The atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust are unimaginable for most people, but Windermere’s Fred van Zuiden, who spent five years hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland, knows the reality all too well.
He wrote about his experience in his 2009 book, Call Me Mom: A Dutch Boy’s World War II Survival Story, which was recently translated for Dutch readers to, Zeg maar mamma. Earlier this month at a ceremony in the Netherlands, Fred presented the book to fellow survivor Lodewijk van Leeuwen.
“I was in hiding with him and his dad in a poultry pen,” Fred told The Echo. “I was in there for four months, and Lo (Mr. van Leeuwen) was in there for eight months. His dad was in there for twelve months, but we were discovered one day, and we were out of there in ten minutes.”
While the three always kept a lookout during their time spent in hiding, they were uncovered via an opening they had not considered.
“When he saw us in there, he said “Don’t worry,” but the people I was hiding with said he cannot be trusted,” recalls Fred. “After we left there, an hour and a half later a Nazi unit came by to arrest us and send us to the camp and on to Poland to be exterminated. But they again didn’t get us, and we ultimately all survived.”
A ten-kilometre walk led Fred and Lo to the next village.
“I was told where to go, and we spent the night there with some wonderful people,” he said. After spending months literally cooped up with no opportunity to speak louder than at a whisper, Fred was overwhelmed to hear people talking freely.
“When I heard people talking in a normal manner, I was laughing hysterically,” he said.
As one of the many harrowing experiences documented from Holland during the early 1940s, Call Me Mom was recognized as an iconic document for how people secretly hid during the Holocaust.
A local Rotary Club in the ancient city of Amersfoort, Holland established a foundation to honour the many Dutchmen who hid people during the war at great risk. They felt as though no significant statue existed to memorialize those people, so a structure was recently erected in the European city for that purpose.
“The foundation felt Call Me Mom was very much in tune with the building of the statue,” explained Fred. “They asked me if I would consider donating the proceeds of a Dutch version of Call Me Mom to the project, and I was pleased to do so.”
The event was attended by nearly 100 people, including the Mayor of Amersfoort.
“The audience was mixed – some people were survivors like me, many had hidden people and risked being shot, their homes burnt down, and their children sent to Nazi indoctrination camps,” he said. “Many people needed to hide — those evading forced labour, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, railway workers, resistance people, as well as Jewish people.”
He explained how he was forced to hide in secret at 26 different homes. He was support by caring families, where most of the work fell on the mother’s shoulders. The kindness extended towards Fred led him to give his book the title Call Me Mom.
After five years of hiding, Holland was liberated, and Fred was re-united with his family. He’d parted with when he was nine.
“My dad did not recognize me,” he said. “He, my brother and my sister hid with other families.”
But it wasn’t long before the van Zuiden’s could enjoy their reunion.
“He looked at me for two, three seconds, and then he said, “Yes! You are my son.” And he embraced me. It was fabulous.”
The family returned to discover that their homestead had been converted into an ammunition depot by the German army during the war. In addition, weapons, uniforms, and “a hell of a stench” were left behind in the family’s business, which was located below the family’s living space in their house.
The German war supplies were taken by the Dutch Internal Armed Forces, and the family business, which was founded in 1737, resumed. While it’s now under new ownership, the building still stands today.
After a risky maneuver across no man’s land, Fred had escaped German occupied Holland before the country was liberated. He described how he was informed when his country was freed.
“I was about 70 to 80 kilometres behind the frontline, and I listened to the BBC out of London,” he recalled. “They announced that German forces in the Netherlands had surrendered. And the next thing, in Berlin, the German forces called it a day.”
His crossing of no man’s land, as well as Fred’s survival at the Battle Arhem, featured in A Bridge Too Far, as well as the Gestapo Raids, are among the stories featured in his book.
Call Me Mom can be purchased at Sobey’s in
Invermere, or through Fred’s website,