I am Meta. I was born in 1935 in Scheveningen, the Netherlands. At that time, it was a small village on the shores of the North Sea. As the rather mischievous youngest of three girls with a loving Mamma and Pappa, I had an idyllic existence.
But location matters. All too soon, Scheveningen became a target and base for the German army, with devastating effects on my life and that of countless others. Those of us who are still alive, haven’t recovered.
WWII Comes to Town
On May 10, 1940, Germany bombed our entire coastline. Hell came to town. Surprisingly, they missed the street where I lived. Now-homeless friends and neighbors streamed into our house, and my parents did their best to help. For me, at the tender age of five, I witnessed smoke curling up from bombed homes, a sweet baby boy with a shell fragment in his head, and a mother whose grief knew no end.
A few days later, we officially became an occupied country. There were soldiers everywhere, and I amused myself by watching dogfights over the ocean. Admittedly, the steady stream of men passing through our home and my parent’s compliance with the raid collecting our copper, bronze and money were confusing, but I had little idea of the horror to come.
All too soon, we were ordered to leave our cozy home (it was needed for German purposes) and move to a run-down austere third floor apartment in the Hague. Standing in the gaping hole where the fireplace belonged, I decided to call the place ‘the mausoleum.’ All too soon, the sight of people being shot in the street, Jewish friends disappearing, empty shop windows, and tear-stained faces became horrifyingly commonplace. We kept hoping it would be over soon, but life went from bad to worse.
One after the other of my school buildings were commandeered for German use; food grew even more scarce; Mamma succumbed to depression. My beloved Pappa became increasingly worried that he would be forced to work for the hated enemy; be caught in his anti-war activities, or just be unable to provide what we needed. Nobody noticed me.
In 1944, we heard that part of the Netherlands had been liberated! Could it be that our suffering was at an end? No. Apparently, the Allies considered liberation of our part of the country not to be of strategic importance. They marched straight to Germany, while the combination of Nazi retaliation and a cold winter meant we ran out of both fuel and food. We tried eating tulip bulbs, but they’re poisonous. We tried eating sugar beets (animal feed), but those ran out. There wasn’t even any grass or bark. There was nothing at all. The Hunger Winter saw 20,000 people die and over four million sickened from starvation sickness, me included.
When the Allies finally liberated us in May of 1945, we were too weak to go into the street and celebrate. They were passing out chocolate, but neither me nor my family got any.
Poverty, Prejudice, and PTSD
One would hope that the end of the war would bring the end of suffering. It did not. Before we could get food, fuel, and clothing, the roads and train tracks had to be rebuilt. But, to prevent WWIII, the Allies were prioritizing rebuilding Germany. Our government only began caring for its starving children fully three years after the end of the war. The school physician was charged with assessing which children were worth helping, but decided I was too sick for the special program. It wouldn’t save me. Once again, I wasn’t of strategic importance. Then, my determination and spirit changed his mind. I would be given a chance! After two months being fed in a home in the middle of the country, I was ready to excel at school, and did.
But now I faced another obstacle. PTSD. When a soldier looked at me on our first visit to my German relatives, my heart nearly beat out of my chest. When standing by a neighborhood bonfire, I was transported back to hearing people scream as the building they were in burned to the ground. Even as an adult, I struggle with anxiety about running out of food and the possibility of war. My two fridges are full!
Another result of WWII was that the Dutch people were furious with Germany. Their prejudice was entirely understandable. But I spoke fluent German. The result? I was forced to leave a school that would allow me to prepare to become a physician. That dream never came true. The full story is written in Brave Face: The Inspiring WWII Memoir of a Dutch/German Child and was published by Amsterdam Publishers.
Adulthood and Emigration
I met my future husband when I was just 17. We became engaged when I was 18, fully eight years after the war ended, but WWII’s tentacles held us fast. There was no housing, because rebuilding was not finished and housing Indonesians who had suffered Japanese occupation was being prioritized. The rule was that married young people could not have an apartment unless their combined ages totaled 65. Many people were unwilling to live with their parents until they could qualify, so the government made another provision: emigration.
Thus, we had a choice between moving to South Africa, Australia, Canada, or the USA. We feared the violence in South Africa. Australia had no work, little housing, and was too far from home. My fiancé really wanted to emigrate to the USA, but the immigration policy required us to either have a sponsor or be extremely wealthy. Canada it was.
In 1957, my husband Frits and I set sail in a small freighter destined for Toronto. The boat broke down six times on the way over, and I was seasick the entire way. The boat eventually had to drop us in Ottawa, and we took a train to Toronto. We spoke very little English; had no job and no home; I was pregnant; and we were carrying $30. But, through hard work, some help, and lots of perseverance, we not only survived, we thrived.
We Finally Reach America
In 1967, Frits’ company moved to Iowa, and we hoped we would finally have the chance we’d been waiting for. We were going to live in America. The problem was that Frits was born in the Congo; he wasn’t welcome in the land of the free. The kind immigration officer proposed a solution: he made me the head of the household. Problem solved! Finally, we and our then four children could move to the USA. Our fifth child was born an American.
We were naturalized as American citizens on May 1, 1972, but the company moved us to England in 1976! Not exactly what we’d planned. Sometimes, that’s how life goes. But, less than ten years later, we moved back…and have lived in Southlake for over 30 years.
Frits has now passed, but I have five children, 14+ grandchildren, great grandchildren, and even a few great great grandchildren. I love living in this country. My family, friends, neighbors, church family and more make it everything I dreamed of.
Do I ever want to go back to the Netherlands? Of course. To visit. Not to live. TOO MUCH RAIN!!
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"Brave Face," written by Meta and her daughter I Caroline Crocker tells her story.