This Book is dedicated to the honorable men and women of the 82 Airborne...
"To General James Gavin and the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division,
who first liberated us"
"A rare historical treasure that tells the riveting story of a Dutch family's survival in World War II."
- Melanie Wiggins,
author of Torpedoes in the Gulf, Fatal Ascent, U-Boat Adventures, and They Made Their Own Law
In May 1940, fourteen-year-old Johanna de Wilde was just like any other teenage girl in Nijmegen, Holland, (the Netherlands), who loved boys and music, but when Hitler and his German troops invaded her town during World War II, her life was changed forever.
As bombs exploded around her house, Johanna was encouraged by her father to document their large family's struggles to survive as they desperately searched for food; fearfully hid Jewish friends; and bravely endured SS brutality, Gestapo searches, and resistance activities. Johanna shares how she was forced to write secretly and keep the pages of her diary well-hidden to avoid discovery by the Gestapo who would have surely shot her father and sent the rest of the family to concentration camps as punishment.
As her town became the focal point of the huge Allied invasion, Operation Market Garden, Johanna provides an in-depth glimpse into how teenagers behaved during a traumatic time in history as they searched for excitement, danced and romanced, and played tricks on the enemy in order to offset hunger, earsplitting noise, and the privation that persisted for five long years.
When World War II broke out in Holland in 1940, my father encouraged me to keep a diary, for history’s sake, and I faithfully wrote of the events for almost five years. At the beginning of the war I was fourteen, and my pages reflected not only my personal thoughts, but the historical events of that war, from the viewpoint of Nijmegen, where I lived, and where some of the worst battles of World War II took place, namely the Operation Market Garden.
This diary is totally different from other W W II books, because it is written during the entire war, as seen through the eyes of a teenager. It shows our rebellion, hatred, and hilarious tricks that we played on the enemy. It documents a young girl’s desires for dancing and romancing amidst the shelling, fires and bombing. The diary describes in an honest way the family’s struggles, including stealing, to find food and clothing, hiding of Jewish friends, sudden Gestapo house searches, and constant fear. It became very obvious that throughout these tumultuous teenage years, we were forever looking for excitement and laughs, taking daring chances that could have killed us at any time.
After sixty-five years I finally found the courage to translate and the diary, thinking it would be of historical value and would give insight into the teenage mind during times of extreme stress. I shed many tears and had lots of laughs as I relived those days. Today my home is in Texas. I left Holland in 1952 to visit my sister in Montreal, Canada, and there I met and married my husband from California. Because of his career, we moved to Manhattan Beach, California, where I became a U.S. citizen.
After having four children, we were transferred to Ottawa, Canada, where we lived for sixteen years, until we moved to upstate New York. There I became the director of the local Red Cross. Another transfer landed us in Richmond, Virginia. Having studied the evolution of pottery and porcelain, I went to Beijing, China, to further my education, and I lectured at the Open University of Richmond. In Texas I wrote my memoir “The Second Generation” and translated my diary of WW II into English. I am a member of the Galveston County Historic Commission and a volunteer for the Butler Longhorn Museum in League City.
As bombs exploded around her house, Johanna was encouraged by her father to document their large family's struggles to survive as they desperately searched for food; fearfully hid Jewish friends; and bravely endured SS brutality, Gestapo searches, and resistance activities. Johanna shares how she was forced to write secretly and keep the pages of her diary well hidden to avoid discovery by the Gestapo, who would have surely shot her father and sent the rest of the family to concentration camps as punishment.
As her town became the focal point of the huge Allied invasion, Operation Market Garden, Johanna provides an in-depth glimpse into how teenagers behaved during a traumatic time in history as they searched for excitement, danced and romanced, and played tricks on the enemy in order to offset hunger, earspliting noise, and privation that persisted for five long years.
