Personal recollections of WW2

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by fass, Aug 7, 2009.

  1. fass

    fass Member

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    #1 fass, Aug 7, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2009
    Start of new thread below
     
  2. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    fass, I am sorry when I switched the posts from the other 2 threads, I somehow lost a few of your posts.
     
  3. trackend

    trackend Active Member

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    Hi Fass I'm going to Middleburg in November on a special trip to the museum to present something in connection with the Walcheran campaign. I'll post a bit about it after the event as sometimes things dont work out as you plan. It would be good if you could repost the bits you have already done as it is important we hold onto recollections for future generations
    thanks Lee
     
  4. fass

    fass Member

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    #4 fass, Aug 10, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2009
    A note for new readers:

    This thread found its origin under “When did you first become interested in warbirds?”. My introductory message stated that I was born in 1934 and lived in The Netherlands (“Holland”) in the period when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, from May 1940 to May 1945. Readers then suggested a separate thread for the subject as there was also interest in first-hand background information on WW2. When the new thread was started, a glitch developed and my original posts plus readers’ comments were lost.
    The new start gives me an opportunity to do some editing, add new material and headings and especially: to include more information of a general nature (besides aviation) as it became clear that there is a definite interest in “what was life like then” among those who know WW2 as an historical event rather than a phase in their own life.

    How reliable are these personal recollections, you may wonder? After all, I was a kid then and it’s now 65 years ago that the war ended. I can vouch for the authenticity of most of them as they happen to be fully documented. My parents divorced when I was 3 and I lived with my mother while my elder brother lived with my father. During the war, we regularly wrote and several of my letters came into my possession in 2000, so I could verify my memories – which turned out to be correct. Where appropriate, I will quote from these letters.
    First, I will tackle a controversial subject:

    Moral judgements
    More than any other conflict, WW2 has generated a flood of a posteriori moral discussions. Moral judgements are often easy to make from the comfort of a philosopher’s study but that situation changes markedly if a country is fighting for nothing less than its existence. Of course, the situation is completely clear in the case of atrocities like racial persecution or the mass murder of Polish officers by the Soviets in Katyn Wood. But in many cases, other factors complicate the issue. Decisions have to be taken at very short notice in wartime; actions and decisions are determined by what is possible rather than what is ideal and finally, ordinary people may simply not be in the position to reach a proper conclusion. Let me give two examples that concern the situation in Germany in the Twenties and Thirties.

    An uncle of mine was German by birth but came to The Netherlands in 1924 and stayed there, acquiring Dutch citizenship and marrying my aunt. The reason was that the economic situation in Germany was disastrous and professional prospects in The Netherlands were much better. He never became pro-Nazi, but imagine the life his parents had: you lose two sons in WW1; your country loses that war; widespread disease, poverty and famine in the winter of 1918-1919; galloping inflation in 1923 destroying your life’s savings (I have German postage stamps of 50 billion marks, so forget the current credit crunch); serious societal instability; the crash of 1929 wipes out your savings again and leads to massive unemployment. Then comes a politician promising an end to that misery, an orator of messianic charisma stronger than that of Barack Obama. Would you vote for him?

    In the Sixties, I acquired an older German friend who in his early twenties served on the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Not believing his eyes, he watched the battlecruiser Hood blow up after a few salvoes from the battleship Bismarck. Did he join the Kriegsmarine to kill several hundred seamen? No, he had a simple choice: either remain stuck in a dreary corner of Germany on a miserable lonely farm without much of a future except for bare subsistence, or join the Navy, visit exotic ports, get a smart uniform with good chances of promotion and better food than you ever had, with lots of healthy fun and games with pals of your own age. What would your choice be?

    In many cases, one should ask oneself if you’re qualified to give an answer to questions like:
    - if you are a building contractor and accept work for the enemy, thus ensuring that your employees can feed their family and are not transported to the enemy’s country for labour in the war industry, are you a collaborator or a good patron?
    - if killing of civilians is immoral, is killing of civilians who produce lethal weapons also immoral?
    - if members of the resistance kill an enemy officer, knowing perfectly well that this will lead to retaliations against their own people and this indeed leads to the death of over 550 men (Putten, 1944) are they heroes or murderers by proxy?

