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< Echoes of Memory

The Staircase


by Louise Lawrence-Israëls

In the last eight months before we were liberated, plane traffic over Holland increased a lot. Most planes were bombers originating in Germany, flying over Holland to reach England to bomb British cities. Or our Allies came from England and also flew over Holland to reach Germany and bomb German cities.

There were other planes also. The Nazis had made a deal with Sweden, one of the few countries in Europe that was neutral during the war. Northern Europe was experiencing one of the harshest winters ever, and there was little food for most of the people; of course, the Nazis were well fed. Planes from Sweden flew over northern Europe to drop food parcels, mostly white bread. “Swedish white bread” has always been a phrase in my vocabulary because of my years growing up in Holland.

To be on the safe side, when a plane approached Dutch air space, a piercing alarm would sound. Very much like the alarms that go off every month when the fire stations near our home test their alarm system. When the alarm would sound, it was a warning for all citizens to go to air raid shelters. The shelters were mostly underground, in basements. People would stay in those shelters until a second alarm would sound, the all-clear alarm. That meant that the planes had passed the area.

Neither the Allies nor the Nazis had plans to bomb Holland during that time, but the planes shook a lot, and occasionally a bomb would get loose and fall on the wrong place.

Where could a family in hiding go? Nobody was supposed to know where they were. To appear all of a sudden, with or without wearing a yellow star, you just could not risk it, and you did not know whom you could trust. To stay put in your hiding place was another risk. My parents had heard that the safest place in an Amsterdam row house was in the stairwell. You can remodel the house, but you would always leave the stairs. So when the air-raid alarm would sound, we went out of the fourth-floor door and sat on the stairs till the all-clear alarm would sound.

Our move went like this, my brother would take my hand and we would walk to the door and wait. My mom would take a special basket with necessities like emergency food and warm clothes for the children. The basket was always ready. My dad and Selma would take some blankets. Then my dad would open the door, and we would quietly leave the apartment and sit on the steep stairs. As soon as the second alarm sounded, we would tiptoe back into the hiding place, and my dad would close the door.

These alarms went off very often, even during the night. My brother knew what to do; we never questioned it but followed the instructions silently.

When the war was over, we never asked why this routine had stopped; we just understood that when peace had arrived, the danger of the planes flying over our city had stopped.

When we walked through Amsterdam after liberation, we saw bombed-out houses with the staircases still standing.

I often wonder today, had a bomb fallen on our house, would the staircase still be standing, would we would have had the roof on top of our heads, would we still have survived? Would we be alive?

©2018, Louise Lawrence-Israëls. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 11louise lawrence israëlslouise lawrence-israëlshidingliberationmemory

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