Horror, Hiding and the Holocaust

How Bert Jakobs outlived the Third Reich

The days became weeks; the weeks, months; the months, years. Time passed with a mixture of boredom, fear and uncertainty.

Eight months into hiding, Rose joined the rest of the family. But Martin stayed in the other house in Den Bosch. Bert recalls his two sisters teaching him reading, writing and arithmetic. And the children made their own games: chess figures and an improvised Monopoly board. A few pieces of clothing had been smuggled in beforehand. And from burlap potato sacks, Bert remembers, his sisters made shoes and handbags.

Aron had warned his children never to go down into the barn or the Dreissens' house. But one day, when the Dreissens had left, Bert sneaked into the house. He was luxuriating in a big chair in one of the main rooms when the door opened suddenly. The girl who worked next door, a German dating a Nazi soldier, had come in.

"So I snuck behind the chair and sat there for two hours," Bert says. "I never made a sound."

The Gestapo came twice to search the house. Bert remembers seeing and hearing them. "You could hear everything downstairs," he says. "But they didn't find us."

His father had told him that every day they survived was one day closer to liberation. And on Sept. 17, 1944, 25 months after they'd disappeared into the Dreissens' secret barn loft, liberation seemed at hand. The Jakobs heard the sound of planes overhead that Sunday morning. Looking out their window, they saw dots filling the sky. American planes of the 82nd Airborne had parachuted some lightly armed soldiers into an area still strong with German troops. And then the Jakobs heard the explosions of bazookas and grenades.

"We knew that we were in the war zone. So everybody in the house moved out of the attic and into the basement of the farmhouse that night," Bert recalls. "Now there were 12 people in a small basement, and it was terrible. You couldn't go to the bathroom; you could do nothing."

That night, Bert and his father crawled from the house. They made it as far as a haystack perhaps 50 yards from the house. But the Americans thought they were Germans, and the Germans thought they were Americans. Both sides opened fire on the haystack. Miraculously, the two made it back to the basement unharmed.

For four days, they were in a no man's land, under constant fire. Then, in the early morning of the fifth day, Sept. 21, an American patrol passed near the house. Rose, who spoke English, hollered at them. Two GIs bore a stretcher with a mortally wounded soldier. Moments later, Bert watched the soldier die. After hearing their story, the GIs agreed to take all 12 of them across the American line.

They hiked along a road and up a hill, grenades exploding all around them, the bodies of dead German soldiers strewn everywhere. After crossing the American line, an Army captain gave them the house of a Dutch collaborator. Across the street was an American field hospital.

"My two sisters right away volunteered to help, and the only thing I knew was that the Americans had great chocolate," Bert says. "I went there every day and had my bars of chocolate and learned to speak a little bit of English."

Two weeks after liberation had begun, on the afternoon of Oct. 2, Aron, Rose, Edith and Bert were in the Bergand Dal town square with some American soldiers when a low-flying German plane zoomed overhead and dropped a fragmentation bomb. The explosion instantly killed Leo Driessen, Gerrit Jansen and four soldiers. It also sent a fatal piece of shrapnel into Rose Jakobs' heart.

"At first, we could not find the wound. But Rose had a wallet with money, like we all had, in case we were separated," Bert says, wiping tears from his eyes. "The shrapnel went right through that into her heart. She died almost instantly.

"Rose kept a diary that was later published. She had been the oldest and so knew more when we were in hiding. She thought the world was coming to an end. The last words in her diary were, 'I hope that a bomb will hit me so that I won't have to go on living.' And that's what happened. And that's when the problem with my family really started. Because my mother couldn't accept the loss of a child who was her star."

Almost overnight, Frieda Jakobs' hair turned white. "In two or three weeks' time, she looked 25 years older. She couldn't sleep, couldn't wake up, and she took pills all the time. She became a different person—a person who could not function."

After Rose's death, the Jakobs were evacuated and spent eight months at a farm in Wychen, Holland. Aron resumed his life as a cattle dealer in Nymegen and buried himself in his work. He left at 4 or 5 a.m. and didn't come home until 8 p.m. The farm was gone; now he leased pastures. And a veil of silence was drawn around the years they'd spent in hiding.

"We couldn't talk to him, and he wouldn't talk with us. My poor sister Edith had to take care of my mother. She was 16 years old, and it was very hard after all she had been through in the war to become a nurse and a housekeeper," Bert says, his eyes downcast. "She wanted desperately to go back to school. She'd lost six years of her youth. But my dad wouldn't let her. He said, 'You have to take care of your mother.' There were terrible, bitter arguments in our house. That's the only time we talked."

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