A Research Guide for Students by I Lee

Autobiography of Carl Kaas

A Member of the Dutch Underground in World War II

Chapter 62. Not Normal Any More

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My friend Tim said, "Here is your chance to get a good radio." I fully agreed, so we boarded a train for Amsterdam, looked around, asked some people, and before long we found a beautiful PHILIPS, the latest model with short and long wave, electric eye and a one button operation.

How do we get it home? The Germans were watching everything, everywhere. Tim said, "No problem." He heaved the music box on his shoulder and walked past every watchful eye. We made it safely home. I believe because he did not try to hide it, they figured he was gonna turn it in. Sure, ha, ha, ha.

One day, workers came around, climbed up every electrical pole and unscrewed the fuse. That of course meant no more electric power or lights or listening to free Holland over the English radio.

Tim came right over on a dark night during curfew. We got a ladder, he climbed up and ran a wire around where the fuse had been and we were back in business: there were lights.

But we dared not use the radio in the house, because you never knew who to trust. Many times it was hard to find a station which was reliable because the Germans jammed every broadcast. They were afraid we would hear the truth. Still there was humor.

A kid came over to me once and said, "You want to hear the English sender?" (He did not know I listened). "Sure," I said, "Listen." Then he puckered his lips, made a sound while flipping his finger up and down on his lips, then ran!

Everyone now had to find his own light source or sit in the dark. Some had kerosene lamps until the can ran dry. Others used candles. When they were no longer available, they made their own.

Many people brought a bicycle into the house, put the bike generator on the back wheel, put the bike on a stand and start pedalling. If you wanted light you worked for it.

Others manufactured windmills. We experimented with car generators and found Delco Remy gave the most light with the least revs.

When we saw a 1937 Chevrolet unattended by the Germans, that same night it became ours. But to make a propeller with enough speed and power became quite a challenge.

Also a challenge was to keep our bicycles going. You couldn’t buy tires anymore. Someone came out with wooden rings put on your bike wheels with pieces of wood. I did not like them too well: they rattled a lot on the brick streets, and with no spring, they were hard on the kidneys.

I started to experiment with old car tires. I cut out strips, rolled them into a tube and put that together with pieces of wire. After more trial and error, it became a product so acceptable that people begged me to make some for them too.


Related resources:

Survival and Resistance: The Netherlands Under Nazi Occupation by Linda M. Woolf, Ph.D.

Hidden Heroes - Dutch Resistance part 1. YouTube video, 9:39 min.

Hidden Heroes - Dutch Resistance part 2. YouTube video, 10:00 min.

Hidden Heroes - Dutch Resistance part 3. YouTube video, 9:55 min.

The Cycling Dutchman. Amsterdam: In the City of Bikes (also available in Dutch as De Fietsrepubliek) is Pete Jordan’s personal story.

"The study takes the reader on a journey in time, starting in the 1890s when bicycles were a novice, only affordable for the wealthy. There is the compelling story of how the Dutch heir to the throne Wilhelmina was forbidden to learn how to ride a bike by the government, as cycling was regarded to be dangerous. She nevertheless taught herself once she became Queen at the age of 18 and was regularly sighted happily cycling in the streets of The Hague, up to old age .

Jordan also finds how it was actually WWI (in which The Netherlands managed to stay neutral) which brought cycling to the masses. From 1918, the Dutch could cheaply import bikes from broke neighbour Germany, causing the transformation of Amsterdam into the City of Bikes as we still know it today. Jordan then shows an interesting parallel between The Netherlands and the USA in the 1920s.

Whilst in the Netherlands, the bicycle finally became cheaply available for the masses ... Probably because of the large numbers of people cycling, Amsterdam's City Council was by no means cycle-friendly in the 1920s. The Mayor even decided to ban cycling in one of its shopping streets, while drivers were allowed to keep driving through this narrow "Leidse Straat".

What about this "letter to the editor", reflecting on this issue, in the Telegraaf daily of 13 November 1927:
"Despite all our democratic airs, a delusion is now developing in the heads of our authorities and ourselves; the idea that ten cyclists are less important than a single motorist. Therefore, cyclists of Amsterdam, unite. If we don't, soon - as pariahs of the roadway - we'll simply be consigned to the streets that are lifeless and poorly-paved ..."

Jordan found that of the four million bicycles in the Netherlands before the start of WWII, about two million bicycles were either confiscated by the Germans or "ridden to death” by the Dutch themselves. Especially the Hunger Winter (1944-1945) was the end to many Dutch bicycles. Hungry city folks were forced to head for the countryside in search for food, cycling incredible distances in harsh conditions.

As supplies of rubber had run out for years, many tyres and inner tubes were worn out, making many Dutch people ride their bikes on the bare wheel rims, gradually decaying their bikes forever. As Jordan writes, it took years before the number of bikes in The Netherlands was back on the levels of from before WWII, with most bicycles this time being home-manufactured. Iconic Dutch brands as Gazelle and Batavus still exist today."

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