The Netherlands / Story

Citizens caught between two fires




The fighting around the road bridge does not only impact British and Germans, but also Dutch civilians. Many of the people living around the bridge take shelter in their cellars, until the situation becomes too dangerous and they have to get themselves to safety during the fighting and through the warring parties. One of the families to which this happens is the Hoefsloot family.

During the war years the house at Eusebiusbuitensingel 59, which today accommodates the office of Rijkswaterstaat, was inhabited by the Hoefsloot family: Granny and auntie Con on the ground floor, together with a nurse, and 22-year-old Piet with his 10 siblings aged between 5 and 21 and their mother on the first floor. On Sunday night 17 September, they fled into the cellar of the building when they heard shooting outside. Soon it became clear that there were British soldiers in the area, entrenched or hiding in buildings, including the Van Limburg Stirum School across the street.

During the next day, the family remained in the cellar, while they heard the noise of the fighting between the British and the Germans outside, although they did not see any people. An anxious night in the cellar followed, and on Tuesday 19 September this situation became too dangerous for the family. Several of their neighbours' houses were on fire, and the Hoefsloots’ family house could also go up in flames any moment. The family decided to flee and, armed with a white sheet, Piet went to the British to ask them what to do. A British soldier said that they should go to the west side of the embankment by way of the viaduct. At four o'clock in the afternoon, after the shooting abated, the family left.

In 2012, Piet told what happened: “It was quite a procession. Karel and I walked in front with the white sheet, followed by the sisters with the bicycles with some luggage, the maidservant, the nurse with our grandmother in the wheelchair and aunt Con, and then my mother with the four youngest children. Little sister Conny came last and completed the 16-headed procession. We were totally unaware of the dangers surrounding us, but it is absolutely certain that the Germans must have seen us with the white flag. When we approached the viaduct, however, we (or the bridge?) were shot at. We took shelter between the metres-thick pillars of the bridge, and this was what saved us. When this shooting also stopped for a while, we ran to the row of houses on the other side (at the southern end of the Eusebiusbinnensingel), where we were called in by an English soldier”.

The family ended up in a cellar where other Arnhem citizens had also found shelter. After another anxious night, they were informed that it had become too dangerous here as well, and they had to leave the battle area altogether. They walked away via the Hofstraat and the Markt and were then sent to the Koningstraat by German troops. When they arrived there, the identity documents of Piet and Karel, his sister's boyfriend, were checked to establish that they were not British dressed up as civilians. Only then could they leave the battle area, and they went to relatives at the Bakenbergseweg in North Arnhem.