Excerpts from a teenage girl’s diary during the invasion of Holland:
Monday, May 13, 1940
… On May 10, 1940 … the Germans invaded Holland. Around 4:00 am we were wakened by a tremendous noise. At frst I thought we were hearing a weird thunderstorm, then Father came running up the stairs into our bedrooms and rushed us into our small vegetable cellar between the vats of sauerkraut, beans, potatoes, etc. There was little room for us all. It felt as if thousands of planes came roaring over, and we heard bombs fall …
Tuesday, August 25, 1942
I am now sixteen years old. I started this at fourteen, but I can’t find the rest of the missing diary pages. Maybe Mother threw them out in case the Gestapo should find them while looking for Jews hiding in our house. We have already had a house search. Today I have decided to restart this diary. I don’t know how long it will last, but I will try. The important thing is to find a good hiding place for it. Paper can be like a friend you can trust. It has no tongue and will not talk.
Actual Chocolate Bar wrapper of one given to the author by an 82nd Airborne soldier.
Ruins in her town...
Johanna received the coveted "Editor's Choice" award for this book.
What People Are Saying:
A True Gem!
"Dancing in Bomb Shelters" gives you a unique window into the ravages of World War II, as seen through the eyes of a spirited, idealistic girl coming of age during the Nazi occupation and liberation of Holland.
In the beginning, you feel a bit like a voyeur reading a girl's private observations and thoughts. With every diary entry, you are drawn into her world. Becoming part of her family, like the allied soldiers they housed during the liberation. You begin to identify with her. Cheering her on and laughing in amazement while she and her friends play pranks on the German soldiers occupying her hometown.
She was in many ways was a typical teenager who wanted to have fun, hang out with her friends, date boys, dance, listen to music and shop for clothes. However, her words poignantly illustrate that it was an everyday battle to stay alive, feed her family, hide Jewish friends, cope with the deaths of friends and family, endure the ever growing restrictions of the Nazis and avoid being thrown in the camps or shot. Her struggle to maintain any sense of hope in her everyday life under impossible conditions is inspiring.
Her story speaks volumes to the creativity and elasticity of the human spirit.
(Liz Scoggins, Chicago, IL)
Wow! This book is an amazing and detailed piece of history of a time that cannot be recaptured. A girl who wants to be a journalist faithfully records and interprets her everyday experiences at the German front in The Netherlands over 4 years. Included is invaluable detail about the events of the war as well as how it was to live as a young person during that frightening time.
Sometimes humorous and other times devastatingly painful, the diary is a peek into her sorrows, secrets, loves and fears. I also found it interesting to see life from the perspective of an average person who is not one of the unfortunate victims of the Jewish holocaust. This is another side to the horrors of war not often exposed.
Better than any history class, we learn the truth of how political decisions can destroy not only lives but precious possessions, governments, businesses, antiquities and livelihoods. But also we learn that despite all that, the human spirit, religion, hope, humor and love survive.
This book is honest, real and very moving. I recommend it to everyone!
(Anna-Lise McManus, Falls Church, VA)
Dancing in Bomb Shelters
This historical diary takes us on a journey that gives the reader an up close and personal account of the trials of the war as seen through the eye's of a child. The author's illuminated documentation in her literary works serves as a reminder to all generations that the war; with all it's brutality; must never be forgotten and must simply be examined at every possible opportunity. The author cleverly weaves her experiences through the years with honesty, humor, gallantry and grace possessed by only those who lived through the atrocities of the occupation. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and would recommend it to anyone interested in a first hand account of this dark era of the human experience.
(John T "John T", San Diego, CA)
Written buy a teenager, Dancing In Bomb Shelters gives a rare and truthful look into a child’s mind during Nazi occupied Holland. A unique and very interesting look into the psychology of the human being, during times of great strife but yet still finding the time to be a teenager and do the fun things teens do. A very different and intriguing read.
Well written and fascinating. I could not put the book down until I read the entire story. I read it again and found out more about her that I missed the first time! A true, real to life diary that should be in textbooks and in schools.
(WJ, Green River, UT)
History Comes Alive!
