Memories of World War II

Seen through the eyes of a Dutch teenager


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About the book

Memories of World War II

Seen through the eyes of a Dutch teenager

A house with a story. At the age of eighty-nine, my father, still very fit, came to Spain to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. Whilst we had our breakfast at a seafront cafe, memories started to surface. Memories about his own wartime experiences in the city of Deventer.

The past does not let go of every ‘secret’, but this book gives you an impression of the life of my father and his family during the Second World War in The Netherlands. My father’s story is similar to those of many of his generation that will never be heard. I have decided to document these wartime memories in a collection of short stories. 

For ‘Memories of World War II’ I mainly describe the events in and near the house where my father’s family lived at the time. I am writing the stories that my dad shared with me in his own words, so in the first person. This way he becomes the narrator of his own memories.

At some point we look each other straight in the eye. I am feeling mischievous and wave at him. “Weg Dort, weg dort”, he shouts angrily, indicating that I have to move away from the window, but I don’t listen to him. It all happens in a split second as he points his gun at me and fires. I am totally freaked out. Fortunately, the bullet has missed me and hits the roof gutter. Wim shouts “Get away from that window!”

About the writer

Renate van Nijen is a Dutch artist and writer. She lives in La Herradura in southern Spain. Renate has held many solo exhibitions of her paintings at galleries and she has participated in group exhibitions and art festivals in the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain. She has written a total of eight books, seven of which have already been published. Renate usually writes her books in English, and Memories of World War II is book number seven (als available in Dutch – ‘De Jongens van de Diepenveenseweg’). The book cover was also created by Renate. If you want to stay informed about Renate’s art and books, you can subscribe to her newsletter, or visit her website.

"He is 18 years old and he was shot in the back. The wound just won't heal. He can barely walk and lies on his bed all day, in the front room on the first floor. Every day I keep him company for a couple of hours and my endless chatter always makes him laugh."
Derk Willem van Nijen
04-02-1927 / 25-07-1947 Deventer

Diepenveenseweg May 2019

It’s a warm sunny day in May as my brother Fokke and I drive down the Diepenveenseweg. The Deventer train station is on the left and on the right we see the property, so familiar to us. It was our family home during the war years, 1940-1945. We park the car opposite the house and I notice that it hasn’t changed much at all. Only the door has been replaced. There used to be a dark green door with an oval ornamental iron frame in the middle. Now there is a dark grey door with two windows. When we cross the street, we first walk to the gate on the right-hand side. We look at the outside brick wall of the house. The advertising on the wall has been restored to its old glory by the current owners of the building. It says ‘Fa. N.J. Gerritsma, Groothandel in Chocolade en Suikerwaren’ (chocolate and confectionary wholesale). In between the letters you can still see an even older text ‘Groothandel in chocolade, cacao, biscuits, suikerwerken, drops’ (chocolate, cocoa, biscuits, confectionery, licorice wholesale’).

I remember that there also used to be advertising on the front of the house, just above the windows of the attic. Attached to the roof gutter, there were two billboards with the words ‘Tjoklat & Kwatta’ (old Dutch chocolate brands) written in large letters.

Marion and Joost, the owners, have invited us to come and have a look at their house. It feels very strange and yet special to be here again after so many years. I feel a mix of curiosity, joy and fear because of the memories which are bubbling up in my head when I look at the large window on the left, which used to be the front room.”