education stop at that point?
VERDONKSCHOT: My formal education stopped. And I never went back to school until after the war.
BERNSTEIN: I see.
VERDONKSCHOT: So, I went to Overlone in 1943. I guess I was about 14, and then—let’s see, I wrote this down here—The Battle of Overlone, they called it a “second Cannes.” The village was—the men had all fled the village and I don’t exactly recall how many miles, but it was walking distance, the troops, the part of Holland was liberated of the south, anything on the…over the—what the heck was the name of the river now—that was all still occupied because the Battle of Overlone was on September 17 until the 24 in 1944 and let’s see—the dates I have to be careful with here because I don’t recall exactly when the Battle of Overlone was, which was called the “second Cannes” because the Germans had occupied the town three times and the Allies, which were Canadians and English and predominantly English and some Polish took the village back. So by the time we got back to it, you know, there was not one place standing on top of the other. Then what happened is all communications to the outside, to a town called Venraij were disconnected, and we had this labor camp there. It was a part of what’s called the “Arbeitsdienster,” the Labor Service, the camp.
BERNSTEIN: There was a labor camp in Overlone?
VERDONKSCHOT: Right. And that had emptied because they had sent all these kids with digging trenches or foxholes or something for the Wehrmacht, you know. And in the afternoon, (inaudible) and ear or a smell of a happening, and they had in the road remember, here was the Mayor’s home, and the road went around into a curve and the curve was kind of high, kind of hilly with sand dunes and bushes and then going here was that big camp and then the road when to Venraije, and here was Overlone, and it was a courier, a motorcycle courier, with a German officer. They were gonna go to Venraij to report something about—I think there were over 300 people living underground in Oberveen—to get troops or whatever they were going to do. So they hear of that, so they position themselves on the hill here in the bushes and then they shot the guy. They were gonna shoot the motorcycle rider so they can stop him, but they didn’t shoot him. They shot the guy who was sitting on the seat in the back, and they shot him off the motorcycle and the guy got away. And then the troops came into the town and all men were advised—we all left and we left our wives there ‘cause, you know, still they were stupid because they never learned the lesson they learn about a town by the name of Poeta where everybody was driven into a church and the church was struck afire and the same thing would happen in France, and we had something like that happen in Holland. I don’t know the name, by the name of Poeta. And so any able male was advised to leave, and some people had never seen—I’d never seen them in my life, and then finally I saw where they lived under—I mean, they virtually did call it underground—they virtually lived under the ground like rats, I guess. And they had to be kept supplied with food and drink, so there was, you know, there’s been a lot of hard times over there. And we left and walked through the heather fields to another town and I don’t know what the name of the town was, but we ended up on a farm and all the men spread around and it was hundreds of them. And then I was asked to go with another young guy because they figured that kids they do much to, to go back to town and find out if the German troops had arrived. We walked—or snuck into town, not walked, because we didn’t want to be noticed. And while I was laying behind a high hedge—it was a thorny hedge, and the flowers even smelled. I remember the smell of the flowers. A truck stopped with troops and they looked over the hedge and saw me laying there. The other kid run away and they got me and I was told to stay there with a guard. And this was a fellow, a German with a bicycle who had a gun strapped on his bicycle and he was supposed to stand guard over me and to hold me there because they were gonna interrogate me. And then an officer came by, and they do a lot of yelling and screaming, you know, these people, these Krauts. And I don’t want to forget, here was a small delicatessen store, you can call it. They sold tobacco and cigarettes and beer and you had a bowling alley, but not like here in America—they had sand where they bowl with the balls—on sand. In the back there was a part tavern then they had this store and it was owned by two sisters. And here was a big, point, off to the side by itself, and it was all gravel, and I was standing in the middle there with this guy and the bicycle and this officer came by. And he had then given him orders to shoot me, see, because I didn’t know what they were talkin’ about—with all the yellin’ and screamin’. We all spoke German but it was always better to pretend you didn’t know a damn thing about it. So I remember these two girls were jumpin’ up and down, screaming bloody murder because this guy, he was supposed to get rid of me there because I had no answers to his questions, you know. And the officer had parted, so, with all this yellin’ and screamin’ from these two women behind the window there and was jumpin’ up and down, this guy—he was an older German—I guess I gotta thank my life on that occasion for this guy because he patted me on the head and he told me to start running. I don’t remember ever peein’ in my pants, but I know I did at that time because I was soakin’ wet for many hours. I got, even I was embarrassed about it, but not realizing that I could have just, you know, have been killed.
