South Carolina Council on the Holocaust

“The work that the SC Council on the Holocaust does is so important for our students in South Carolina. Having a chance to discuss and reflect on the past gives students the tools to be better citizens for our future.”

--Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education


The Survivors' Stories -- A Virtual Library

BERT . . . .

I found a one-bedroom, summer cottage, in the woods near Epe about 20 or 30 miles from Deventer. It did not have electricity or running water. We drew water from a well outside the cottage. For lights we had candles. For heat we had a wood-burning stove, and we chopped wood. We lived under a false identity, but the identity papers were so bad if anybody had looked at them they would have known immediately they were false. We didn't have newspapers or radio. We didn't have anything except the bare necessities. We got out of the woods only every two or three months.

I had a first cousin in Epe. Because he was married to a non-Jew, he was allowed to stay much longer than anybody else. We got food from him. My cousin was active in the Dutch resistance, and before long, I started participating myself. Every little village had a resistance group. We would get a message saying, for example, "Tonight at nine o'clock we are going to blow up the city hall in some little town or rob them of blank identity cards or try to blow up a train." You had to be there to participate if you could. That is how eventually the Germans caught us.

It was pure bad luck that we got caught. It had nothing to do with anything we had been involved in. Usually if the Germans or the Dutch Nazis were planning a raid in a certain area, we got a warning beforehand, and we would disappear into the woods. We lived in a part of Holland that was not densely populated. There were only little villages around there. The resistance groups in our area were not all that active. When the call for action came, we were not involved in the planning, but only in the execution. A lot of planning went into an attack. If one failed, it meant an immediate raid by the Nazis. Then everybody had to lay low for a while before they dared to try again.

A branch of the Rhine River flows through the town of Deventer where I grew up. When the war began, there were only four bridges crossing the river. The Germans going by rail between Germany and Holland had to cross those bridges. By the end of the war, three of the four bridges had been blown up. Only one little railroad line was left open. The one bridge and railroad line were not too far from where I was hiding.

I belonged to the resistance in Epe. Another nearby village had a separate resistance group. The two had no coordination between them. One night the resistance group in the other village decided to blow up the railroad track. Unfortunately the charge did not go off. Next morning the Germans discovered it. They took 8,000 or 10,000 men and started combing the countryside to find the people who had placed those charges. Everybody they found was arrested. My resistance group knew nothing about the unsuccessful attack or that their plan had been discovered. Because of this, we had no warning that the Nazis were searching the woods.

On this particular January morning in 1945, I was pumping water at the well outside the house; when all of a sudden, I was surrounded. I couldn't get away. My wife was sick in bed and couldn't get away either. So the two of us were arrested. The house was taken down board by board by the Germans. We had a transmitter going to the Allied forces. We had thousands of stolen ID cards. We had tens of thousands of stolen ration cards all hidden in the house. We had about two dozen German hand grenades stored under the roof. They found everything.

After we were caught, we first went to the local police jail. A couple of days later we were taken to SS headquarters in Zwolle. The men were downstairs and the women upstairs. I did not hear from my wife again until much later. I didn't know whether she was alive or not. I stayed in a prison in Zwolle for about five weeks.

When the SS wanted to question prisoners, they were handcuffed together and shipped to SS headquarters. There we had spent all day on our knees without food or water. I was lucky, if you can call it lucky. I was up there for questioning on the day a Dutch resistance group, south of the town, ambushed the commander of a German police unit. They killed him and several other people right on the highway. In retaliation the prison where we were kept was emptied out. All the prisoners were taken to the place where this German officer was waylaid and shot to death right there on the spot. I was not there because I was in questioning at headquarters. When I came back that night with seven or eight other men, we were the only survivors.

I found a one-bedroom, summer cottage, in the woods near Epe about 20 or 30 miles from Deventer. It did not have electricity or running water. We drew water from a well outside the cottage. For lights we had candles. For heat we had a wood-burning stove, and we chopped wood. We lived under a false identity, but the identity papers were so bad if anybody had looked at them they would have known immediately they were false. We didn't have newspapers or radio. We didn't have anything except the bare necessities. We got out of the woods only every two or three months.

I had a first cousin in Epe. Because he was married to a non-Jew, he was allowed to stay much longer than anybody else. We got food from him. My cousin was active in the Dutch resistance, and before long, I started participating myself. Every little village had a resistance group. We would get a message saying, for example, "Tonight at nine o'clock we are going to blow up the city hall in some little town or rob them of blank identity cards or try to blow up a train." You had to be there to participate if you could. That is how eventually the Germans caught us. It was pure bad luck that we got caught. It had nothing to do with anything we had been involved in. Usually if the Germans or the Dutch Nazis were planning a raid in a certain area, we got a warning beforehand, and we would disappear into the woods. We lived in a part of Holland that was not densely populated. There were only little villages around there. The resistance groups in our area were not all that active. When the call for action came, we were not involved in the planning, but only in the execution. A lot of planning went into an attack. If one failed, it meant an immediate raid by the Nazis. Then everybody had to lay low for a while before they dared to try again.

A branch of the Rhine River flows through the town of Deventer where I grew up. When the war began, there were only four bridges crossing the river. The Germans going by rail between Germany and Holland had to cross those bridges. By the end of the war three of the four bridges had been blown up. Only one little railroad line was left open. The one bridge and railroad line were not too far from where I was hiding.

I belonged to the resistance in Epe. Another nearby village had a separate resistance group. The two had no coordination between them. One night the resistance group in the other village decided to blow up the railroad track. Unfortunately the charge did not go off. Next morning the Germans discovered it. They took 8,000 or 10,000 men and started combing the countryside to find the people who had placed those charges. Everybody they found was arrested. My resistance group knew nothing about the unsuccessful attack or that their plan had been discovered. Because of this, we had no warning that the Nazis were searching the woods.

On this particular January morning in 1945, I was pumping water at the well outside the house; when all of a sudden, I was surrounded. I couldn't get away. My wife was sick in bed and couldn't get away either. So the two of us were arrested. The house was taken down board by board by the Germans. We had a transmitter going to the Allied forces. We had thousands of stolen ID cards. We had tens of thousands of stolen ration cards all hidden in the house. We had about two dozen German hand grenades stored under the roof. They found everything.

After we were caught, we first went to the local police jail. A couple of days later we were taken to SS headquarters in Zwolle. The men were downstairs and the women upstairs. I did not hear from my wife again until much later. I didn't know whether she was alive or not. I stayed in a prison in Zwolle for about five weeks.

When the SS wanted to question prisoners, they were handcuffed together and shipped to SS headquarters. There we had spent all day on our knees without food or water. I was lucky, if you can call it lucky. I was up there for questioning on the day a Dutch resistance group, south of the town, ambushed the commander of a German police unit. They killed him and several other people right on the highway. In retaliation the prison where we were kept was emptied out. All the prisoners were taken to the place where this German officer was waylaid and shot to death right there on the spot. I was not there because I was in questioning at headquarters. When I came back that night with seven or eight other men, we were the only survivors.