[September 5, 2014 Meppel, an odd year (Meppel, een raar jaar), ca. 1992 – 1995
After his retirement as a drawing teacher in 1992 Jan Vegter (1927-2009) started to work intensely on the visualization of his memories of crucial periods of his life. To focuse his memory performance he decided to build detailed scale models of certain technical and topographic conditions. This amazing series was the first example of his meticulous art of memory. It is divided into three sketchbooks and refers to his juvenile experience of the outbreak of World War II. His father was stationed then as a reserve-officer in the small town of Meppel, in the east of The Netherlands. He was able to bring along his familiy. In reality this “odd year” in Meppel lasted only a half-year, from December 1939 until April 1940, when the threat of war increased in such a way that his father thought it was better to return the family back their home in Voorburg. The series also covers the German invasion, the bombardment of Rotterdam and the first days of the occupation. All drawings are ink and color pencil. The varing sizes never exceed the sketchbook format 32 x 41 cm. The images are always on the right pages. The left ones have handwritten comments, translated here in English by Theo de Feyter. A few of them had to be slightly shortened for this pictorial.
Voorburg, Sunday September 3, 1939: A sultry evening. I couldn´t sleep. In the gardens people sat and chatted pleasantly. Isn´t anybody afraid? It is the first night! They know there is a war going on, don´t they? That Germany invaded Poland ?
Other Sundays came into my mind, Sundays on which Hitler held a speech `im Sportpalast´. We had to be quiet, because father wanted to listen. He was worried. The tumult went on for hours.
Autumn! Poland was overrun, and the weekend had come to an end again. With the morning porridge sloshing in my stomach, I scurried to school. Something was going on there! The playground was full of mobile kitchen wagons, evaporating lavishly.
With `the fast Diesel´ to the far north! I couldn?t imagine something more beautiful. “Bye, bye school; bye, bye master; bye, bye guys! I rather take the train for a wonderful trip far away.” I loved to sneak before the window and look, look…
In those turbulent days my father decided that it was time for a family picture. My oldest brother (in the middle) would stay in Voorburg. Because of his studies. Our maid was Tjimke. She `of course´ was not in the family picture
Thursday, September 7, 12.55 pm. There we were in Meppel with everything we got. What kept father? He should have shown us the way.
Here it was: our new environment. Not much to make me happy.
The station, however, was located nearby. It made the neighborhood a little bit livelier sometimes. Specially in the evenings when extra trains were scheduled for military personnel.
Well, it wasn´t so bad after all. Behind our house was a real factory! It buzzed the whole day, starting very early in the morning.
When we were adapted to some extent, we had to adapt anew again.
Regularly I walked along the railway track for brief moments. Because I loved trains, but also because it was suffocating hot in our living room – you couldnt lower the temperature. So I exchanged one extreme for another.
When sergeant Zwart turned up in our entrance hall, most of the time it meant no good. `Disturbing messages from the frontier.´
A glowing oven, pea soup, red cheeks and `The Lord is my Shepherd´
The owner of our home (who had moved for the same reason as we had) wanted nothing to be moved in his study. Everything had to stay exactly in its place.
As a pastime the skippers skated rounds. On Frisian skates, on socks.
I knew of course that Meppel was a hub, one line going to Leeuwarden and the other to Groningen. Soon I could reproduce the time table.
At Christmas my brother Koen came over. We had the brilliant idea to bike to Steenwijk. When we arrived there, we had to go the same stretch back again!
I had to go to school after all. It was the first time in my life I felt superior. The dialect, the clothing, all those little wooden shoes in the corridor in front of the class room! And then this short cropped hair of some blokes.
I sat behind Barend Volkers, the `class-model´. Time and time again the master gave him the turn so that he could show his ability. That´s how we should do it as well! But Barend had repeated the year. That was´nt fair.
Living in a park is really something different! At the beginning of January we moved into a villa! You could walk around the whole building. The central heating, however, was broken. The previous tenant had not counted with more than twenty degrees below
Full concentration in order not to veer out. (Because of this nasty cold I suffered from chilblains. In the evening they itched like mad. With a knife I cut them: rather pain than itch.)