BERNSTEIN: An older German—
VERDONKSCHOT: An older German had then let me go, you know.
BERNSTEIN: I see.
VERDONKSCHOT: So I went back to where all the men were, and the wives, of course, wanted to know where the men, but this was then in the period of days and eventually all the men came back. But then this town had been mined and because I went back for some of my tools or some of my belongings and I remember they had plundered a lot of the places already—the Germans did, because I had a little saving bank, and I had kept that and tried to save some money in there, and it was made out of steel and that little handle looked like a little suitcase, and it was from a bank. And I went back in there and that’s when I almost got killed a second time by steppin’ on a land mine, and when I left there, then we were advised to leave because the village has already been taken over once by the Allies and once back by the Germans. So everyone was told to leave the village and then we packed the old people up and I had no personal belongings.
BERNSTEIN: So this time the entire population was evacuated?
VERDONKSCHOT: Yeah. A film was taken of that from the air because it must have been a sight to see, because I had an old woman on a wheel barrel which I pushed, and again, I do not recall the name of the place. You know, I haven’t really talked about this stuff. When you start talkin’ like this, you can’t—stuff starts coming back and–. We went to another town and there we were strafed, you know, by airplanes or things were goin’ on all over. There was constant fireworks. And then we stayed for the longest time in a forum in a cowshed and the woman I had pushed in the wheel barrel, she had got hit by a small piece of shrapnel, and we didn’t even know it and she was dead. And many other people—kids had died and stuff like that. And then I ended up in back and forth Germany, and then finally, with the Allies and most of those were English and then later on they became Canadians, and—
BERNSTEIN: So you could note the troop movements back and forth?
VERDONKSCHOT: Oh yeah. Yeah.
BERNSTEIN: And this was in what, 1944?
VERDONKSCHOT: This was all around 1944—and it was in the fall because—let’s see. I went to—in the winter, I went to Eindhoven where the Phillips Factories are and I—the people I was with most of the time, they had enough worries on their own, so I kinda just left, but then the Red Cross had given me something to hang on my neck and stuff like that, and they kept track of me, you know. So that was in ’44, and I didn’t know if my parents, if they were dead or alive or what because—
BERNSTEIN: You had not communicated with your family.
VERDONKSCHOT: No way to communicate, no. The first time I communicated with them was when I got this Red Cross thing here, which was sent via Switzerland by the Comite National du Craix Rouge*** through Geneva in Switzerland. The first time, that’s when I wrote them on March the 5th, 1945. So from…I say the fall of ’44 till after, till they found out in March that I was alive, you see.
BERNSTEIN: Now, as you were hiding with all these people, were Jews also hiding, or people that the Germans—
VERDOKSCHOT: No, these were all—no, there was no Jewish people there. I know that to be a fact. Most of these were—we called them the underground. Most of those were guys who were looked for because they were involved in killings or had blown up bridges or sabotaged. A lot of saboteurs were there.
BERNSTEIN: While you were in Overlone?
VERDONKSCHOT: That’s right. These were what we called the “Unterdaggers.” They—you know, there was no way, no other way. They couldn’t show their faces on the street because they were wanted criminals as far as the Wehrmacht was concerned, you know.
BERNSTEIN: I see.
VERDONKSCHOT: But now I don’t recall in this town any—any Jewish people.
***The Swiss Red Cross.
BERNSTEIN: The Jews that were in hiding in Holland—
VERDONKSCHOT: They, once they were in hiding, I don’t think they went as far as that, especially in the very small towns.
BERNSTEIN: Mainly in Amsterdam?
