Presentation Date: October 27, 2005
Bert and Case Hanou Dutch Survivors of German Occupation
* Bert: 3 years in Amsterdam under German Occupation, then Forced Laborer in Germany; liberated by Americans in 1945; joined American 9th Air Force as Interpreter; participated in disarmament of German Luftwaffe; sailed the oceans as Purser with immigrants to Canada, South Africa & the Far East, transporting American students to Europe for the Marshall Plan.
* Case: Born in Netherlands on Walcheren Island; lost all belongings first week of May 1940 by German bombardments; lived under German occupation 4 years while active in Dutch resistance. Liberated by Allied Forces November 1944; joined British Army of the Rhine as Interpreter/Secretary for Town Mayors (Civil Affairs) in Holland, Belgium and North France; volunteered for British Grave Registration to help establish fate of air crews missing in action; member of AFEES (AirForces Escape & Evasion Society); honorary member of the 8th Air Force; sailed the oceanson same ship ("Oranje") as Bert, where they met. * Bert: 3 years in Amsterdam under German Occupation, then Forced Laborer in Germany; liberated by Americans in 1945; joined American 9th Air Force as Interpreter; participated in disarmament of German Luftwaffe; sailed the oceans as Purser with immigrants to Canada, South Africa & the Far East, transporting American students to Europe for the Marshall Plan.
* Case: Born in Netherlands on Walcheren Island; lost all belongings first week of May 1940 by German bombardments; lived under German occupation 4 years while active in Dutch resistance. Liberated by Allied Forces November 1944; joined British Army of the Rhine as Interpreter/Secretary for Town Mayors (Civil Affairs) in Holland, Belgium and North France; volunteered for British Grave Registration to help establish fate of air crews missing in action; member of AFEES (AirForces Escape & Evasion Society); honorary member of the 8th Air Force; sailed the oceanson same ship ("Oranje") as Bert, where they met.
* Married February 1952 & immigrated to USA, settling in Denver, CO
* Both worked for United Air Lines for 31 years in the Computer Division
* Son Mick Hanou active with GGW/CAF
Occupied Netherlands 1940-45
Bert and Case Hanou
By Col. John Crump and Col. Mick Hanou
(Bert and Case Hanou spoke of their combined ten years of experiences during the
occupation of the Netherlands, at the Golden Gate Wing's October meeting.)
Germany's invasion of the Netherlands was swift and decisive. On the morning of May 10, 1940, Bert Hanou recalls waking up about 6:30:
"I saw the German Stuka dive bombers, bombing the Schipol air field. It only took about 35 minutes to destroy the airplanes and all the facilities. They also, at the same time, bombed all the oil tanks near Amsterdam harbor."
The occupation of Amsterdam came quickly. Then the Germans bombed Rotterdam. Though the Dutch had made some military preparations, they were unable to withstand the onslaught of the German armed forces. The invasion of the Netherlands, a neutral country that had hoped not to be invaded, lasted but five days. With the military occupation, Dutch Nazis took over most of the roles of government.
The Invasion of Middelburg
Case Hanou was then Case Van Graafeiland, and lived in Middelburg on Walcheren Island in the south. Walcheren Island was a strategic point, guarding the north bank of the Schelde estuary, the entrance to the port of Antwerp. Her father had a thriving touring business with a small fleet of taxis and buses.
When the Germans attacked Walcheren Island, Middelburg was a direct target for Luftwaffe bombs. The town center, including her father's business, was completely destroyed by explosions and the ensuing fire. What wasn’t destroyed was taken by the Germans to hasten their advance into Belgium and then France.
"We lost seven taxis and six or seven buses, both by fire and by confiscation by the Germans," says Case.
One thing that particularly rankled Case was that her family had taken out "war insurance" prior to the bombing. The insurance company refused to pay on their claim because the policy only covered a direct hit by a bomb and Case's family couldn’t prove that it wasn’t the neighbor’s house that got bombed and caused the Van Graafeiland home to catch fire.
"We fled on two bicycles, mother and I did. We had made a plan beforehand."
Bombed out of their home, they were forced to move into an attic in the unburned fringes of the town. Case recalls the Swedish Government provided emergency shops, small five-meter by ten-meter boxes, set up on the canal banks to help re-establish businesses. The remnants of the family business, and the family itself, moved into one of these temporary shelters.
When Middelburg's elderly were moved to the mainland, one older woman who was befriended by Case's family was forced to move. She asked the family to care for her house, giving them a proper place to live. Later, the old woman returned to die in her home and then sold it to Case’s family, and they lived there for the war's duration.
Case became a secretary for the Philips Company, a famous firm mostly known for its light bulbs and electronics. Phillips had other interests, including a technique to extract vitamins from sea fish - - cockles, mussels, and the like. Case's job was to ensure this patented technology remained a secret from the Germans.
