Sunday 6 October 2013



My father, Teunis Waninge, or Teun as he was known, was born on 28 July 1918 in Westerbork, Drente. My mother, Gerritje de Heij, or Ger as she was known, was born on 1 November 1921 in Hasterland, Friesland.

Teun was working in Friesland staying in a camp and they met at a dance evening there. He asked her out for a date, they did and Ger liked him but was not smitten. He persevered, they had more dates and then he got her pregnant.

They married in May 1941 and Jan was born in December that year.

Were they a happy and devoted couple?

On the surface they appeared to be pretty content, like millions of other couples that found themselves in the same situation. There was a lot of common ground. They both loved fishing, cycling, long walks, everything to do with nature and gardening.

But I now know Ger was not happy in this marriage. Teun was a very difficult man. He was dogmatic, an authoritarian, a disciplinarian and unemotional.

Ger, to my utter surprise, confided in me, towards the end of her life, when we talked about children and married life in general that, had she married Teun in today’s day and age, she would have divorced him within a year. And she meant it.

However, of course, at the time of their marriage, divorce was totally out of the question. There was no financial support for a single mother and her family would, almost for certain, have disowned her.

She had no choice, other than stay with him through thick and thin. She became fiercely loyal to him and supported him in all his endeavors. The exact same thing could never be said about him.

Children were a byproduct for Teun in this marriage and children were to be seen and never heard. They were not allowed an opinion nor had they ever had a say in anything affecting their lives.

Anyway, it was in the middle of world war two when they married. Luckily they lived in a small village in the country and had enough food to get by. Teun was still working and staying in the camp during weekdays. Ger did all sort of odd jobs to earn some extra money.

Their home was a peculiar one. The ground floor was one large open plan space. A narrow ladder would go up from that open space and the floor half above was also one large open space. They had no garden. The only way Jan could be unsupervised outside was by tying him to a pole with a string so Ger had her hands free to do needle work to earn some money. They had no running water. They had to get their water from the village pump like everyone else who lived in the village. They also shared toilets with the village, which were placed on the village green.

In 1944 the Germans rounded up all men between 16 and 60 to work in weapon factories in Germany. Teun had no inclination to do this and he went undercover, joining Cor Polak, Ida’s husband, who, being a Jew, had been undercover for some years. They were hidden on a farm underneath a horse stable. The farmer always made sure a nasty, bad tempered horse would be kept in that stable so no Germans would go searching there.

The Germans had become pretty sophisticated in their search for undercover people and they knew a farm was always a desired place with many hiding places. During the day all the boys, as there were more than Teun and Cor, had to stay under the stable whilst the farm went on its usual daily way.

When suddenly word came that a raid was on the way, the farmer’s daughter, who was the only one who could handle the horse, would quickly check if the hatch was fully covered with straw, the straw reasonably believable dirty and give a pre-arranged signal that they all had to be very, very quiet.

The farmer was always very apologetic about the horse and often demonstrated that it was impossible to get into the stable. The daughter, of course, pretended to be a dumb kitchen maid.

When, in the evenings, the coast was clear, the boys could come above ground to get some fresh air. They never strayed far though, as a raid could always be imminent.

The horse did a very good job because they all survived the war.

Geert was born in 1944 and in 1947 Harmina Marianne. Her name was shortened to Miny.

Teun found a new job in the newly laid dry North Eastern Polder, the second polder retrieved from the South Sea, which had become Lake Ijsel, and again he stayed in a camp. He had to take his own tools to work every morning. Weekends he would be back home.

In 1950 they were offered a house in Marknesse, a village at the early stage of being build. To see the house the family cycled to Marknesse on a Sunday, a journey of 4/6 hours to and 4/6 hours back depending on the weather.

The new house was a temporary wooden barrack. But it was huge! It had a kitchen with running water, an inside toilet and several bedrooms. It even had the luxury of a bathroom! It also had an enormous garden to grow vegetables and enough space was left for their children to play safely in. Teun and Ger were smitten indeed.

They could move in pretty quickly. Teun could now come home every evening, as the work was much closer by. He became involved in planting trees and digging ditches for a forest in this newly claimed land.

Shortly after they moved to Marknesse, beppe fell ill and died. Ger returned to Friesland for the funeral and stayed there for several days after.

She loved being back in Friesland with its meadows and wild flowers. The little ditches surrounding each meadow full with frogs and salamanders. The birds and wildlife she was so used to seeing in the meadows. To be with her family again and speaking in her language absolutely delighted her. After returning home in Marknesse she became very homesick.