VERDONKSCHOT: I think they mainly were in Amsterdam, but I know they were in Heemstede where I was from because they were located there. Where we were, this portion of the part of the country in those days was predominantly Catholic, and like North Brabant is the name of that province, and Limburg is the next province. And those two provinces were predominantly Catholic provinces. Okay, then I ended up in the hospital, and I got terribly ill and depressed and I ended up in the hospital, bed to bed next to each other with a lot of war wounded and I didn’t have much place to go. They had tried to take care of me. Some Canadians came to visit the hospital and then they virtually adopted me. So now I became a waif of the Canadian army and I got measured for a Canadian Army uniform and now a Sergeant Major had taken the responsibility that for a year and one-half, because no one knew how long the war was gonna last, he was gonna be responsible for me, or he had the right to transfer this responsibility to someone else, except if I found my parents, then they had the right to claim me, you know. So I stayed with the Canadians for a year and a half. This was early yet after the war I remained with them because there was not much else to do, you see. So—and here is a—you see a picture of me here which was May 7, 1945 and May 5th Holland was liberated, and that’s what I looked like.
BERNSTEIN: So, after the liberation, you stayed with the Canadian—
VERDONKSCHOT: What happened, the first Canadian liberator came into my town, started a motorcycle and had let my mom know that I was alive and well and I was in Arnhem. I was one of the first Dutch persons to enter Arnhem, and you know, the city was terribly devastated because of this market garden attack in September of ’17, they fought the Battle of Arnhem in ’44. I stayed there with the Royal Canadian Army, while I was in Eindhover and the war was still very strong goin’ on. I was in Eindhover and then I was here. I was in Eindhover and the I worked in the kitchen. This was in January of 1945. Now I was about as big as that soldier there, as you can see. You see, I was not a physically scroungy kid. Too look at this picture now, you know, I look like my grandson (both laughing) or he looks like me. So I have other pictures, but these are just something I brought in. And I stayed with the Canadians to war end. And I got home. I was with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, the 65th Tank Transport Company. And I tried to become a—I wanted to go to Canada. My dad found out that I wanted to go to Canada, so he had the military police on me in Antwerp because I had tried to stow away on a Canadian ship called the Hampstead Park, and by that time, my dad was fed up with me prancin’ around in a Canadian uniform.
BERNSTEIN: You wanted to go to Canada, and your father wanted you—
VERDONKSCHOT: He wanted me to come home and go to school, you know.
BERNSTEIN: I see, I see.
VERDONKSCHOT: So I remained with them till…September of 1946. So I was a good year and a half with them, and that’s when my dad said, ‘Hey, come home and go to school.’ And then I tried to go to school—

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Bernstein)

BERNSTEIN: Back tracking a little bit, how long after the Germans came into Holland in May of 1940 was it that you had to leave your home and go stay in Overlone?
VERDONKSCHOT: Ok. I went to Overlone in 1943. 1943. And in 19—you know, the war—of course the Americans and liberators, you know, they were already in France and Belgium and, you know, but you hear about it but you really didn’t pay as much attention to it because it wasn’t here yet, you know.
BERNSTEIN: So you were still at home for almost two to three years during the occupation—
VERDONKSCHOT: Yeah, right.
BERNSTEIN: –before you had to leave.
VERDONKSCHOT: Before I went to Overlone in 1943, and I was then 14.
BERNSTEIN: Ok. What experiences can you remember during that time at home before you went to Overlone concerning the Nazi treatment of, of Jews, or when the restrictions were placed on Jews? What kind of experiences can you remember happening?
VERDONKSCHOT: Yeah. You just said it. You know, I was really a young boy, but I do, you know, I remember that—how they were stigmatized with the Star of David. I remember them being pulled on the street; I remember them having written on their store, you know, if they were store keepers, and most of them were, or if they were peddlers of some kind, you know.
BERNSTEIN: How many Jews lived in Heemstede?
VERDONKSCHOT: In Heemstede, very few. Not many in Heemstede, because it was a—or a Heemstede, how that section is, like I said, it’s something like Webster Groves and Ladue combined, you know. There is very nice, big homes. So, if there was any Jewish people living there, they were all very well to do, and they probably left to England already anyway. It is a lot of the poor suckers, you know, who were in Amsterdam, the small peddlers. But I know for a fact, that in shopping districts where the stores were more J-O-O-D or the German word, J-U-D-E, you know, in the very beginning, that you could not shop there, you know. And that’s how it all started in the very beginning.
