THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER!
Mrs. Truus G. Leader
Interview by Charlotte Wangrin August 21, 2004
Charlotte: I am interviewing Truus Leader who was a child during World
War 2. Truus could you tell me about your experience during World War
2, and where were you?
"Yes, 'I was born in Amsterdam and was 5 when the war started.
I had been living in a children's home since I was 3 with my sister and
2 brothers. In a way we were fortunate to be in the home because during
the war many people died from starvation. The Children's home had at
least some food sometimes.
My mother had us too close together and could not cope with the stress.
She had a nervous breakdown. My father could not take care of 4 small
children; neither could my aunts and uncles. That is why we were put
in the Children's home. At that time there were no drugs, nor the kind
of therapy that is available today to help in a case like my mother's.
She was at that hospital until the war started. Then she was moved to
another hospital in Zutphen where experiments were done on the patients.
German soldiers were standing guard at the entrance. It was a scary place
more like a prison. My father would pick us up to go see my mother. We
would take the train from the Central railroad station in Amsterdam and
saw a lot of people being herded into freight trains by German soldiers
with guns. These trains did not have windows. I asked my father about
these men, women and children who were wearing the Star of David, but
he put his head down and said he did not know what would happen to them.
Few people knew what awaited them.
Charlotte: Since you were so small yet, you probably don't remember
too much about the war.
I remember seeing German flags (no Dutch flags were allowed), on top
of buildings with lookout towers for the German soldiers. Also sometimes
we would pass German soldiers on the sidewalk on the way to school. They
would say something in German which we did not understand and smile at
us. It was mandatory to learn German in school, but after learning about
the occupation of the German soldiers I pretended to be stupid and could
not learn the language. I still don't speak it, but understand it a little.
The Dutch language spoken in Holland is not like German. Some of the
soldiers were very young. It was hard to take them serious and we would
laugh at them, and they'd smile back.
Yes, I do have some profound memories from the war years. The people
at the railroad station, my mother's crying and pleading to please go
home with us, and the hunger in Amsterdam. I was very hungry and was
told by my aunt that people left Amsterdam to go to the farms where they
hoped to get some food. The farmers would give out potatoes and whatever
food they could give. The people would trade in their linens, jewelry
and anything they had of value just to be able to eat. Also, planes would
strafe and shoot at the people on their bikes going to the farms and
kill them. Trains were bombed too.
We also saw people who had died from starvation laying on the sidewalk
in Amsterdam. You had to step over them. People in the neighborhood would
throw a sheet or blanket over them. I have a book here that shows some
of the pictures from the war in Amsterdam. That is exactly what I remember.
Also, the horrible rats. They were very big and sometimes would start
chewing on a person. The pedestrians would chase them away. They removed
the bodies as soon as they could with a hand cart with big wheels.
The children from the orphanage were all very hungry and would bang
their cups against the metal fence at the front of the building, to see
if people walking by could give them some food. The German soldiers would
bring potato peels and the women would boil them and put in some salt.
That was our soup. It filled our stomachs for awhile. Also, when bread
was old and mildewed we would get that. The woman would make bread
pudding. There were no eggs, no sugar, but there was cinnamon. It tasted
bad and had a strange odor, and color. To this day I never want to eat
bread pudding again. My husband gets it from restaurants sometimes. That
is one desert I will not make.
My dad was a classical pianist, but was not needed during the war and
went to work in a bakery. He would stop once a week by the children's
home and have a fresh roll of bread that he would split 4 ways for us.
Once for some reason I was early and my dad was waiting by the door of
the home. He started to take the roll out of his pocket, but a policeman
stopped him. He said something to my dad and he reacted by punching the
policeman. They were rolling on the ground and I was able to snatch the
bread from my dad's pocket and ate it while running into the building.
I did not tell my brothers and sister for a long time about stealing
their bread until after the war. I wondered why papa did not come to
see us anymore.
My aunt and uncle picked us up sometime to let us visit with our grandpa
and grandma, my mother’s parents. I asked my grandmother about
it. She said our father was in a labor camp in Germany because he fought
with a policeman. My father did not take care of himself. He did not
shave and wore old clothes. The policeman must have thought the man was
bothering me. I felt very bad of course. I told my grandma what had happened
and she said there was nothing anybody could do about it now. She never
liked my dad and thought it was his fault that my mother had to be hospitalized.
She said, you and Piet, my younger brother, really should never have
been born, maybe she would have been all right then.
There was a curfew. Everybody had to be inside by 8 p.m. Anybody who
was still outside was shot dead. Sometimes we could hear shots at night
and screams. To avoid being bombed the lights had to be out too, so
the city could not be seen from the sky. I did not know who would want
to bomb us?
We only had to walk a few blocks to our school, but that is when we
saw bad things happen. One time a big German truck was parked in front
of a house. The soldiers were inside. They brought out an older woman
in her nightgown who was crying, “I am old and sick let me die
in my home.” They ignored her screaming and put her on the truck.