My only exposure to anything about WWII or the Nazi occupation came from textbooks. I have to admit I never read any historical books by my own choice - I just have trouble getting into them, I can't relate. That all changed when I picked up "Dancing in Bomb Shelters."
A Must Read !, May 24, 2010
By L. Arseneault Boyer (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Dancing In Bomb Shelters book is a treasure, the untold story that occurred 65 years ago during WW II in Holland, written by this courageous girl that was persuaded by her dad. The publishing of this book demonstrates the true character of this author, having to relive the horrors and memories of war. We are privileged to enter into the author's diary for the first time and share her wide range of emotions from exaltation to grief. The book covers so many moving stories which reveals the sympathy, compassion, appreciation, devotion and love towards her family, friends, the brave people of the underground, soldiers of allied forces and victims of this horrible war, having absolutely nothing but their cloths.
Despite the author's fear of having her diary discovered by the Germans and the serious consequences facing herself and her family, this brave girl continued writing her diary on a daily base even under enemy attack.
There is so much information that cannot be found in history book, in how people physically and emotionally survived so many years of deprivation of basic essential needs. It allows us to have a different perspective on this horrific war and a better appreciation of the liberty we all enjoy. I now better understand the reason why the allied soldiers, especially Americans and Canadians were so well remembered by the Dutch people during liberation anniversaries of past years.
HAT'S Off to the author, this book is a treasure, it's a must read, looking forward perhaps to a sequel, many thanks.
Dancing to beat the band!!, June 11, 2010
This review is from: Dancing in Bomb Shelters: My Diary of Holland in World War II
I found myself glued to this at 2:30am. The only thing I found wrong was the trouble putting it down. I'm an avid reader of WWII history and the historical fiction of this era but this is a different sort of tale. I also found the writing itself suprisingly good!
By Mark A. Seelbach, TX
By Denise (Lubbock, TX)
More Excerpts From The Book:
Thursday, April 5, 1945
Heavy Fighting around Arnhem.
Germans are still around Arnhem, and there is very heavy fighting going on. I wonder all the time about our family there. Will they still be alive when the city is liberated? It’s the Waffen SS who are fighting in Arnhem. They promised Hitler to fight to the death.
Lance King came to see me.
April 9, 1945
I was really planning to “borrow” one of Rieky’s dresses without her knowledge, but changed my mind at the last moment. It would be so great to get some nice, fancy clothes. Maybe the war will soon be over. Father got hold of some black leather, and Mr. van Hest, who has a shoe factory, promised to make a pair of shoes for Mien, Joos, and me. We told him we wanted them with high heels and open toes, and he said he would do it.
We were talking with Rieky about clothes, and since she has a degree in fabric design and that job of buying at C & A, she told me that last year some raincoats had come in and were of a type you could look through. Then she noticed that the label said, “Made of Jewish skin.” She got so sick and had them returned. There is also soap someone had seen that said, “Made from Jewish bones.” What rotten people, who have sunk so low that they are proud of their sins. They should get the same treatment as they gave others.
It was great fun at Ditsel last night. Made a date with Harry Doncken, who is leaving Saturday for England. He was at the naval college and has worked in the Resistance. He brought me home on his motorcycle.
Thursday, June 7, 1945
Concentration Camp People
I am back from ballet school and stiff and sore, but I like it. I was walking on St. Anna Street when I saw the most horrible sight. Three American truckloads of what looked like skeletons had stopped, and a large crowd of people were forming. The skeleton people were each given a sip of orange juice. They stared at us with hollow eyes and shaven heads. I don’t think they had much clothing, aside from some army blankets. They looked as if they had been dying for a long time. They didn’t talk. People started crying and screaming. An American doctor told us they had come from a concentration camp and would not be able to digest normal food for a while; therefore, they got one sip of orange juice only. He didn’t want any of us to give them food or touch them, because they needed baths; and they all had lice. I will never forget that sight and the extreme hatred we all felt against Hitler and his gang.
John Boyer in the Canadian Army, author's sister's future husband in Nijmegen stationed there during the war.