BERNSTEIN: The Germans made it clear—
VERDONKSCHOT: They made it clear that you don’t do business with the Jew, you know. And of course, eventually, when they start takin’ them away, draggin’ them away, you know, but in Amsterdam—
BERNSTEIN: Can you remember any conversations at home? What were your—what were your parents thinking at this time about what the Germans were doing? Does anything come to mind?
VERDONKSCHOT: It was very anti-Jewish, you know, and that’s why even at my young age, you know, I was already a rabble rouser and I knew that the son of a collaborator which we called the “N.S.B.-ers,” the traitors, the quislings, they would never survive with a bunch of kids of my caliber, you know. They may drown in the swimming pool if they were there with us, you know. They may never come back up for that matter, and nobody knew what happened.
BERNSTEIN: Were there every any instances of that?
VERDONKSCHOT: It’s happened. We grab one and pull them down and they stay down.
BERNSTEIN: Were you ever able to travel to Amsterdam? Was there—
VERDONKSCHOT: No, I never did travel to Amsterdam. But, you know, I did travel to Amsterdam when I went to Overlone because you got to go by train through there, you know. And I may have traveled there, too, yeah, because I went to my grandparents who lived in the south in Limburg where they was, too, while I was in the south. It was deeper down where the Americans liberated them. Thousands of them died of that. I did come to Amsterdam in—like I told you before, we saw the Jewish people being pushed into animal train wagons, you know, and being shot in there. And I don’t know who the hell they are saying that, ‘It’s a joke, it never happened,’ you know, ‘We didn’t do anything to these people.’ You know, I see it right now in my own eyes, you know. So, I don’t know where they get this from, ‘It didn’t happen.’ You see the pictures, and especially in Holland, because they have always been very pro-Jewish, you know. The Dutch have been very protective of the Jews through the ages, you know, like in—I have many Jewish friends right here and I’ve been to Bar Mitzvahs and see that silver chalice they use for the Seder, you know. A Jewish friend in Holland gave me that. And like I said, there was a painting of me hanging there, painted by a Jewish painter. So we always had a very high regard for the Jewish people, you know. Some other countries, they were considered either the leeches of the society or the, you know, or some traitors, and not to be trusted, but I never heard that in Holland because they were—well, the better ones, you know, they were diamond cutters and there were a lot of small business people, you know. And the small businesses and—you know, there was a lot of poor Jewish people because they had the place in Amsterdam called the “Jordan” and funny thing, in 1981, I was going to go, and I went like a citizen. And I said, ‘I’m not gonna rent a car, and I’m just gonna walk the streets and do just like I belong here, you know. I went to the Jordan because I have some Jewish friends, but it’s all changed. There’s nobody there, you know, they don’t live there no more, or they’ve moved and they’ve done better, but it was like a Jewish ghetto and they had the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. And this friend who gave me that, his father was the “Oper Rabbi” of a small village, and again, this Jewish gentleman, he came—I met him in Holland. I didn’t know him. I had never met him before, until I met him and I said, ‘Why don’t you come see me sometime?’ He was 78 years old. It has nothing to do with this war story. I just wanted to confirm how I feel about Jewish people. I said, ‘Mr. Brest, why don’t you come see us in the United States? You’ll stay at my house and everything is wonderful.’ And lo and behold, he calls—he writes me a note, ‘I’m gonna be there and I’ll probably be there next week, but I’m not sure what day.’ ‘Well, so I wait till you call from the airport.’ And he calls and I’m there and I was the executive chef at the Missouri Athletic Club and he has Thursday night, first night opening buffet, and I’m busy, and Mr. Brest calls. And I said, ‘I’m coming to the airport to get you.’ And I rant to the airport, and he has a small suitcase with him, and he had the most beautiful blue eyes, this guy. And he was an old man. He had been in the toy business—I got stories. And he was very rich, but he never flaunted, never showed it. And I didn’t give a damn if he was rich or not because he was a friend of mine, see. And I said, ‘You know, Mr. Brest, what you do? I’m gonna put you in the rendezvous of the club and I’ll get you a drink. And I’m gonna finish my job up there and get this first night buffet going because, you know, I have a lot of responsibilities in this club.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry.’ And he had a scotch and water, and he sat there and waited till we got home. And driving home, he said, ‘Now I gotta tell you, a guest is like fish. Fish you don’t keep too long in the house, fresh fish, you know. So I’m gonna be like a fresh fish. I won’t stay too long. A couple of days.’ Well, three weeks later, he left. (Laughing) And then he was gonna go to Israel because he had a sister there who was in her 80’s and she was a writer, and he never did make it. But my daughter had terrible asthma, my youngest daughter, and he was ready to pay the way for her to go to Israel to see if she could get rid of—with the temperature there, you know, to try to get rid of her asthmatic problem, but we never did do it. So he was a good friend of ours. So it’s not only me, and I had Jewish friends here who have tales to tell. There was one Morty Shenken and he doesn’t live here no more. He lives now in Baltimore and he was a clothing designer and he was a real good friend of mine. And he has quite a few stories to tell about camps that makes you kind of hurt.