From now on my father could receive officers at home `in a dignified way´..
I was a boy from the upper middle class, who had to entertain himself in the closed veranda.
A late emergency-letter was always to be posted at the station.
A long train full of travelers. Like herrings in a barrel. `They look like frozen, but no, something inside is still moving.´
The mood in the waiting room was not very cheerful. The leaves are withdrawn? Well, come on, into the icy night with your gear! Warning! In extreme cold don´t touch the barrel of your gun with bare hands. You risk sticking them.
Master Kieft, the head teacher, was very good at calling `ice-vacation´.
The flu..! A life like a prince! Wonderful!! For the time being I didn´t have to get better.
Playing secretly around with dangerous stuff is twice as exciting.
The provincial Drenthe-folk were no doubt very law-abiding…, unless the authority was absent.
March. Thaw! At last! Slowly but steady. It was a little bit like after the Deluge. Only we had no knowledge from before the Deluge. We walked around like geologists specialized in soils until the attraction diminished gradually.
`Our lieutenant´s son´ had a verruca. “I will tickle you for a while,” the medic joked. He gladly wanted to do my father a favour.
Our stronghold was situated at the Staphorst Road and directed towards the `Staphorst scum´.
Master Kieft allowed us to come to school with self-made bonnets de police.
April Travelling by train on Sunday! It felt really strange for a God-fearing family! But there were disturbing messages from the frontier. Voorburg seemed safer than Meppel. When we passed Utrecht mother said: “Now we are safe.”
In the Herenstraat a limousine is pulling up? It stops. The driver gets off… He opens the back door for minister Slotemaker de Bruïne, who walks away. The driver takes his seat again behind the wheel and lets his engine purr and bang. A strange dream
May 10th 1940. No dream! Look out the window! Little planes… Funny cloudlets… And every bang produces another one. Bugger it..! That?s what they call a shoot out..! War!?!
Half past four in the morning… On the radio everybody is already alert and in lack of time: “Rotterdam Airport: skirmishes with German´- “This is war,” my brother Koen said. “With us?” my mother wailed. “Oh boys, and what about father now?”
The screaming of the air-raid alarm. For the first time in my life my little prayer `Lord, keep me day by day´ seemed appropriate.
Out of the blue a Heinkel flew low over the rooftops. In the early morning Mr. Kamiet of the opposite side of the street was taken from his home. He was a Volksdeutscher and member of the Dutch National Socialist Movement.
Around 9 am. Another neighbor of ours without a telephone at home wished to use our phone: “Hello, yes, Kramer here, General staff of the armed forces .. I´m waiting for a car! What? No driver?? . .. Do you know who you´re talking with? What?! Hello!..”
The first evening. It started quietly, but then there were gunshots and I sat straight up in bed, frightened. I heard something ticking behind the mantelpiece. My heart started banging? In the following days we slept on matrasses in the living room.
Gijs, the gofer of the grocery: “… at the road-crossing I saw German paratroopers, shooting from behind Dutch PoW´s..! ” Tjimke: “And you ride on your bicycle everywhere, just like that..?” Gijs, our hero: Yes, well, just like that .. “
What went into us to keep following all broadcasting? Good question. The main reason was the repeated message to trust only the familiar voices.
Tuesday May 14. When I heard on the radio that afternoon that Rotterdam had been bombed, I flew up the stairs to the attic window. Was it smoke also of burnt people?
One day after the capitulation, 19.30 pm. “There they are,” a few boys shouted. “And how!!! An endless stream of rattling force. ?No wonder, we couldn´t hold them,” a man with a bowler said.
“Ja, mein Junge, Rotterdam. Schade!”
… For five days they tried to finish each other off…
“Der Laan von Middenbuerg?” “Danke.” We: “The German military way is much sharper, after all, don´t you think?”
The head master: “So you thought you would have a vacation, didn´t you?”
It was June already when my father strolled through Voorburg again. Back from the hospital! Shrapnel in his hand. And he was a lucky one!