Her job also led to Case's introduction to the Resistance. Because she worked in the food industry, she had special travel privileges, and could take a train from her job in Amsterdam to her home in the southern Netherlands. This led to her becoming a courier for envelopes she would carry it the train.
"It was risky, because if you were caught, you'd had it," Case says, recalling that
she never knew what was in those envelopes. "Later, I thought they may have been ration coupons or false I-Ds… anything."
Never looking at the documents inside the envelopes, she would deliver them at some pre-selected spot, usually at the Haarlem station.
"I would drop them at the cashier's station, or at the newspaper stand or a waiting-room bench. "
In 1943, Dutch train workers went on strike, in one of three major labor actions by which the populace as a whole showed its resistance to the Germans.
Case was warned just before the rail strike to get out of Amsterdam. She did not go back to her room but caught the first southbound train, which turned out to be the last train out of the north before the bridges were closed. It later proved to be very fortunate as northern Holland was still occupied at the war’s end.
Amsterdam and Factory Work in Germany
In Amsterdam, Bert lived under the terms of the occupation from 1940 to 1943. He described occupation as "routine" - - if one could call "routine" the presence of occupying soldiers and a host of restrictive regulations.
"We could not shine any lights out of the house," remembers Bert. "All windows had to be darkened at night, either by curtains or cardboard."
There was also a curfew, restrictions on movement and food rationing. Obtaining food became increasingly difficult, leading to a black market where a person could try to get goods that were in short supply.
By mid 1943, Germany was facing an increasingly severe manpower shortage as a result of all the men being called up as soldiers. To maintain factory production, the Germans began forcing workers from occupied countries to fill jobs in Germany and elsewhere.
In the office where Bert worked, two of the four workers were deemed surplus. Bert got notice one day he was to be interviewed for a job. He ignored this first notice, hoping the issue would go away. The Germans eventually sent him another notice.
"I finally decided that I didn't have any choice, because the alternative was to go totally into hiding, go underground. You wouldn't get any coupons and you would become a burden to your family… all at the risk of being caught. And if you were caught, you'd be sentenced to hard labor."
Such hard labor could be working on the Atlantic Wall defenses, and further resistance could result in prison or a concentration camp.
Bert says his job interview was quite "routine". The Germans were very pleased to find someone who could speak German, and a week later he boarded a train to Jena, Germany, home of the famous Zeiss Optics factory. Upon arrival, he was given indoctrination to the factory and his responsibilities - - to maintain inventory of all the screws in the factory, some 3,000 different types of screws!
The screws were used to assemble binoculars, range finders, trench periscopes and gun sights. There was much humor in Bert’s description of the various screws he had to care for, and assure there were no "loose screws" in the factory.
Life in Jena was also "routine". Bert was paid for his work and used the money to buy food, clothes, transportation and daily necessities, while his dormitory room was free. He made the acquaintance of five other Dutchmen and finding food became their main preoccupation.
Shortages were beginning to occur in Germany by this time in the war. Bert and his compatriots sometimes got food from the local university cafeteria. But more often they became regulars at a particular restaurant, coming to know the proprietor and his family. They felt welcome in this small town where there were no undue hardships other than shortages of food, clothes and many other items. Relatively free to move about the nearby area, they would visit local farms and help with chores in exchange for food.
Food was also a major pre-occupation for Case. In Middelburg, food was also becoming increasingly scarce and ration coupons were needed for everything - - a few ounces of meat or fat, cheese, bread or coal, even for 20 grams of spaghetti, about six dry strands. Case said they would just nibble uncooked spaghetti, like candy, as this relieved some of their hunger pains. Dandelions, sugar beets and even worms became fair game. Case said she'd brush the dirt off worms and fry them a bit before eating them.
"Then we had what we used to call 'sliding sausage'. We would put a slice of salami on a piece of bread and then slide off the salami while we ate the bread, and then reuse the salami n another piece of bread."
Case also told of an accidental food drop during the Market Garden airborne offensive. There were containers of Crisco in the drop, and civilians ate it, figuring it was just a foodstuff they hadn't seen before. They got terribly sick. Also dropped was peanut butter, in glass jars which broke when the packages hit the ground. Case recalled they were so hungry, they licked the peanut butter off of the broken glass.
Bert read an example from a Dutch newspaper of November 1943 about special rations for a pregnant woman - -
"Pregnant women are entitled to the following items, provided they are 1) having her first child or 2) have no children below the age of five. The thinking was that if you have a child from one to five years old, most likely you have enough left for the new baby."
The list included one pound of knitting yarn, 12 cloth diapers with only 12 safety pins, and three sweaters.