BERNSTEIN: How successful was the underground in your home town and also in Overlone?
VERDONKSCHOT: In my home town it was not too successful because there was no strategic things to be blown up or—and it was too close to the government, you know.
BERNSTEIN: The Germans were very visible—
VERDONKSCHOT: Yes. And see, underground work was always done either in outlying areas, railroads…factories…the shooting of German in—like, I was in the (inaudible), for example, and (inaudible) and there was a underground needed a cardial, bed and he didn’t realize who he was shooting at and shot this guy with a pistol some place, and he happened to be a German general and he took the car. And then over a hundred people were gathered up because they used to pull them out of homes and they set him up down there and they shot them all down, you know, in reprisal to the shooting of this one German office, see. And that’s what happened all the time. Of course, also what happened, the Germans took young and able persons. Either you go into the army or to the work army, or they shipped them to Russia to work in the grain fields, or they worked on the coast where they were building all the fortifications because they didn’t know for sure where the Allies were going to land, see. So there was an organization called Organizatia-Organitzation Torte, and they built bunkers and that was seaman’s work. So any able-bodied person was dragged away from home, and for that reason some guy said, ‘I want to go to Russia,’ so they went underground also, you know. But where I was, they were predominantly sought after, you know. And there were Catholic priests and they were religious brothers or whatever. A friend of mine was a Catholic priest and he was from that area. He doesn’t live here no more now. He lives in Cleveland, but he was honored by Prince Bernard of the Netherlands and he was friends with Cubby Baer. And when he came over here—he had been a Trappist Monk over there—Cubby Baer, he lived in his home for over months and months and months. And he went to the Seminary and became a Franciscan Monk, the priest, at his older age. And this—well, how old is he now—67, he’s going to be about…67. So, again, here was a Catholic Trappist Monk who came to the United States and probably through maybe Baer’s efforts, you know, from Stix, Baer, and Fuller.
BERNSTEIN: Mhm.
VERDONKSCHOT: And then became a Catholic priest at this late age. So, the Dutch always have been very…they have been friends of the Jews, you know. They have never—some other people they say, ‘Oh, those Jews,’ or ‘They have Jews living over there,’ or something, you know. There was no—you never heard that. You see, there was not any hate.
BERNSTEIN: You mentioned a forced labor camp in Overlone.
VERDONKSCHOT: No, it was not forced—well, it was semi-forced, I guess, you either go or, you know, it was predominantly to get kids off the streets and to train them and eventually probably try to get them into the Wehrmacht, you know. So it was something like—don’t they have something in the United States where they take these kids? Not in the Peace Corps or anything because those people have to be people who know something.
BERNSTEIN: Military training school?
VERDONKSCHOT: No. What the heck—they had it on one of the presidents. They took these kids and they sent them to—they had them train, teaching them a profession or something—at least here they did. Over there, they trained them, you know, to march, but they had no guns. They used shovels, you see, in what’s called the ‘Arbeitsdienst.’ And I remember the packs they had yet because there was two shovels like this, see? And I guess it was a semi-forced thing, you know? Just also to get kids off the street because a lot of schools were occupied by the troops, so there was no school, you know. There was no school.
BERNSTEIN: What memories do you have of liberation?
