Jan’s Houseboat Hideaway, The Coming of War

Chapter 7: The Coming of War

Mu and Pa worried about the world they had just brought their  fourth child into. It was a much different place than years  ago when Pa walked into a glue factory for work and quit within  the week because he couldn’t stand the smell or the overbearing  boss. He started his little store selling food and work clothing, first with a small rowboat, then later with a motorboat. Since then, he and Mu dreamed of being self-sufficient and giving  their children chances in life they themselves never had. They had survived the difficult time after the birth of their son Jan. And when Thea returned to the family at age seven, the family was reunited. Just when the family seemed stable,  the threat of the war pushed their dreams further away. The Dutch army had mobilized a month before in September 1939,  when Germany’s Chancellor Adolph Hitler ordered Nazi troops to cross the border into Poland and capture Warsaw. As he listened intently to the radio, Pa’s fears came true when the British and French entered into the conflict. Another world war! By September 17, the broadcasts delivered the sad news that Nazi aircraft had bombed the Poles into submission, and the country became just one more addition to the Third Reich.

Although the Dutch were better off than their Polish neighbors, they moved around more cautiously, like mice that move freely in the nest, but know the cat waits outside the mouse hole.

The Dutch government called up the reserves, but at age 43 Pa was exempt from service. Neither his exemption, nor the 700-mile distance between him and the front, however, brought him any peace. In Europe the front line was everywhere, and not only soldiers would see the action.

Pa listened to news on the radio announcing Hitler’s assurances to the Queen that he would respect Holland’s neutrality. He heard many of the villagers say to each other that they hoped and prayed it was true. After all, Germany had respected Holland’s neutrality in the Great War, from 1914 to 1918. But Pa was 22 during the Great War, and he remembered. When he and Mu married in 1924, six years after the war ended, there were still food, housing, and clothing shortages, despite Holland’s neutrality. This time he wanted to prepare as much as he could. Either way, staying neutral or fighting, they were looking at a future of hard times and uncertainty. Pa bought as much food and clothing as his savings and storage would allow; during war money became useless paper, and food and clothing became hard currency. He bought large quantities of goods from his suppliers: shoes, coats, pants, and bed sheets, flour, sugar, tea, coffee and cigarettes. Every week he bought a little more and tucked it away in the houseboat’s large storage compartments below in the hull. He stored, saved, and waited to see what the year would bring.

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