PASSAGE WESTWARD, Amsterdam Jail – Part Two
The prison in Amsterdam to which we were taken as German spies May 24th 1945 was surrounded by canals. I remember sitting in a police car next to my shaking in fear mother and reminding her that war was over and that nothing very bad can possibly happen to us. It was the middle of the night and as we passed the sleeping City of Amsterdam, I wondered when and if I will get to see it in daylight.
We crossed a bridge, were taken to an office in a large and forbidding building where we were fingerprinted and then put into the hands of a uniformed female guard who took us to our cell.
Mother held on to my hand and no matter what was said to her, refused to allow me to be put into a separate cell. The guard realizing that she could not win with her by talking and yet, not wanting to use force, relented.
Before the light went out a few minutes after we were locked into our small cell, we looked around and saw its content all steely gray as if carved from dirty ice.
There was a tiny table, one chair, a toilet with a cover, a tiny sink and a hammock like bed under a window with iron bars on it. The door which locked us in also had a small window with bars on it. I remember being so very tired, after the five days on the train ride during which we did not have any place to stretch out, that before mother finished spreading a blanket on the bed I was in it fast asleep. Mother lied down next to me and the next thing we heard was a noise of the little iron barred window on the door opening and a large plate of white oatmeal like milk covered substance with two spoons appearing through it. It was the morning of my sixteenth birthday. Happy Birthday said Mother and then repeated her favorite phrase: This too shall pass”. The sky we saw through the bars on the window was light gray as was the content of the cell. Mother sat in the chair and I on the toilet cover. We were hungry and the substance was warm and tasteless. Oh, what we would have given for a bit of salt.
We had just managed to wash our faces and comb our hair when the cell door opened and a young woman guard led us to a large room called the day room. That was how begun the first morning of our four days sojourn in jail where murderers were kept in cells like ours just one floor above us. Murderers, whom we passed when we were taken for our daily “exercise walk” on the rooftop of the building.
In that dayroom, to our surprise, we found people, who like us were from Eastern Europe and who like us pretended that they were Dutch. Some of them were there a week or more already, and all of them were very angry specially the two who had numbers, tattooed in a death camp on their forearms. In that room every day we were served our lunch which was called stampot and consisted of mashed potatoes and carrots on a large plate with a small concave in its center filled with brown gravy. We spoke to each other and told stories of unbelievable heroism and bravery while during the horrors of war every moment being they were faced with death at every step. None of us understood why now, that the war was over, we had to be kept in jail with murderers.
Each night we were put back into our cells with me happily equipped with a bit of salt and sugar for our morning meal. After three days mother and I went on a hunger strike, like Mahatma Ghandi, insisting that, we wanted to speak to a representative from the Polish Consulate and will not eat until he arrives.
A day later a Polish vice consul himself came and arranged for the two of us, and some of the others among us, who were from Poland, to be freed and taken to a large UNRA D.P. Center in Eindhoven. That journey was scheduled for the next morning and so the two of us decided to take a walk around Amsterdam.
As we passed a Beauty Parlor I had an idea to go in, remembering that mother had, among her treasures in a tiny purse, a solid gold Dutch coin. After our shampoos and haircuts my mother was handed a bill for which she tried to pay with the gold coin. That caused a large disturbance and police was called. Luckily we had a proper paper which explained our refugee status and so after apologies from the owner, we left the shop without being charged anything. I was disappointed since I counted on the coin to also pay for our meal at the best restaurant in Amsterdam. Well, I did give up the meal, assuring my mother that she will not ever have to see a policeman again because of me. Mother put away the gold coin and we went back to the UNRA facility for a meal and a night on the mattresses. When we finally reached Eindhoven we found that our gold coin was really a collectable piece worth many thousands of Guldens more than we ever imagined possible.