Joop van der Hoer, born in 1954 in Rotterdam, is a committed resident of Spijkennes. In addition to being a columnist, he’s also a wedding official, presenter, writer, and ambassador for Villa Joep as he picks up more things that come his way. He worked as a police press officer, is married and now lives with his wife Gina in an apartment in Spijkenisse. In 2018 he was awarded the Nyseward Medal from Mayor Salette for his efforts. He looks around a lot and writes about all sorts of things in his columns.
If the line of fire was 200 meters away, this column would not have been written!
“Hello mom, see you tomorrow.” Annie gave her mother Min, Sister Jane and her brother Rinus a kiss, took her bag of clean clothes, toiletries, and pajamas, and went down the stairs, opened the front door and entered the still quiet Tolbstraat. Life was wonderfully quiet in Noordereiland. Her village was in the middle of the river, the place where she felt comfortable and safe. Via the Burgemeester Hofmanplein, 14-year-old Annie Timmermans walked through Willemsbrug towards the city, that wonderfully beautiful city of Rotterdam in all its splendor. Across the street loomed before her, the White House, Europe’s first true skyscraper. To the right of the bridge she saw the MAS station in the distance. In the distance she saw a black plume of smoke writhing from the chimney of a tugboat. “Will it be my dad?” Father Jan Timmermans was a locomotive captain de Charlo and had set off very early to take the last parts of the Maastunnel under construction from the pier at Heijplaat to the Charloisse Hoofd.
Every day Annie enjoyed walking to Dirk Smitstraat in Krosvik, where she worked as a cheese girl at the Kraal cheese merchant. It was fun but also hard work. Today, all cheeses had to be removed from the bare wooden planks and then cleaned. Then the cheese was flipped and put back. Mr. Krall was often observant of the radio in recent days, because the tension in Europe was increasing day by day. Adolf Hitler had invaded Poland with his army and Holland held its breath. Will our country retain its neutrality as it did in the Great War of 1914-1918? Annie didn’t care. Another hour, then she goes to her mother’s sister. Aunt Anna had a distillery in Zwaanshals and would help Annie out in the shop and stay up all night.
Rumors abounded on that slightly cold morning of May 10, 1940. Aunt Anna had woken up early and had started poking at her coal-fired boilers around five o’clock. Soon, the first customers will be at the door to bring in buckets and hot tubs. The first to enter the retail space was a policeman in uniform who said naval planes had landed on the River Maas and that German paratroopers had jumped from large planes on the south side of Rotterdam. Some bombs fell on the city and there was fighting between German soldiers and marines who rushed from the barracks at Oostplein to Maasbruggen to prevent the enemy from crossing the river. It was a war!
Annie had just gone to work, but it soon became clear that she was not going home that day because German soldiers had occupied the North Island and there was a lot of shooting. They had no telephone at home, but her father managed to contact Mr. Krall across a bend and with great difficulty. It was agreed that Annie would remain on the north side. While there was heavy fighting at the bridgehead, normal life continued though…. People started hoarding and stocks of dairy products dwindled rapidly.
On May 14, when Annie heard a horrified voice, she looked at the large clock hanging on the wall in the basement at the back of the store. It was 1:26 pm. She ran out of the store and saw above her big planes, tossing a big cigar a little farther away. The first bombing of the city. Shocks and explosions could be felt and heard right up to the cheese shop. The windows were smashed on the street and at the sink and barbershop next to it. Thick clouds of black smoke could be seen from afar. Fear seized her, especially when she saw the fire 200 meters from the homes and shops of the Jonker Fransstraat. In Nordreland, the Timmermans believed their daughter did not survive the bombing. Annie was afraid that she would never see her father, mother, sister and brother again.
I walk along Brandgrens, the mark of the devastation of the city where 711 Rotterdam were killed in the bombing of the city in 13 minutes. We passed as Annie walked through the city still on fire and where she saw a young mother leaning over a burnt-out pram, half charred, as if the woman wanted to protect her child from the fire.
I stand where my father was born. The home of the Van der Hor-Huisman family, father, mother and 11 children in Meermanstraat is barely 50 meters from where the bombs fell, but later fell prey to the urban renewal process of the municipality of Rotterdam. Surviving the bombing were Hugo van der Houer and my mother, Annie Timmermans, who of course did not know at the time that her future husband lived one street away from the cheese shop. Unfortunately her father was not, locomotive captain Jan Timmermans was shot 45 in the last year of the war.
On May 1, 1940. I think of the soldiers and perhaps 1,000 civilians, including countless children, waiting in the basement of a besieged steel mill in Mariupol, Ukraine for what was to come. I fear the worst. On TV I watch pictures of homeless people fleeing for their lives. All children have the faces of my dear grandchildren, and there are thousands of them. I am afraid and angry. I have as much hate in my body as love, I cry! Oh my God, stop this madness, stop Putin, stop this war. let’s live in peace…