    War in itself is immoral so I will refrain from comments on moral issues, except for one remark on racial discrimination. From the literature one may gain the impression that this existed only in Nazi Germany. That is completely untrue. In the Soviet Union and Poland, it was rampant; in several European countries it was widespread and in the “tolerant Holland” it was certainly not absent. I can well remember how during Bible lessons, my teacher explained that “the present difficulties of the Jews are because they crucified Christ” and he was certainly not the only one to think so.
     
  5. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Hi Lee, is that free for all to go? Middelburg is not so far from here, you know.

    Thank you fass for starting this thread. It's becoming increasingly difficult to learn about the things that happened here first hand.
     
  6. trackend

    trackend Active Member

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    #6 trackend, Aug 10, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2009
    Sorry if I wasnt clear marcel, Its a personel trip I am making to presenting the Museum curator with a nazi flag my father took from the town hall balcony as a sovenier after the battle was over when his landing craft stopped on the canal for a few hours, my kids dont want it so I thought the best thing was to return it to the town as it is part of their history and will be looked after. my father spent several weeks in Holland and wrote about it in his personal accounts.
     
  7. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    That's a nice gesture :thumbright: I'm sure it'll be appriciated.
    It's a nice little and quite old town. I hope you'll take the time to see it.
     
  8. Thorlifter

    Thorlifter Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for reposting this Fass. I am very interested in anything you have to share since you were actually there.
     
  9. mhuxt

    mhuxt Active Member

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    Yeah fass, that's a hell of a post. Thanks.
     
  10. trackend

    trackend Active Member

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    #10 trackend, Aug 11, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2009
    I'll be interested to read your recollections Fass as my fathers experience was limited in Holland.

    His landing craft was trapped by a temporary bridge so while waiting for its removal he got to mix with local people and kids for a couple for a few weeks and found them very generous dispite having nothing and being on the verge of starvation.

    As a youngster it must have been very different experience in your eyes compared to those of the adults I look forward to reading them.
     
  11. fass

    fass Member

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    Thanks for the positive comments, folks, I'm away today but will continue to add. Excellent idea, going to Middelburg, if you have contacts there, especially the museum's curator, let them notify the local media (TV, press) so that the general public becomes aware of your father's experience and contribution. Was that a mixed unit your father was in, most of the troops there were Canadian?
     
  12. vanir

    vanir Banned

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    As my own family was in Germany during the war I've grown up being told basically the same things as you've started writing fass, it's nice to hear them again.

    I used to get a little disappointed being called a Nazi in school the way kids like to pick anything that comes to mind for a tease, and reading an often slewed moral view of history in commercial publication. To my investigations Hitler's racial views (ie. folkish views) were more linked to popular consensus about Eugenics at the time and more in scientific error than so much an irrational racism per se. He was of the mind cultural background defined modern political views, and his wrongness was mostly a violent campaign against political dissidence, which via this pseudoscientific bend comes across as racism...but really it is not so far removed from current assertions that criminally insane behaviour is genetically predictive. I mean that's the whole essence of what Hitler was saying...and similarly the bulk of the current scientific community contend these assertions published by some geneticists today are neo-Eugenic racism.

    Hitler's bend was no less wrong than classical racism, assuredly, but it wasn't some redneck phobia about someone with a larger penis sleeping with his wife. He really thought he'd figured something out, hell in Mein Kampf he repeatedly claims he is a genius.

    Anyway, my grandmother always said Göring was much more insidious than Hitler, being totally self serving and with his gestapo connections and everything (he originally created them after all). She claimed he had a bigger role in the Holocaust than the Führer, though I can't say I'm totally convinced.
     
