Martha Larsen Signs Never Again

NeverAgain_FCoverauthor photoMartha Petronella van der Wal Larsen signs Never Again this Saturday, December 13th at the 4th Annual Santa Claus and Tree Festival in Joseph City, Arizona.  Never Again is an inspirational collection of shorts stories about Martha’s true experiences as a young girl during World War II in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

Margaret: What is your main reason for writing Never Again?

Martha: To make people aware of some of the atrocities that took place during WWII. I have noticed as a substitute teacher that recently the history books play down or don’t even mention the Holocaust. There are people out there that say it never happened. That is not true. We should never forget, never allow such madness to happen ever again.

Margaret: Is there a story that didn’t get included you would like to share now?

Martha: One Dark Scary Night a bunch of the neighborhood kids got together and went to the harbor after dark.

The older boys were given charge to watch the small harbor in our town, where barges pulled in loaded with arms, food and other necessities for the German Army. The ships with arms and explosives were painted red. The boats with food were painted white. Of course this was very risky – it was against the rules. Getting caught could result in imprisonment, beatings, or being even shot at. Guards walked up and down the piers.

One day two white vessels arrived with canvas tarps held down by ropes in the corners to keep the rain off, covering heaps of food; in Holland it rains almost every day. They were loaded to the brim, the rim barely skimmed above the water. The boats were powered by a motor and one man steered behind the huge wheel.

The boys who observed the arrival came back to our neighborhood and told the kids most likely to be interested and whom they thought could sneak away from their parents without being noticed. We all were hungry and we all needed food for our families. That was a constant job. Since no stores were in operation you either gleaned the farmer’s fields or bought food on the black market, or stole it. We decided on the last option. However it had to be done quickly as the goods were moved fast so the boats could return for more supplies. They navigated to different towns on random schedules. We did not know when a food shipment would stop at our town again.

I decided to go along. The deed had to be done after dark and no flashlights were allowed.

We frequently gathered at one another’s homes to play cards or board games such as “Ganzenbord” or “Mens Erger je niet.” My parents didn’t give a second thought about me going to my friend’s home to play games.

We rode our rickety bikes to the harbor and laid them down and hid them under bushes when we got close. Then came the difficult, scary part. The time was ripe. One child stood watch to keep track of the guard who had stopped to smoke and chat with a buddy. The rest went two by two and crawled over the cement bank where the barges were moored. We let ourselves down onto the boats as quietly as possible. It was like jumping into a large dark hole with no visible end. Then we crawled under the tarps and grabbed whatever our hands touched. We could not be choosy or picky. We stuffed as much into our bag as we could get.

I crammed potatoes, beets, carrots and turnips in my bag – as much as I could handle. We laid low and kept quiet until our friend signaled it was safe to come up. Then came the hard part. The sack went up first with help from the older boys who lifted them out. Once the loot was out, I was next. My jump was not high enough, and I tried again. I scraped my hands on the rough cold concrete mooring walls. This was not a time to cry and there was no time to bother about the pain. I laid shivering cold and scared out of my mind with tears dripping down my face. Finally two boys pulled me up so I could swing my legs over the edge. The boys carried our stuff and we made it home again on our rickety bikes.

When I arrived at my parent’s home, it was obvious I had not been playing games around a family table. I had been out after curfew in the dark night and had done something very dangerous. Dad explained I had broken every law in his book of obedience and could have been killed on top of that.

I never did do that again. We did enjoy some good meals from my haul. But it was a very scary dark night, never to be forgotten.

Margaret: Wow. You were lucky you didn’t get caught. Are you planning on writing another book?

Martha: Yes. I want to tell about my experiences when I first came to America.

Front Cover_TDTTMargaret:  I look forward to that. Your story Grow Where You Are Planted is an excellent sample of those stories. It published in The Drive to Thrive – because you won first place in the memoir category.        

Martha:  I will also have copies of The Drive to Thrive: the WUFC 2013 Writing Contest Anthology at the book signing this Saturday.

 Margaret: Thank you for visiting with me today and for sharing your stories with us.

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