On a brisk, day in October, two families came together to meet each other for the first time. What started out as an inquirer to a photo, has led to a new friendship. Two brothers who were born in Holland during the war, and me, born in the United States many years later came together to meet and share not only an experience but an amazing first-hand account of what life was like to be trapped in an occupied country during WWII.
As a continuation of a story Ren’e and Erik van Slooten had shared with me about their mother and her bravery of hiding a Jewish friend in their home during the war, their mother’s imprisonment and eventual liberation by the United States 101st airborne division, we came together that autumn day to meet and celebrate their mother’s life.
Erik with his mother on the day of Eindhoven's liberation
To read this story please go to... http://americangirlinholland.blogspot.nl/2012/09/lichjesroute.html
Ren’e had asked if I would like to meet and visit some of the areas in and around Eindhoven that played a role in Operation Market Garden. We decided we would start our day at The Wings of Liberation Museum in Best. He said I would be able to find him because he would be wearing an Ohio State cap. This made me smile. I am from Michigan and grew up only a few minutes from the University of Michigan. Michigan and Ohio State have always been big time rivals. I told Ren’e I would be the one in the Michigan sweatshirt and explained only a little bit of the rivalry of the two schools. I should have explained a bit more as he looked a little nervous holding his cap as I approached his family. But in my heart I knew, the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State is like the rivalry of two brothers. Who’s taller, who’s faster and who will make it to the top of that hill first. A love and devotion to continue a game for a lifetime. Ren’e had received his Ohio State cap from the family of Rodney Renfrew from Coshocton, Ohio.
Rodney Renfrew's grave in Belgium with the Ohio State cap for Ren'e
Rodney had been killed in Germany February 10, 1945. Ren’e has adopted his grave in Belgium at the American Henri Chapelle Cemetery. He was able to meet Rodney’s family last year and they brought him the cap. I love that! I was not only there to meet Ren’e and his brother Erik, we were there to celebrate the bond, the band of brothers (yes, one of our favorite shows) that came together from all over the United States to help others in need.
We walked around the many buildings at the Wings of Liberation Museum looking at the different memories from the war. Ren’e and Erik had brought along their wives and also a friend who works at the museum to help guide us around. I had brought my husband, daughter and her friend. Reading letters, documents, looking at tanks, guns, artillery, uniforms and other memories donated to the museum so that no one will forget the sacrifice these people made to save others.
Destruction in and around Eindhoven
We sat and had drinks and a small lunch before our next stop, our families mingling, chatting and sharing stories of our lives. Ren’e had brought letters from Rodney Renfrew’s family, letters that had been passed back and forth before he was killed. René and Erik shared more on the details surrounding the Allies liberation of Eindhoven and what it meant to their family. The Allies liberated Eindhoven on September 18, 1944. And as the Allies moved on to fight more of the war; the Nazis began bombing Eindhoven on September 19, 1944. Most of the city was destroyed. At home was their mother, pregnant with René and little Erik to tend to. As she and neighbors discussed what to do, it was time for little Erik’s nap. The neighbors told her to come over to their house to hide from the bombing. But she insisted on taking him back home to sleep. So they hid out in their home with Erik using a cooking pan over his head to shield him from injury. When the bombing stopped, Mrs. van Slooten and Erik came out of their home to find that their neighbors house had been bombed and they had all been killed. His nap had saved not only the lives of his mother and himself but his little brother that would be born two months later. I asked… Where was your father? Oh, said Erik, He was at work… for Phillips.
Sweet Amy and her new friend
Our next stop…..on to the drop zone sight of the 101st airborne in Son. We pulled our cars into a beautiful farm in the country side. As we climbed out of the car, my daughter ran over to a fence to pet and chat with a horse. She had the most precious look on her face.
Landing Zone in Son
We only stayed a few minutes. The owner of the house actually lives in the house. He was a little boy when the 101st airborne division landed in his back yard. They are gracious enough to allow anyone to come over and see where the men landed. Erik said.. as a little boy he would call them , the men in black. Falling from the sky by the thousands were men in black. Their mother called them, Angels from Heaven. The name of the farmhouse is Paulus Hoeve. They had painted a huge red cross on the roof so the paratroopers were able to see where they were supposed to land.
The Men in Black
Our day ended way too quickly. We drove past a few more memorials and bridges that were key to Operation Market Garden. We left each other with a promise to get together again soon.
As we drove away, I couldn’t help but smile. Me with my Michigan sweatshirt on and Ren’e with his Ohio State cap. Two brothers from Holland coming together to meet an American girl to share a story and a moment in time so that we never forget.
To my friends in Michigan and Ohio or where ever you live… Each year, when Michigan and Ohio State play their big football game, cheer for who you want to win. But after the game, let’s raise a glass and say a toast to our fallen brother from Ohio, Rodney Renfrew. It will be a great tradition for us to start together and such an important way for us to say thank you to a young man who gave his life so that others could live. God Bless The Netherlands and may God Bless the United States of America.
Ren'e, me and Erik
Ren’e and Erik… we won’t forget.