The polder was very new and everything was grey clay, sandy here, stony there and miserable. Nothing grew there yet. This newly claimed land was at the beginning of development. She missed Friesland very much. Friesland was far away and, with no buses in place yet, virtually impossible for short visits.

Ger was deeply unhappy and became pretty depressed.

Apparently my arrival in 1952 snapped her out of her depression.

The polder grew fast. Houses, churches, schools, banks and shops appeared everywhere and the family moved to a proper house.

And we began having holidays away from home! On bicycles! One such holiday saw the family cycling to their holiday destination when they came across a beautiful wide road. Fantastic, they said, and so quiet! So much room too! Happily they cycled on until stopped by a police car.

Apparently this road was one of the first motorways as yet to be opened and no cyclists were allowed. After a caution the family had to trudge through a forest to find another road to get them to their holiday camp.

They moved to Ens, for reasons unknown to me,
and in 1958 Eize was born.

Jan went to higher education in Emmeloord and for one year Geert, Miny and I attended the same basic education school in Ens.

Then Teun was promoted to supervisor and forester in a brand new polder, Eastern Flevoland, and we moved to Elburg, which was originally a Hanzestad, meaning a thriving fishing town before becoming a popular tourist attraction.

The family stayed here for many years. I have very fond memories of my time there.

Teun invested in a motorbike. He also smoked a pipe and, to this day, when I smell a pipe or hear a BMW go by, memories come flooding.

Later he fitted a sidecar onto his BMW. When he did his first test drive, not realizing he had to steer wider to take a bend in the road, he ended up in several gardens, mowing down hedges in its path.

I remember how snug it was, with my baby brother, to sit in the sidecar instead of being squashed between my parents on the back of the bike.

Later Teun invested in a Messerschmitt car, a replica of an airplane cockpit, he could drive with a motorcycle license. This contraption had a roof you opened to get in and two seats, one in front and one at the back. Unfortunately it would always stall and Ger had to push it, with its roof open high, to bystanders’ hilarity, to get it started again.

He exchanged the Messerschmitt for a Heinkel, again a replica of an airplane cockpit. This one had a door, which opened one whole side, and three seats, two at the front and one at the back, which Eize and I shared.

But Ger nagged him to get his driving license and he took lessons. His first test saw him having an enormous argument with the examiner and a long walk back home. His persistence paid off in the end and the family became the proud owner of real car, a Volkswagen.

Teun apparently was very much liked and appreciated by his employees and his boss. When he retired he was presented with a road named after him. As far as I know ‘Waninge Straat’ still exists. It winds in the forest between Elburg and Kampen if ever the need arises for a visit.

Teun was always sniffly and sneezy for reasons unknown to him. We were all used to it. That was until he stopped working. All those symptoms disappeared. He then realized that he simply was allergic to trees.

After Teun retired, and with only Eize still living at home, they bought a house in Oosterzee, Friesland. Ger was back home and she loved living there. Eize, till this day of writing, still lives at that address in Elburg with his wife and children.

Unfortunately Teun fell ill with lung cancer and after his recovery they sold the house with its large garden and moved to rented accommodation in Emmeloord. Five years later the cancer came back in his liver and Teun died in March 1985.

Ger somehow managed to get him buried in Dronten, Eastern Flevoland as, she argued, he was a pioneer in that polder and not the North Eastern Polder. She also managed to get a house there.

Some years later the polders were re-named Flevoland, and made the twelfth province of the Netherlands.

Ger loved living on her own and took up writing poetry and short stories.

She died of a heart attack in the early hours of August 1991, aged sixty-nine.

The wristwatch, after some debate, was given to Jan’s son Andre.


Charles Gramlich said...

A fascinating slice of history and a great story.

Monique said...

I love writing this Charles. Things of the past are too quickly forgotten

Reader Wil said...

A fascinating story of your family. Thank you for sharing. My next post is about an episode in my life that had great impact on the time after the war.

Reader Wil said...

Thank you for your comment!

X. Dell said...

The story about hiding out from the Nazis in Holland: the first thought that comes to mind is the fate of the Frank family. Again, that was urban. This was rural. It's nice to know that the space under the stable could be used for such purposes.

The story of the highway is also interesting. In your case, a major shift in lifestyle appeared virtually overnight....once your dad got his driver's license.

Yet, some of the themes seem timeless, among them the fact that your mom felt trapped in marriage. Perhaps today, she would have had many other options than staying, hence her remark,

Russell CJ Duffy said...

A lovely read. I think the past should live with us. It is good to have that perspective whereby what was reflects on what is and what we are because of it.

fizzycat said...

A fascinating story of strength
on many levels.

fizzycat said...

Am now back to wish you a Happy Christmas.