Original 82nd Airborne Map for Operation Market Garden
Actual page from the Author's Diary
World War II took five of our teenage years, causing us to grow up too fast, and many of us did not live to see the war’s ending. I hope one day we will know the answer to what happened to all the missing people. I fully realized what a dangerous thing it was to keep writing this diary throughout the war, hiding pages from one day to the next. I was always afraid I would get caught and feared what could happen to my father or myself, even though Father encouraged me to write down events for history’s sake. This diary meant so much more to me than mere paper: it helped me to get rid of many frustrations that I could not express. It reminds me of the names of many who died, including my baby sister, because of an evil regime, and it will bring honor to all who have fought for our freedom. We should never forget the heroes of the Resistance—those very brave, unidentified men and women who were tortured and killed for our freedom. They include Wim Beerman, the police photographer who was shot because he took pictures of the fallen Allied planes and helped pilots escape if they were still alive, who photographed important German officers, and on and on. He was a very good friend of my sister Rieky and her husband Wim, who were with him in the Resistance.
I also recognize the sacrifices the Dutch, American, British, Canadian, and many other armed forces made in their battles for freedom for Europe. Many of them lost their lives, and many of them married Dutch girls, including my sister Joos. We should never forget the Polish Armored Division, some ten thousand men, with their fantastic airborne commander, General Sosabowski. They put up a very brave fight in hopes of returning to their country one day. I’m thinking about all the Allied solders and civilians who lost their lives at Arnhem, Nijmegen, and other places that they liberated. The Free-Frenchmen and people from other nations combined in this war effort to set the world free. Nor should we forget the thousands of Dutch people who died of starvation. We should also recognize the many unsung heroes who died in concentration camps—the Jews as well as all the others. We should never forget the many good Germans who lost their lives opposing Hitler. Who will ever thank the courageous people who worked in the slave labor camps in Germany and risked their lives in ammunition factories making duds? Those were the ones who saved our family when that huge shell hit our house and failed to explode.
Just as one cannot forget their first love, I will never forget the landing in Nijmegen of the first American paratroopers on September 17, 1944. They were dropped prematurely in the middle of the German-occupied territory of Nijmegen and surroundings and were later recognized by the population as our greatest heroes. They were our first liberators, who belonged to the 82nd Airborne Division under the command of General James Gavin. He landed with his parachute in a potato field at Groesbeek, just outside Nijmegen. These brave men fought to save the bridges over the Rivers Maas, Waal, and some canals, all heavily guarded by the Germans. They fought their way through narrow streets and parks in Nijmegen until the British Grenadier Guards joined them. Together, like brothers at arms, under heavy losses, they rid the area of the enemy and prepared for the Guards Armored Division. They were the ones who gave us our first thrill of freedom. Thank you so very much!
General Gavin, who lived in Albany, N. Y., together with John D. Hatch, Jr., Director of the Albany Institute of History; Erastus Corning, Mayor of the City of Albany; men of the 82nd Airborne Division; and the Dutch and American citizens of Albany decided to adopt Nijmegen as a sister city. Having witnessed the extreme war devastation in Nijmegen, Gavin initiated a campaign in Albany to aid the city’s recovery efforts. The people of Albany collected and shipped to the stricken city large supplies of building materials, clothing, food, equipment, and financial help. Nijmegen’s Mayor Hustinx and his city council, plus other local citizens, organized the reception and distribution of American materials, food, and money.
On March 28, 1947, Nijmegen bestowed upon General Gavin the title of Honorary Citizen; and shortly thereafter, Queen Wilhelmina invited the general to a special audience. Then on November 7, 1947, Mayor Hustinx attended a private meeting in the White House with President Harry S. Truman. Hustinx also set up paid visits by the original members of the 82nd Airborne to Nijmegen; these veterans have enjoyed for many years the friendship and hospitality of the people they freed and have seen the city rebuild, grow, and prosper.