Other examples from the newspaper involved coal rations for a given time period, requisition criteria that were date-stamped. They reflected the hard fact that just because you had ration coupons didn’t mean sufficient coal was available for the old coupons to be used.
One of the roles Case held with the Resistance was providing information for an underground newspaper, which she helped distribute.
A farmer in Grjipskerke, on the island, who was in radio communication with the English Government, received information the resistance needed. Case would bicycle news back to Middelburg and give it to an English teacher who would print it.
"The paper was no bigger than one sheet, sometimes two sheets, and it was stenciled. Everybody in Middelburg got involved in distributing… of course, if you got caught with one or more papers you had had it. My father always burned it right away after he read it."
One can only imagine punishment the Germans would have given a courier. Case also took Resistance information back to Grijpskerke to be radioed to England.
The Germans knew there was a radio in the area, and would send a small white truck with a radio direction finder antenna on its roof.
When the Resistance saw the truck, all activity shut down and, as Case said, "You kept on pedaling, as far away as possible!"
Another method of signaling was done with windmills. The Dutch would set the windmill vanes so the amount of sail displayed would mean different things. The Germans never caught on to this means of communication.
Walcheren Island was a key navigation point for Allied bombers, both by day and by night, and Case saw them fly over regularly. Case says they bombed Flushing airfield once, on August 19, 1943, her father’s birthday.
Case kept track of where bombers crashed, where airmen parachuted and where some aircrew were buried. Airmen who survived became evaders - - Case explaining that the escape route out of the Netherlands was a zig-zag path east and west as airmen were moved south by the Resistance.
In one escape/evasion a tall pilot was dressed as part of a team travelling to a sporting event. Case says that even though the Dutch are generally tall, there was a challenge finding a sports uniform to fit him.
"He was well over six feet tall and we had to find clothes for him. It was almost impossible. We took him on the bike with the other team members riding around him, but the legs of his pants only came to his calves."
Added to that was a need to escort the pilot on the ferry across the Schelde River to Breskens, a strategic, heavily-guarded location. In spite of the dangers, this passage proved successful.
Because the Schelde Estuary was so critical to the Allied opening of the port of Antwerp, Walcheren Island was liberated before the rest of the Netherlands.
The campaign began with the bombing of the dikes at Westkapelle in October, 1944. At least 12,000 German defenders held pillboxes and bunkers on the island, and rather than initiate a Normandy-hedgerow type battle, the Allies flooded the land. (The long-term effect of this brought great hardship because farmland was saturated with salt and unusable for years).
On November 2, 1944, the 52nd Lowland Division - The Scottish Highlanders Brigade -- made an amphibious landing at Flushing, and Middelburg was liberated four days later.
Due to the artillery shelling, people in Middelburg had taken refuge in the cellars of their homes. Case recalls hearing someone walking by in boots. After more than four years of occupation, she recognized the sound of German boots, distinctive because of the steel nails in them.
These footsteps sounded different and the difference was confirmed when she heard a man whistling "It’s a Long Way to Tipperary". Case says her family streamed from the cellar in excitement - and were lucky they weren’t shot, as they scared the soldier badly!
Case says a German general refused to surrender the island to anyone lower in rank than a colonel, so a Highlander Lieutenant impersonated a colonel to effect a prompt surrender, apparently without the German ever discovering!
Walcheren's early liberation was fortunate. The rest of the Netherlands suffered terribly from food and heating shortages during Europe's harsh winter of 1944-45, and wasn’t liberated until the war ended.
Liberation in Germany
Bert’s liberation was quite different. He and his compatriot workers tried to fend off the frigid nights in their dorm by sleeping with their coats on. They were still cold. By day, increasing shortages were among the key indicators the war was going badly for the Germans.
One day Bert saw a thousand - plane bombing raid fly overhead.
"I saw 1080 bombers coming over. If you want to see a sight, you should see 108 bombers in one formation! There were ten groups of 108! Each had three groups of 36 planes, and each of those had three groups of twelve planes in four groups of three! What an emotional sight; they were as far as the eye could see. We all watched them go over for an hour."
Bert surmised that because the raid flew over Jena, Berlin was probably the target that day.
Liberation finally came April 11th, 1945. Bert says there had been distant rumbling of artillery in days prior, and on about the ninth of the month the German units withdrew through the town.
"The next morning we saw the first American soldiers coming in, walking in single file on either side of the street. They stopped and I got to talking one of the fellows. I didn't know they were called 'GIs'… He was very friendly and he said 'the one thing I would love to have is some hot water for a shave.’"
"Now, in German towns, the houses are right up to the street. There is no more than a 2-foot sidewalk. I banged loudly on a big green door, and when the lady came to the door, I said in a very authoritative tone, 'Hot water for this soldier!' "
The woman quickly filled Bert's request.