  13. fass

    fass Member

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    Reply to Vanir:
    I hesitate to become involved in the racism-eugenics-genetics theme. Before you know it, the discussion will deviate from my theme for this thread: Personal recollections, and I would like to restrict the thread to that. I had to mention the subject of morality because during the war we were continuously faced with taking decisions on a moral basis, of which I gave a few examples. Here's another: in 1944 I witnessed a serious crash of a motorbike with sidecar carrying 2 German soldiers. Although they were enemy, people in the street immediately lifted the wreck and got the soldiers out from underneath. And we were all glad to see that they had not sustained serious injuries! The story might have been different had they been Gestapo, however.
    Just a brief remark on the genetics theme because your remark is indeed relevant although I'd like to avoid the subject. My professional qualifications included genetics, by the way:
    The Nazi ideas re genetics and race were totally crackpot. "Blood" was regarded as a genetic factor, sexual intercourse was thought to taint the blood and more of that nonsense. This can in no way be compared with our current knowledge of the role of DNA, epigenetic effects, genetic expression etc. Modern research is certainly yielding valuable data on the relationships between our genetic toolbox and behaviour. Whilst "criminally insane behaviour is" NOT "genetically predictive", a certain genetic pattern may well contribute to certain mindsets that make the subject in question inclined to sociopathic behaviour, for instance. What this tells us is that criminal insanity is a form of disease, courts recognize this by deciding that the individual is not responsible for his actions.
    So let's stick to personal recollections, OK everybody?

    Reply to Trackend:
    The experience of kids and adults was indeed quite different, in some respects at least. One important point was that as a kid you were less at risk in some ways. You could not be picked up and sent to Germany for forced labour, for instance. The second difference was that you were not responsible for a family - although you grow up quickly in war, especially if you're "the man around the house" as I was, living with my mother. But you were protected by your parents and not vice versa!

    Continuation of the main thread tomorrow!
     
  14. Condora

    Condora Member

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    Hi Fass,

    very interesting thread here, congratulations.
     
  15. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    You're into genetics? What a coincidence, me too, I'm a molecular biologist. May I ask what your occupation is?
     
  16. Doughboy

    Doughboy Member

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    Very interesting thread and I am looking forward to more of your posts.
     
  17. fass

    fass Member

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    #17 fass, Aug 12, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2009
    Marcel: I retired when I was 69 (!) but before that I was an independent consultant to scientific research organizations and hi-tech industries including pharmaceutical companies, firms specializing in medical diagnostics and defence-oriented companies. I studied medicine and electronics originally. Private interests include microbiology, music and radio...
    I'll continue the thread later today, am BUSY....
     
  18. fass

    fass Member

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    #18 fass, Aug 12, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2009
    Start, Part 2
    To recapitulate: these are personal recollections. They do not, in particular, allow any comparison with the experience of people who were persecuted or lost relatives. Although some of my experiences were unpleasant, I was lucky. But on the other hand: the vast majority of Dutch were lucky too, so in a way my story may be more generally applicable. For an understanding of the mood and mindset of the Dutch pre-war generation, some major differences from the present should be pointed out, so here is more background information. Some of the elements in this background found a parallel in other countries, some were typically Dutch.

    Economy
    The Netherlands might be a small country, it was an important colonial power then, as the entire Indonesian archipel was part of the realm. Millions of people with hundreds of languages living on zillions of islands. Quite indefensible, of course, in wartime. This colonial asset was a major factor in the Dutch economy, resulting in a leading international trading position in products like tea, coffee, tobacco and oil. Light industry and services had begun to rival agriculture in economic importance and there was a large and modern merchant fleet, a well-developed road network and an exemplary rail network. The Great Depression had caused great damage, particularly because politicians categorically refused to ditch the gold standard, but nevertheless things had started to improve in 1937 and we were definitely not a poor country. Worldwide, economies were still primarily coal-driven, coal being the main energy source for heating, generation of electricity and gas and as a basic material for the chemical industry. There were – and are – large coal deposits in The Netherlands. The vast deposits of natural gas had not yet been discovered.

    Society
    In several ways, pre-war society in The Netherlands would be totally foreign to the present generation.
    “Authority” was a powerful influence, even if it is now evident that the Authorities were often authoritarian rather
    than authoritative… Statements by the clergy, politicians, local officials and teachers tended to become gospel.
    There was a much greater difference in life-style between cities and the country than now. Cities like The Hague (the centre of government) were pretty modern, villages could be quite backward – no water closets but “thunderboxes” and cesspits, pumps rather than water mains, many unpaved roads. Because there was no TV and even a radio was not universally present in the home, whole areas spoke forms of Dutch that were almost incomprehensible to Dutchmen not indigenous to that area. And I’m NOT talking of Frisian, which is a language of its own still spoken by the Frisians (the people, not the cattle…)!
    Social divisions were marked. From the bottom up: farmers and blue-collar workers (the men of these two categories wore caps, touching their hand to its peak in greeting, men in the next higher categories wore hats and lifted these in greeting), white-collar workers and bourgeois like owners of the better shops, professionals like lawyers and doctors, the élite like professors, bankers and top positions in government, and finally “old money” and captains of industry. It was possible, but not always easy, to move up.

