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Magdeburg Revisited

3rd Battalion, 117th Regiment History in ETO

How It Was 40 Years Later

By Jessica de Hoon-Hoedemaekers

The following story is that of a young girl who kept her own personal diary during the occupation of Holland in 1940-1944, and in 1984, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the liberation of her town of "Beek", she wrote this story as a text for all of the schools in the area.

"Beek" is a small town, 14 km north of Maastricht, and it was liberated primarily by the 2nd Armored Division with some clean-up assistance by the 30th "Old Hickory" Division.

Memories of the Second World War

Maybe you wonder why Beek has festivities on the 17th of September 1984.

You know, of course, that the German occupation ended 40 years ago, but 40 years is very far in the past for you.

You can read about it now in a story of an inhabitant of Beek, who was also young like you, 40 years ago.

In the thirties, we attended the schools that you attend now. We played in the same streets where you live, and often the same games that you play now. But still, there were a lot of differences.

We, as young people in the forties, consciously lived through the Second World War. I kept a diary in those days. That's why I was asked by the headmaster of your school here in Beek, to write a short story about it.

I will now tell you about that time and the liberation. If you should want to know more, there are many good books and articles that you can read and learn more about it.

In our youth, Beek was already a prosperous village. The Beek Airport, now the Maastricht Airport, was not there. Only after the liberation, the American Army made a runway for their planes.

In May 1945, Germany surrendered. That was the end of the war in Europe, and the American Army and Airforce left in May 1945. After that, the Dutch Government started building an airfield for civil aviation on this location in Beek. Now-a-days it is called the Maastricht Airport, although Maastricht is 14 km distant.

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The tenth of May started as a sunny day, but, we were rudely awakened by the invasion of Holland, (and Belgium & France), by the German Army.

Four years of occupation followed. Four Miserable Years !! Persecution of the Jews -- Concentration Camps -- German Cruelty - Scarcity of Food, Clothing and many other goods. Many people in The Netherlands, many from your own town of Beek, suffered from the German occupation.

A very sad day was the 5th of October 1942. By mistake, the Allied Airforce thought that they were flying over Germany, (the border of Germany and Holland was not far away), and they dropped all of the bombs in our neighborhood, on nearby villages and coal mines not far from the town of Geleen. From my diary of that day:

"Bombardment in the towns of Geleen and Beek at about 10 o'clock at night. It was terrible ! We ran outside to look at what was going on. Suddenly an enormous "Bang"! The first bomb was dropped nearby, followed by an indescribable tumult. It was dangerous and everybody ran for the air raid shelter. Very loud bangs were followed by a tremendous increase in the air pressure, and we all felt as though we had been blown up. When it stopped for a few minutes, we looked outside carefully. What we saw was frightening! The whole neighborhood was on fire in the center of Beek. A woman with a child in he arms came running into our cellar because her house was on fire.

After that it started again. An incendiary bomb fell so close to our cellar that we had to leave it. Suddenly the planes disappeared. There were shouts and orders. We all had to leave our houses because they thought that our houses near the town hall would be burned down. With the help of many people, we managed to take our belongings to the square in front of the town hall. Together with neighbors, we watched over our belongings throughout the night.

After some time, I heard a sound under a bundle of clothing. That was our canary in its cage. Fortunately, it had survived the chaos. With the cage and bird on my knees, I waited until dawn. Our house was not burned down, so my parents, my brothers and myself had to take all of our belongings back to our house. We had been lucky. So far, the description of this event in my diary.

"For many people it was awful as they lost all that they possessed. About 80 people were killed in Geleen.

Between 1942 and 1944, the situation in The Netherlands got worse and worse. The Germans deported the Jews and the Dutch people who were political radicals and anti-German.

Before the deportation of our Jewish fellow citizens, they had to wear a "yellow star" (Star of David), and everywhere one could read the text on shop windows, "Forbidden for Jews."

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In the beginning, before the Jews were deported, we young people used to go cycling with a Jewish girl friend. She was not allowed to enter a restaurant to have even a drink of lemonade. So, we all took our lemonade outside and shared it with her and drank it out in front of the restaurant. Later on the situation for the Jews became very serious. Tens of thousands of Jews died in the concentration camps. A few Jewish families from Beek went underground. They were lucky and they survived.

