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Chapter 30

Pim Boellaard

 

1998: Conversation with a remarkable old Dachauer: W.A.H.C. Boellaard.

 

Klosterend - a stately mansion in the city of De Bilt - under the smoke of the KNMI (Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute). Pim Boellaard, the graying elder of the old Dachauers lives there almost sixty years. The stylish study breathes the past. Bookcases full of war documentation. Portraits of the house of Oranje in crowned frames.

 

During his imprisonment he stood eye to eye with Himmler as well as with Heydrich. They had wanted to see a prominent resistance fighter “in the wild”. This leader of the resistance cell in Utrecht barely escaped a bullet. Seventy-two of his resistance friends met the firing squad, Boellaard landed in concentration camp Natzweiler.

 

In September 1944 Natzweiler was deactivated and everyone was evacuated to Dachau. There they did not have any NN-ers, so it was a whole new situation. (NN = Nacht und Nebel (night and fog), a kind of enhanced punishment. NN prisoners were totally segregated from the outside world in Natzweiler and therefore did not have any contact at all with home)

 

“NN-ers were not allowed to go to the sub-camps, but when the entire camp was moved to Dachau, they apparently were unaware of that. With great haste the Natzweilers were divided over the sub-camps. My destination was Allach. After some time I became block leader. I was allowed to let my hair grow again.

 

In January 1945 the SS apparently found out that they had made a mistake. All NN-ers were brought back from the sub-camps to the main camp. We were all moved into block 29, with extra barbed wire around it.

 

And yes, then came the Typhus, which soon became an epidemic in that tightly packed mass of people. The Typhus took thousands; Doctor Krediet, Stuuf Wiardi Beckman, General van de Kasteele, I can go on. I also became infected. When I got well I remained as a nurse in the Revier.

 

In the last months the SS found a need for confidantes - one person they could talk to representing one nationality. For the Dutch this became Doctor Drost, who was able to do a lot for the Dutchmen. On March 1, 1945, I took over that task.

 

Let me tell you, in April it became tense. We knew the Americans were close, that it would be only a matter of days. But we also knew that Himmler had commanded that no prisoners be allowed to fall into the enemy's hands alive. A few of the prisoners were able to escape. They found the Americans and told them to hurry because otherwise they would not find a soul alive. It helped. On April 29 they stood in front of the gate, the boys of the Rainbow division.

 

By the Jourhaus it was rife with people. Whomever could walk came to the roll call or climbed on top of the roofs of the barracks. Nobody wanted to miss of moment of this happening.

 

The SS was long gone. They had grabbed a few boys from the Hitlerjugend. They were nervous when the American came and started to shoot. But that was not possible, of course, because they had already hoisted the white flag. So the Americans shot them all dead. It was a horrible sight. I will never forget it.

 

During the shooting I suddenly felt like I had been hit in the head and blood was running down my face. It was from a ricochet bullet, I was helped immediately and received a turban emergency bandage, but they had to hurry, because I did not want to miss a minute of the show...

 

And then the Americans came. Through the gate, that hateful gate through which so many people had entered and few had left.

 

It was a dream come true. How often had we imagined what it would be like to be liberated?

 

And now they were there and they came to see the very ill at the Revier. They could not believe their eyes in the most literal sense of the word. They thought they were hallucinating, due to the Typhus.”

 

We then celebrated the liberation as Dutchmen, amongst ourselves. I seem to remember that you, as our confidante arranged that for us.

 

“Yes, we were free and that had to be celebrated, not only by the Dutch, all nationalities did that. It was remarkable how all the people managed to come up with flags out of absolutely nothing and carried them to the roll call area the next day. As far as we were concerned, the next day was April 30, the thirty-sixth birthday of our Princess Juliana. That gave the celebration an extra nuance. I had some trouble convincing the communists, who were no big fans of the house of Oranje to participate. But they allowed me to convince them. It was, after all, a national affair and as good resistance fighters they belonged too.

 

Together we marched to the roll call area. There we hoisted the American flag on a light pole. At my nod, Godert van Dedem climbed up the mast, like a cat. And there it was. Our national tri-color, an that large square that had been the domain of the SS for so long. I gave a speech and we all sang the Wilhelmus (the Dutch national anthem) together.”

 

After the liberation you were very instrumental in repatriating the Dutchmen. Tell us how that came about?

 

“There were actually no set plans in the camp and - as it turned out later - not in our very disturbed country either. At that time there was no talk of a strict quarantine because the Typhus had not yet run its course. There were some private initiatives of creative folks who were able to go home on their own - think about the famous story of the bus - but all-in-all, everyone was waiting to see what would happen.

 

On May eleven, a Dutch military vehicle arrived at the camp, with two army Chaplains and chauffeur. They were looking for dean Teulings. I was able to arrange a trip back to the Netherlands in this car. I found out that as a Captain in the reserves I had that right. There were no problems and I was home three days later.

 

I worked all channels to arrange the repatriation of my friends from the camp. Talking to General Kruls and Major Sas, the Adjutant of the Prince and an interview with Radio Herrijzend Nederland, it was all arranged.

 

By the end of May everyone was home.

 

All-in-all, it was a fascinating time. We have learned a lot, but it exacted way too many victims. All those good brave Dutchmen who had to spend so many years there. Wonderful guys, all of them! They must not be forgotten. Never! Not the dead and not the survivors.

 

It must never be forgotten. That is why we have that monument in Amsterdam.”

 

To: Info@dachau.nl

 

Copy:

 

Subject: Someone who wants to address a Dachau survivor

 

Received: 20 August 2002 at 14:43

 

hey

 

i am charlotte verrijdt and 12 years old.

 

i don't know if this letter will wind up with a dachau survivor. that is why i would like to ask whomever receives this email to pass it on to a survivor, if possible.

 

as a 12 year old you may think that i understand nothing of the terror you experienced. but sometimes i think i understand more than a grown-up. i have already read a lot of survivor stories, from children's books to adult books. the story that touched me the most is the story of martin gray. you may think that does not matter but those witness stories get me to think. words come to my mind that i want to tell someone who survived and in lots of books it says that people who have not experienced it would not understand. but i do try to understand. the pain the degradation i will never feel but that did exist. i admire you because you have fought to survive also because fate may have helped. i would not only miss everything, but also my belief in god. even when i read sometime i think does god exist. later i would like to visit a camp but i would think that such a visit would become unbearable. the first step you set may be in the footprint of someone who succumbed to a rain of blows. with your next step on a piece of ground where someone died from hunger. that is how one very piece of ground someone may have died, but the last step, the smallest step is a piece of hope. hope which very few people have seen.

 

i have lost some of my thousands of words and i am happy about that. i would like to get an answer, if possible from someone who has survived the hell but someone else is good too.

 

it would really be an honor to receive a letter

 

many regards from charlotte verrijdt.

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