Us kids screamed at the soldiers but they just laughed and drove off
holding her down on the back of the truck. I can still hear her terrified
Sometimes there were air raids and the sirens would warn us that the
city might be bombed. We would stand in the doorways of stores. Like
that would saved us, right? When the all clear siren came on we would
go on to school. One time we actually saw a dog fight between 2 planes
from our 3rd floor classroom window. We all stood by the window wondering
which way the planes were going. One of the planes suddenly exploded
and disappeared behind the buildings. It fell in the center of the city
and destroyed the Hotel Carlton. The hotel was rebuilt after the war.
The school was across From a dairy factory where powdered milk was made.
One time they were hoisting a bag of milk powder from a window above
onto a truck. The sack broke when it fell to the ground. We saw it happened
from our window. We all ran down stairs and across the street. He did
not try to stop us; he knew we were hungry. We ate the powdered milk
and put as much as we could in our pockets. What a mess. It also is hard
to swallow so we ran back to class to get a drink of water and clean
up. That was a happy accident for us. We had not laughed so much for
a long time. Our clothes and faces were all white from the powdered milk.
There were sirens going off at night too. All the children would go
outside without shoes in their night clothes quiet as a mouse (remember
there was a curfew). There was a large warehouse down the street where
we could go down a stairway into the cellar and lay on straw until the
all clear siren was heard. The straw smelled so good. We pretended to
be on a farm in a barn. We took deep breaths. Some kids were scared and
started to cry, but we always tried to sing songs and not be afraid.
One time there was a lot of excitement. The ladies from the kitchen
told us we had meat today. No one was to come to the kitchen; they would
bring the food out. They had a big pot and put it on the table. We all
got a few very small pieces of gray meat on our plate. I took a piece
of meat on my fork. It was tough and had a bad flavor. When someone shouted
[that] it might be a rat, I threw it back on the plate. “No, it
is not!” we were told. “Just be glad you have some food.
Now eat up!” I could not eat, no matter how hungry I was. I just
kept going to the faucet to fill up with water. No one was allowed to
go into the kitchen. We were told that a couple of times. Soon the plates
were collected and I was told you are not leaving the table until your
plate is empty. It took me a long, long time between gagging by trying
to swallow the pieces whole. I could not make myself chew the meat. I
just sat there unable to eat. Finally, they must have thought everyone
had left the room. I was very small and sat in the back of the room.
The lights were turned off. Finally I gulped down the last piece of meat
and found my way to the kitchen. I turned the lights on. I seemed to
step on something like a string. It rolled under my shoe. When I looked
down on the floor it looked like the root of a beet, but that is not
what we had for dinner. I realized it must have been the hairy tail of
a rat. I ran up to my bed completely nauseated. All the girls in the
dorm were in their beds and ready to go to sleep. My stomach was rumbling
and I was so sick. Suddenly before I could get out of bed, I vomited
all over the blanket. The girls screamed for some one to come. I was
dragged out of bed and thrown into a closet. The door was locked. It
was pitch dark in there. While I was locked in the closet an air raid
siren went off. All the children left the building. They did not hear
my calling and left the building quickly. I was the only one left in
the building. I sat on the cold floor in my dirty, smelly nightgown.
The building became very, very quiet. I hoped they would bomb the children's
home so I could die. I did not care anymore. We attended church on Sundays
but our minister was a fat man, who apparently got plenty to eat. He
told us, the skinny undernourished kids, that we were sinners. To me
there was no God. So I had no faith. Finally, it seemed like hours, the
all clear siren went off. When I heard everyone coming back inside, I
screamed as loud as I could to let me out.
The woman who had put me in the closet unlocked the door. I told her,
I am going to tell Mrs. Akkerman (the supervisor) that you made me stay
there. She quickly took me to the bathroom where I could wash up and
gave me clean clothes. Then she stroked my hair and said, “If you
are good I will give you a piece of cheese.” She took me to her
desk and unlocked the drawer. There she had hidden a nice chunk of cheese.
She cut me some, and cheese never tasted so good to me. I told her, “I
hope the cheese will stay in my stomach.” She said, “I hope
it does, too.” She made me promise I would not tell anyone that
she had forgotten me. I said, just give me a piece of cheese now and
then and I will not tell. She did. Once a week I got a tiny piece of
cheese when she tucked me in. I would eat it under the blanket. She must
have been going out with a German soldier who gave her the cheese so
we both had a secret to keep.
I really resented having to go to the Dutch Reformed Church to be told
how bad we were by the fat minister, until something terrible happened.
One day on the way to school, my sister and I saw a lot of people standing
around in the park. Soldiers raised their guns and shot down all the
men. They threw the bleeding dead men on their truck like sacks of potatoes,
and drove off. We were in shock. I just stood there and could not move.