Bert then told the GIs the Hitler Jugend (Youth) had fortified a park near the bridge about a mile down the road. That information brought Bert face to face with the unit commander, and he was soon known well by the liberating Allies.
Liberation brought an answer to Bert's hunger pangs. He and five other Dutchmen who had worked in the factory, went to the American camp, where they were disturbed to see food being wasted by the GIs. The soldiers shoved food scraps into a bin, scraps which would have been welcomed to the undernourished Dutch. Bert and the others were soon able to sit in a mess hall and eat thick slices of liver and other food, which made them sick because their stomachs couldn’t handle the richness or quantity of food after years of minimal diet.
Liberation brought on an 'organized chaos,' as thousands of displaced workers were collected at the barracks of an old German army camp. The United Nations Relief Administration (UNRA) handled the processing - - sending the workers back to their home countries - - and employed Bert and five of his co-worker Dutchmen who spoke multiple languages (Dutch, German, English and French) to be interpreters. Loudspeakers blared constantly with announcements directing thousands of Norwegians, Dutch, French, Belgian, Danes and many others where they needed to be in the camp.
For transportation, UNRA used the same cattle cars that had carried people to concentration camps. But Bert says that since folks were going home, they didn’t mind as much.
Bert recalls, he was eating a meal one day when a two-star general stopped to thank him for his efforts. Only after a nice, informal talk did Bert realize he'd been speaking with someone of such a high rank.
Having helped UNRA with translating, Bert and his fellow Dutchmen were asked to join teams responsible for disarming the German Air Force. The 404th Fighter Group of the 9th Air Force, based outside Jena, assembled teams of four in jeeps - - a 1st Lieutenant, a driver, technician and civilian interpreter. These teams were assigned to areas with small villages where military equipment and light manufacturing were found.
Bert says the Lieutenant would interview a town's officials while Bert silently observed. The Germans might comment about keeping war materiel from the Americans, and if they did, Bert would tell the lieutenant what the Germans were saying. Then the Germans, realizing they’d been found out, would give up all the goods.
Bert says the teams found much industrial equipment - - beautiful lathes and drill presses - - which was all hauled away and destroyed to keep it from Russians who would eventually occupy the area. (Incidentally, fighter ace Hub Zemke of the 56th Fighter Group, was responsible for removing most of the world-class optical machinery from the Zeiss plant before the Russians got there, shipping it to US-occupied Germany.)
At one factory Bert's team found 100 brand-new motorcycles. When they informed headquarters, trucks were immediately dispatched to retrieve them. Anyone present back at camp, including Bert, got a brand new motorcycle to ride for awhile.
In May, the Americans were rushed out of the Russian zone and Bert went to Berneck, where he stayed in a hotel once used by Hitler. He continued in efforts to locate material with the 404th. In August of that year the work was taken over by the 485th Air Service Group, and when that unit went to Bremerhaven, Bert helped it 'commandeer' a neighborhood of nice homes to billet troops. Eventually, Bert was released from "duty" and he worked his way back to the Netherlands.
Back in the home country, Case worked for two years for a British military "Mayor" in charge of civil affairs, before encountering an officer of the "Missing Research and Inquiry" unit of the RAF. This unit was charged with locating the graves of RAF airmen in the Netherlands. She joined them and returned to Middelburg.
Notes she had kept during the war on aircraft crashes and airmen's graves proved very useful in locating them. They found all the graves to be very well maintained by the locals. In many cases, identification was done by dental records. Case would also interview locals for information on the crash site and physical evidence to help establish identity. Sometimes the smallest item could lead to the identification of an entire crew.
Case was later recognized by the 8th Air Force Escape and Evacuation Society and has a Certificate of Honor signed by President Reagan. She has also been recognized by Great Britain, Canada and the other Commonwealth countries, and by the Royal House for her efforts in assisting flyers and in locating graves after the war.
After the war, Bert applied for a US Immigration visa but, at the time, the quota for Dutchmen was 2200 per year. Given that he was 13,000th on the list, he worked instead on ships transporting immigrants to the USA and Canada. On one of these trips he met a person who eventually would sponsor him for immigration.
In 1950, Bert and Case ended up working on the same ship - -the "Oranje" - transporting people from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia back to the Netherlands.
Bert recalled, when they first reported on board, speaking to a lady sitting in front of him. Little did she know Bert was to be her boss as chief purser on the ship.
They were married on Valentine’s Day, 1952 and immigrated to Denver, Colorado, where they still reside today.
Bert and case expressed their deep appreciation to all the WWII veterans for liberating them.
The CAF thanks them for flying here to share their story.