When the Dutch people revolted against the Germans, cruelties, the revenge of the Germans was terrible. People were shot or sent to the concentration camps for the slightest infraction of the rules laid down by the Germans. Most of them never returned. That also happened to people who helped Allied pilots whose planes were shot down, and people who helped the Jews. Yet, lots of people risked their lives to help the Jews and Allied soldiers.

In 1943 and 1944, the situation still worsened. Hardly any food or clothing was available for the Dutch people. Apart from that, the people had to be very careful of what they said to their "neighbors and friends". Collaborators betrayed them !

People were not allowed to travel more than 3 km from their homes. The Germans also tried to influence the Dutch people with German propaganda films. But most of us saw through that !What we still had was : Freedom of Thoughts !! What Freedom means, you learn to understand only when you lose Freedom, like in 1940-1944.

At the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, we all had some hope because of rumors about an invasion of the continent by the Allied Armies. We gathered our information by secretly listening to the BBC radio.

The big news came on the 6th of June 1944, the day that the Allied Armies landed in Normandy, France. The invasion had become a fact. Everybody had new hope once again. The invasion area and the routes that the Armies followed can be seen on a very big map at the American Cemetery at Margraten.

When the war activities came closer, the Germans got worse in their punishments. They wanted all Dutch men in our neighborhood to dig trenches from which the Germans could shoot at the Allied soldiers. But the Dutch soldiers didn't go and went underground. By this time, the Germans were demoralized and didn't search for them. My mother was very busy preparing for a long stay in the air raid shelter.

Early in September, 1944, parts of the German Army, coming from France and Belgium, passed through our town, day and night, in the direction of Germany. At the last, they came on bicycles and on foot. We knew that the Allied Forces were not far behind.

Then, on the 11th of September, we could hear the booming of the artillery guns. The front line was coming very close.

On the 14th of September, some citizens were seriously wounded by exploding shells. I assisted in a provisional hospital that day. People were frightened and uncertain about what was going to happen, and they stayed close to their cellars.

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And Then !! Sunday, the 17th of September 1944 !!!

In my diary: "Birthday ! What a Day! A real sad one. But before the day was over, it turned out to be the most memorable and happy birthday that I have ever experienced! Liberated at Last ! About 10 o'clock in the morning that Sunday, the front line was very close. Planes were diving down at the fleeing Germans. Then, suddenly, at about six o'clock in the evening, it became very quiet. We heard very soft steps around the houses. Later on we learned that American soldiers of the 2nd Armored Division, who flanked the 30th "Old Hickory" Division, had been looking for German snipers.

Then - - a Cry ! THEY ARE HERE !!

Everybody rushed to their front doors and then we saw the street full of tanks and smiling and waving Americans! I'll "Never" forget this moment as long as I live ! The tension was suddenly gone. People were crying with joy, and laughing…

Every person will have experienced the Liberation in his own way, but the joy to be FREE again, certainly was the same for everyone.

It is that Liberation, now 40 years ago, that the citizens of Beek are going to celebrate.

But, also, a time to remember, that thousands and thousands of young men fought for our Freedom and many thousands of them were killed, and lie in our nearby American Cemetery at Margraten.

It was only later on that we realized a little bit of what it meant for the Americans to fight their way from Normandy into Belgium, The Netherlands and then on into Germany, under the most miserable of conditions and circumstances.

We have every reason to celebrate and to be Grateful !

Also, it is a time to remember our Jewish countrymen, and many others who suffered and died under the yoke of the Nazis.

Young people today must remember that the Freedom that they have and enjoy now in 1984, was given to them by the American Army in 1944, and must never be forgotten.

The Freedom to say What they Like; to Go Where they Like; and Do What they Like, all with in legal and moral bounds, is what we Celebrate here this day.

Remember: Never, Never, Forget the Men who Sacrificed Their Lives For Your Freedom !!

Published and re-edited with permission of author:
Mrs. Jessica de Hoon-Hoedemaekers, by Frank W. Towers, 30th Infantry Division

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Updated August 22, 2001