Heroes at Home
"...The soldiers came through our garden gate and could so reach the other gardens along the river. This river, called the "Maas" was the border of Netherland and Belgium; so they could shoot at that place to the Belgium fortifications..."
- Branch of Service: Home Town Hero
- Unit: Civilian - 12 Year Old Girl
- Dates: 1940 - 1945
- Location: Eysden, the Netherlands
- Rank: WWII Eye Witness
- Birth Year: 1928
- Location of Birth: Eyesden, the Netherlands
Some Background Information:
Leny VerHeggen was a 12 year old girl living in Eysden, the Netherlands at the time of the German invasion of her country.
The following account was submitted to us at World War II Stories on 6 June 2006 as a result of a friendship that developed between another contributor, Mr. Edward L. Souder, Co. F., 405th Regiment, 102nd Division and the son of the contributor, Marcel VerHeggen.
Mr. Souder was serving with the 102nd Division during the fall of 1944. He had the opportunity to take a leave that took him to the town of Maastricht, the Netherlands.
While there he visited the local St. Servatius Basilica while on leave.
In 2004, Mr. Souder returned to Europe for a visit to the former battlegrounds that he had trod so many years ago and a lifetime ago in the area of the German/Belgium/ Netherlands border.
He once again visited the St. Servatius Basilica and there met a gentleman who was the organist.
They struck up a friendship and have been in communicaton since.
Mr. Souder is again returning to Europe in late June 2006 to once again visit some of the old places he once visited back in the fall of 1944. He also plans to pay a visit to his newfound friend, Marcel VerHeggen. There, Mr. Souder plans to play the organ, which has been a dream of his since first seeing it on leave during the war.
The following story is a personal account of the mother of Marcel VerHegen, Leny VerHegen who was a 12 year old child at the outbreak of the war in the Netherlands.
---- the Webmaster
Account of a 12 Year Old Girl from the Netherlands
I am the mother of Marcel the organist of ST Servaas in Maastricht.
I am 77 years old and would like to tell you about my experiences during the war in 1940-1945.
I was bom in Eysden, a little village, situated in the south of the Netherlands six miles from Maastricht at the border of Belgium. At the Belgium sides over the river were two fortifications to protect Belgium against enemies.
I was 12 years old and the second girl of a family with seven children. My mother was pregnant and the baby had to be bom in July.
The 10th of May, 1940 the Germans invaded the Netherlands.
At six o'clock in the morning my mother and father waked up the whole family, the whole air was full of German bombers and the street full of German soldiers with tanks and other war material.
The soldiers came through our garden gate and could so reach the other gardens along the river. This river, called the "Maas" was the border of Netherland and Belgium; so they could shoot at that place to the Belgium fortifications.
We were very terrified and crept under the table; we heard the shots from the machine guns, the exploding of the grenades and the commands. It was too dangerous to flee, but at 8 o'clock we had to go and run through the gardens, the shots and the shellfire to another street. We walked the whole day, till we came in the next village Rijkholt, were we could stay in our uncle and aunts house.
The day after all civilians from Eysden were evacuated. We saw a stream of refuges passing by the house were we had found accommodation. Everyone told us that our house was destroyed the day before at nine o'clock. My father borrowed a bicycle from my uncle and went to Eysden straight across the fire line. When he came back in the afternoon, he cried and said: "we have nothing more".
After 10 days it was allowed for everyone to go back to Eysden [Belgium had capitulated] we saw what had happened; the house was destroyed and many things had been stolen. We were very shocked to find such a ruin. Soon we got help from everyone, family, friends, the neighbours, and so after two years our house had been rebuilt. In spite of the war, we were gratefully that we were still alive.
The war continued the life was not more the same; there was always the terrible treatment of the occupiers.
There were so many rules; we had to make the windows dark in the evening. We may only be outside after eight o'clock in the evening with a special permission of the Germans. It was forbidden to have a radio. The Jewish had to bear visually a star, busses and other public locations were forbidden area's for the Jewish.
Young boys and fathers were arrested and tortured or executed.
It was very dangerous to be a member of a secret group of resistance.
There were everywhere betrayers; it was impossible to say what you really thought or meant.
In our village a group of five persons was arrested, among them the count and his wife.
The count, his wife and five little children have lived in the castle in Eysden.
The group had helped English and American pilots to escape over the Belgium and French borders and also helped de Gaulle to flee (later on he became President of France) They all were executed except the countess.
On the Vroenhof (a little square) in Eysden near the church a monument has been erected for the victims.
The Jewish were all transported to the concentration camps and were gasified.
In Eysden we knew in our neighbourhood two Jewish sisters, old ladies. They were removed out of their house and transported in the middle of the night. We saw them never again.
All food was distributed, every one tried to buy something such as potatoes, flour, vegetables from the farmer This had to happen in secret.
The sixth of June we were told that the American and English soldiers had been invaded in France and we were so glad and saw a hopefully future.
We followed secretly the English bulletins on radio, so we could hear the progress that was made each day.
When the army reached almost the Belgium and Netherlands border, we heard again the shell fire and we spent again three days in the cellar with several neighbours.
We were very afraid that the same disaster should happen as in 1940.
After three days we got a phone call of a friend who said; the Americans are on the border in Eysden. It was the twelfth of September We all run out of the cellar and cried and laughed.
When the first American soldier passed by, we clapped in the hands and cheered.
Luckily the damage was not as bad as we thought.
Our house was saved; a few other houses had little damage from grenades.
In December, during the Ardennes offensive we had again slept in the cellar several days and nights, again we heard the shell fire and again we were very afraid
Also we had sorrow over the boys they had to fight, it did not stop.
When all was over and we could go ahead with normal live, we got the chance to adopt a grave of an American soldier in Margraten.
We took care of two graves. When there was a ceremony or a memorial, we brought flowers on the graves and prayed for all the soldiers and their families.
So we got also contact with the family of the buried soldiers.
After years the two family had the occasion to bring the dead bodies at home in America, and they transported the soldiers' home.
We were glad to show our thankfulness for our liberators, who gave their lives for our freedom.
We will never forget!
---- Leny Verheggen
We would like to say THANK YOU to Ms. Leny VerHeggen for allowing us to share her experiences as a young child during the Nazi occupation of her country.
Below is some interesting related information that can offer a clearer understanding of how this story came to be.
Edward L. Souder: Co. F., 405th Regiment, 102nd Division
Welcome to Maastricht
Treasure St. Servatius Basilica
St. Servatius Basilica
Story originally submitted on: 6 June 2006
Story added to website on ---------