We went on to school and I was late, so had to stand in the corner. I
was not asked why I was late. When the teacher told me to go to my seat,
he still did not ask. And I was silent. A few days later the teacher
apologized to me when he realized where I was. He told us that someone
had killed a German soldier and in retaliation 12 men were picked off
the street and shot. One of them was the son of Reverend Koningsberg,
our minister. We all felt very bad for him. My sister and I were in Amsterdam
recently and went to that site where a Memorial has been built and fresh
flowers were laid.
New children kept coming to the home and apparently someone had head
lice. All the boys and girls had their hair cut and shaved off. We were
totally bald. Our heads were cold. We were all given different colored
berets. When we walked together to church we sure attracted attention
with our bald heads covered with the colorful green, yellow, orange,
blue and red berets. (Someone probably donated them.)
The Children's home was divided; one side was the boys and the girls
were on the other side. I seldom saw my brothers. The girls’ side
of the building had a large dollhouse with a second story. It was so
big; those of us who were small could actually crawl around in it. It
also had a little bed upstairs where we hid one of the little girls who
was Jewish. We were told that when the bell rang we had to hide her in
that bed and not look at the doll house.
The Winters can be very cold since we get the icy wind from the North
Atlantic Ocean. There was no hot water in the building for baths. The
building was cold too. You could see steam coming off your skin when
you took a bath. In spite of being malnourished, I don't remember getting
sick. We were just very skinny. The children's home was very old and
was torn down after the war.
It seems like all Dutch people ride bikes. During the war the German
Soldiers would block a street. They ordered everyone to get off their
bikes and threw them them on their trucks. That was called a Razzia.
My father had his bike taken and one time he just stole someone else’s
bike. This was war.
We were told the Americans are coming to chase the German Army out.
We heard about all the fighting and the soldiers who died. My uncle Jo
had a clandestine radio which he hid behind a bookcase. We would listen
to Briton's new Prime Minister Winston Churchill speaking to the Dutch
people to keep up their courage. It made me think of the young German
soldier boys we would see on the streets. Would they be fighting against
It seems the days of misery and hunger went on. We heard about Rotterdam
and the harbor being destroyed by bombers and other parts of the country.
We heard about heavy fighting for weeks. We tried not to give up hope.
One day it was my turn to hang up the laundry on the roof. While I was
doing that there was a loud rumbling sound. I looked at the sky. It was
clear. I saw no planes. Then I realized the noise was coming from the
street below. I peeked over the edge and saw a huge American tank with
soldiers walking alongside it. A large American flag was on the tank.
The soldiers were being hugged and kissed by people who ran up to them.
They were all shouting for joy. I quickly went downstairs. In the living
room the girls were all under the table expecting an air raid. I told
them, “No, the war is over. The Yankees are here. Look outside.” Everyone
ran to the windows and stared in amazement. We were allowed to run outside
too and cheered the soldiers. I love that American Flag. That flag means
a lot to me. It truly means freedom for all of us from Holland and the
many millions of people who were liberated by the American soldiers.
There are several cemeteries in Holland where American, Canadian and
English soldiers are buried. The cemeteries are kept beautiful. We saw
them. Also, sadly there is a cemetery in Southern Holland where 32,000
German soldiers are buried. What a waste of young people right?
So Liberation Day was on May 5th, 1945. The American Soldiers came to
the children's home and we all got on Army busses and were driven to
the Stadium. There the American Army Band Played the Stars and Stripes
Forever. All the soldiers picked up the children and we were put on their
shoulders. My soldier just lifted me with one hand and put me on his
shoulder. I did not weight much and he had a white pet mouse in his coat
uniform pocket which he had to keep from running of. So we proudly marched
into the stadium with our bald heads, at the sound of John Philip Sousa’s
wonderful music. What a wonderful celebration! People took pictures of
us. I wish I could see them.
The United States has been subjected to some severe criticism on the
part of its friends and allies in recent years. What they must be aware
of though is, there are many, many millions of people who are deeply
grateful for their bravery and sacrifice to liberate so many countries.
Thanks through the Marshal Plan, Holland was able to borrow $129.5 million
dollars from America after the war. The money helped to rebuild Holland;
new housing, schools, hospitals and roads. Although the final payment
was not due until 1983, the Dutch paid in advance the remainder of $65.5
million dollars in 1968, in the spirit of cooperation in view of the
U.S. balance of payment problems. They called it their Dutch Treat.
Thank you Charlotte for letting me tell my story. Hopefully this was
helpful to get a perspective of one person who knows about Democratic
Freedoms so hard it was fought for by the American Veterans.
Every 5 years all the American, Canadian and English Soldiers who fought
in Holland during the Second World War are greeted back to Holland and
given a reception by the Queen. They are housed in the Dutch homes and
not allowed to stay in a hotel. There is a parade with many Dutch flags
and those from the Liberators. Sadly many of the Veterans are getting
older or gone so there are less coming each time. But Holland will never
forget the United States of America and will be forever grateful.
P.S. My father did come back and lived to be 84 years of age.