Johanna speaking as an honored guest because of her book "Dancing In Bomb Shelters" at the "Keep the spirit of 45 alive" Veterans gathering : August 14th, 2010
Some of the honored veterans on VJ Day: August 14th, 2010
A short video interview of the author on World News Network:
For those who speak Dutch : (Netherlands),
Johanna Wycoff - de Wilde schreef haar dagboek in Holland gedurende de tweede wereld oorlog toen ze 14-19 jaren oud was. Ze beschrijft bijna dagelyks, wat er allemaal gebeurde gedurende de bezettings jaren en over haar grote familie van 10 kinderen. Ze vertrok uit Holland in 1952 naar haar zuster die in Montreal, Canada woonde. Daar werkte zij als secretaresse voor haar toekomstige man die van California kwam en vertrok kort daarna naar Los Angeles. Hoewel haar leven haar naar vele Staten en plaatsen bracht, haar ongeopend dagboek ging altijd met haar mee. Nu, vanaf Mei 1940, na 70 jaren, heeft ze eindelyk de moed gevonden om het in het English te vertalen voornamelyk voor haar kinderen en kleinkinderen en de geschiedenis. Het heeft haar veel moeite gekost en menige traan want met het vertalen kwam de oude pijn terug maar ook het plezier in jongens en muziek. Het boek is echt en eerlyk geschreven en een stuk van de geschiedenis die bewaart moet blijven.
Het kantoor waar ik vroeger werkte zegt het volgende: Smit Link
Explanation of the Dutch language and photographs in regard to the book Dancing in Bomb Shelters.
A wonderful addition to the above mentioned book has happened. In this book I have mentioned often the office were I worked during World War II, namely "Willem Smit" Nymegen, the Netherlands. This office is collecting old photographs and stories to be included in their upcoming book for their 100 years of existince. They publicize a monthly newsletter named "Senior Organisation Willem Smit Nijmegen Soos News". I had contacted these people in the hope that some one would be still alive who remembered me. Due to the fact that Mr. Rudo Hermsen was kind enough to mention this in their publication; I received e-mails from people who remembered me after 69-70 years. Fantastic! Mr.Rudo Hermsen has been working very hard to match the faces and stories of the people I wrote about in Dancing in Bomb Shelters, with the actual photographs of that era. I am gratefull!
Visit the website at Smit Link
There will be an exhibit about the young Johanna de Wilde Wycoff at The National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek, The Netherlands. For more info Click Here. For those who speak Dutch, Click Here for an article about the exhibit!
Schedule of events for Johanna's trip back to Nijmegen for the celebration of Liberation Day.
Arrival in the Netherlands April 26th.2012
Friday, 27th April - Reception City Hall of Nijmegen in the Treve Hall. First example of the book "Dansen in Schuilkelders", will be presented to Johanna Wycoff by the new mayor of Nijmegen Huub Bruls or the interim mayor Wim Dijkstra. Afterwards, interview with T.V. Nijmegen and other media.
Saturday, 28 April -Book signing - As of this day, "Dansen in Schuilkelders" is for sale in the bookstores. At Selexysz/Dekker van de Vegt, the largest bookstore at Nijmegen, there will be a book signing from 14:00 - 16:00 hour.
Wednesday, May 2nd - Opening of the exhibition "Dancing in Bomb Shelters" in the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945 at Groesbeek. The official meeting will take place at 15:00 hrs. after that a tour of the Museum and a reception. Wednesday night at 20:00 hrs. a reading and a meeting with the readers of the Nijmegen Library with a question and answer period.
Saturday, May 5th - National Liberation Day. Johanna is invited as "Guest of Honor" at the national festivities at the City of Wageningen, starting around 10:00 hrs. There will be a symposium of three guest speakers followed by a church service with a speech by Dr. Blom, Director of the Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) Ret., around 13:00 hrs. A liberation parade will take place with beside Dutch military and veterans also British, Canadian and American military and veterans will attend.
Where you can get this book:
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To contact the Author, use the Contact Form above or Click Here.