    Opinions
    What was most pronounced was the division of society into religious groups. There were Catholics, a wide variety of Protestant churches all agreeing to disagree with all others and also non-denominational “mild Christians” and humanists. In certain communities, you would be in deep trouble if you were a Catholic and were “seeing” a Protestant girl – or vice versa. In mixed communities, there would be a Catholic baker and a Protestant baker – I was amazed to see that custom survive in a Dutch village as late as 1968. This division meant that people often led segregated lives: there were Catholic, Protestant (often of various denominations) and secular schools and clubs. It also meant a Catholic, two different Protestant and one “secular” radio broadcasting organizations, with an additional “Socialist” broadcasting organization thrown in for good measure for the heathens… This division along religious lines almost automatically determined what you were going to vote. There were 2 Catholic parties, at least 3 Protestant parties, a conservative party which (to totally confuse modern Americans!) was called the Liberal Party, a Socialist Party and a collection of weirdos such as anarchists and a variety of Marxists. Plus, starting in the Thirties, a Fascistoid party called National Socialist Movement or NSB. The NSB attracted many voters in one election, to lose most of them in the next.
    These differences tended to become less marked during the war, but soon afterwards, they reappeared to decline only from the Sixties onwards.
    And of course there were tiny minorities like Buddhists and Muslims from Indonesia, plus a larger minority – the Jews. I knew several Jewish families in The Hague, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a dentist and several artists, for instance. The only thing in which they appeared to be different was that they somehow had Saturday for a Sunday, quite puzzling to a kid.

    As an aside, here is another nice moral puzzle. One major Protestant denomination held the view that “Thou shalt obey the government God hath willed should rule thee”. Most of these people automatically voted for the “Anti-Revolutionary Party”. What to do when that government turns out to be immoral? During the war, I several times heard adults struggling with that and discussing it, with tempers running high.

    Politics
    Then as now, Dutch politicians have an irritating tendency to evangelise, in the firm conviction that the nation is a paragon of moral rectitude. When you read them now, their statements are seen to be sanctimonious prattle, reeking of righteousness – and excuse my French.
    Pacifism was popular in the Netherlands, as it was in many European countries. If France (the only nation able to do so) had justifiably sent troops into the demilitarised Rhineland when Hitler re-occupied that area militarily (1936), it is highly likely that the German Army would have deposed the dictator.
    But the Dutch had another powerful deterrent up their sleeve: they repeatedly and emphatically declared that the nation was “strictly neutral”. That was firmly believed to keep any other nation from attacking us, and when it did not work, most Dutch (including the Queen) were absolutely dumbfounded. Even in 1939, the great majority of Dutch people were totally convinced that war would not start – when the Soviet Union and Germany concluded the Ribbentrop Pact there was optimism as “war is now surely unlikely”. But even if a conflict would break out, we would be certainly exempt, protected by our strict neutrality…
    The really serious threat, most people believed, was the Soviet Union and communism, not National Socialism, especially because of Stalin’s Great Terror in the mid-Thirties. That is why the National Socialists had a certain appeal: they declared themselves staunch enemies of communism. Which required some serious ideological conjuring by the communists when Hitler and Stalin became friendly from 1939 to mid-1941…

    END, Part 2
     
  19. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Interesting recollections and I look forward to more. Being born only one year later than you, I too have some memories of WW2. Some of your observations about the different dialects spoken is in strong contrast to my experience. The state I lived in, Texas, was of course many times larger than Holland although I expect the population was less. My guess would be 5M or 6M. The population of Texas in those days was overwhelmingly rural and many homes had little plumbing as well as no electricity. However a Texan in Texarkana would have no trouble conversing with a Texan in El Paso, some 800 miles to the west. Approximately the distance from London to Warsaw.
     
  20. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Very interesting recollections fass. Thank you for sharing them, I am looking forward to more.
     
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