VERDONKSCHOT: Well, when the war ended, I was doing guard duty, and I used to get 25 bucks for doing guard duty. The reason I remember that is because I wrote this in a letter to my mother and she saved all the letters. And they were all sent through the Canadian Army, you know, through the mailing without no stamps on, and stuff like that. I had recorded that. And then I heard that papers had been signed and that the war had ended. Well then, I was, of course, anxious to go home to see my parents and they wouldn’t allow me because there were still Germans in my town and they knew how fanatic—at that time, because I was totally a fanatic with any German. I’m still fanatic because of the Bittburg thing. I’ll never forgive the good man for this life to send an, you know, to honor those bastards there. This makes me terribly sick and people ask me why. ‘You really have a hate for these Germans?’ And I say, ‘Yes, because when you see what they did to fellow man, you know, those people are not to be honored. And I know he’s not no God to be no judge to them.’ But I don’t care if they were not SS, there was a lot of Wehrmacht, and lot of them there went for the fatherland, you know. And they went there because of the glory and not because somebody said, ‘Hey, you’re drafted.’ Because Germans are not that way. Germans are followers, you know. They all—I don’t care who they say it is, because I’m glad they caught up with these clowns now in Florida, this whole nest of Mafia SS. Did you hear about that?
BERNSTEIN: Mhm.
VERDONKSCHOT: And I don’t know why they don’t weed them out, you know. My wife says sometimes I get so mad, and I have had terrible nightmares that last two weeks, you know, because when you called it kind of brought stuff back. Then I went to these letters I wrote my mother about all this war stuff, and then I met some Dutch men and they started on me, and I’ve had some very bad nights lately. So, I can never forgive or never forget until the day they carry me out of here, you know.
BERNSTEIN: After liberation, do you have any recollection of any Jews that came back from the camps, of anyone that came back from Holland alive?
VERDONKSCHOT: Oh sure, Mr. Brest, you know, a friend of mine who survived the camp and his family got all killed, Morty Shenken. The lady who painted my picture—her family never returned. But, you see, it is so much more visible in the United States than—we never talked about it as much as it is talked about now, you know. I think a lot of them, they were thanking God that it was over and it was done, and they kept a lot of that to themselves, you know. I don’t know why they suffered themselves with it, rather than bringing it out in the open. Now, of course, they did a lot of hunting of the war criminals, you know. I remember there was—I don’t know what his name was in Holland, but I have some books and I took them to work because I was going to run Xerox copies of it, and I thought maybe you wanted to see some pictures, and I left it there. So, yeah, I seen—and I sailed—at sea was a Jewish guy, a guy by the name of Bob Spielberg, and they survived either by attic, cellar, or had enough money to go to England, you know, and join—at that time, I know some of them joined the Netherlands Army in exile, called the ‘Irene Brigade.’ Was named after the Princess, daughter of Queen Juliana. And so they returned and then I met one guy from the Irene Brigade. It was a guy I went to school with and he was not more than two years older than I am. He couldn’t be over 17. Then we promised each other if we were alive, whoever got home first was gonna tell our parents, you know, except that the Canadians beat him to it because a Canadian motorcycle courier had already come to my home and told my folks that I was alive and well and I was over there in Arnhem, you know.
BERNSTEIN: And when did you come to this country?
VERDONKSCHOT: When I came to this country in 1956, on the President Eisenhower as a displaced person, under that special arrangement, you know. Because of the war experience and the war situation, they gave you this special dispensation so you didn’t have to wait as a regular immigrant, you see. So I came. I was in Sweden and from Sweden I went to Holland and from Holland I immigrated right over here. But I’d been in the United States before, see, so I knew where I was going, you know.
BERNSTEIN: Is there anything else that you would like to say regarding your experiences that I haven’t asked? Or anything else that comes to mind?
VERDONKSCHOT: Having—you know, in war there is always so many things happen—to see people get shot and killed and people hanging in trees, parachutists, you know. But those are things you can see pictures of, you know, and I have it in my head and it’s hard to, you know, talk about stuff like that—how people get killed. I mean, how much you want to talk about it.
BERNSTEIN: Ok. Thank you very much.
VERDONKSCHOT: You’re welcome.

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