The Wheel of Fortune turns in mysterious ways…During 1943 in the middle of World War II, the people in Holland were going through extremely hard times. I was born on November 6 on the Rozengracht in the center of Amsterdam. I can still remember the high whistling sound of falling bombs. After ’45 we could find fragments of those bombs on the beach, there were many unexploded ones too. My friends and I played in the dark cement bunkers in the dunes by the seashore, attracted to, yet scared of the creepy and cold intimidating spaces, something like being inside the great pyramid of Gizeh.
My parents Klaas Koger and Anna Broere, divorced when I was six months old and my mother decided to stay with her mother in Rotterdam. Since no trains were running she walked all the way from Amsterdam to her mother’s house, a distance of some 80 kilometers, with me in an antique baby pram. Just before entering Rotterdam she encountered a desperate Jewish boy on the road who was trying to get into the city, which was surrounded by the SS (Grune Polizei). She allowed the boy to fold himself in the bottom of the carriage, put the mattress, bundles and myself on top and proceeded to walk him through the road block. A feat of almost incomprehensible courage, if caught, all three of us would have been shot on the spot.
We spent the so-called hunger winter of ’44 at my grandmother’s house on meager supplies, eating tulip bulbs. Grandmother Cornelia lived in Hillegersberg, a nice neighborhood, which had escaped the Nazi’s blitz bombing of the heart of Rotterdam, which targeted the busy harbor in 1940. On the 5th of May, 1945, The Netherlands were finally liberated by the Allied Forces.
Although my mother and her sister Thea had been born in Rotterdam, after the war my mother went back to her job in Amsterdam as a paralegal and since day care centers for children did not exist she took me with her to the office where I was put in a playpen in the garden or corridor. This was not entirely satisfactory of course and a co-worker, Piet VanderPol, recently released from the armed services, related our situation to his parents who offered to foster me.
The green door at #16 Kraaipanstraat opened and I was facing many steep steps curving up to the flash of a large auburn colored dog with big golden eyes. I forgot the nagging fear of the unknown and new environment and ran as fast my 2 year old legs could manage to a laughing Irish Setter. All was well with the world… Ida was to be my constant companion for the next ten years.
The family consisted of my foster parents, Pieter (I called him Opa) and Helena VanderPol (who I called Tante). They were old enough to be my grandparents and had three sons, Piet, Evert and Joop, already in their twenties but still living at home.
A 16 year old Jewish girl, Engel, who the family had hidden in the attic during the war (just like Anne Frank) lived there as well. The oldest son, Piet, was quiet and gentle. There was some sadness about him. I think he suffered from PTSD after the war because he had been on active duty in the army near the German border, but he soon moved to live with his fiancee next door.
Engel worked in the oldest Dutch chocolate shop “Bensdorp” in the Kalverstraat and when they celebrated their 100 year centenary she got to dress up in a period costume including a hoopskirt, tickling my fashion sense which I expressed by making many paper dolls and their wardrobes. Engel was always fashionably dressed and liked red, yellow and blue sweaters, which I admired. When she married the youngest son Joop, an accountant, she was able to franchise a “Bensdorp” store in the neighborhood with living quarters over the shop and within a few years they had a son called Jaap. I loved babysitting Jaap, especially because of the chocolate bonuses…
I took ballet lessons with the Scapino Ballet Co., resulting in hundreds of ballerina drawings and as a teenager I designed sets for the company. Swimming was also on the calendar and I won a bronze medal for the backstroke. Even though I missed my mother whose weekend visits became more and more sporadic, causing me quite some trauma, I was the luckiest girl in the world to end up with such a wonderful family and had a fabulous childhood there. Evert, a chemist, was my favorite and became my mentor and guardian angel, even much later in my life. He taught me to read by the time I was 4, instilling a life long love of books in me, a huge consolation at all times. He and his high school sweetheart Lamberta, who he later married, took me to see the Disney films Bambi, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and Fantasia, which influenced me very much!
In his spare time he painted copies of old masters as well as my favorite, Picasso’s “Girl at a Mirror”, with oil paint and a real palette, which fascinated me no end because art was my passion and I had been drawing and coloring for as long as I could remember but I was not able to master the difficult medium yet when he let me try it out. This Picasso was my first psychedelic influence and I subconsciously based my gouache “Lucy” on it, painted in 1966.
During the war Evert worked in the underground resistance and was awarded the “Cross of Resistance 1940–1945”, which is a decoration for valor. Instituted on May 3, 1946, it was awarded “In recognition of individual courage shown in resistance against the enemies of the Netherlands and for the maintenance of liberties”.
The working class neighborhood and the house where we lived, in the so called Transvaal area, was in itself remarkable, built by the prominent and influential architect Hendrik Berlage, (architect of the outstanding “Beurs”, the commodities exchange in Amsterdam, and considered the father of modern Dutch architecture). It consisted of three story row houses with a succession of intriguing small courtyards and archways around cobblestone plazas surrounded by flower gardens and patios, which fired my imagination and was the playground for the kids living in the neighborhood.
There was no car traffic at all yet, except an occasional delivery truck. We occupied two stories of a corner house. The first floor contained the living room with the dining table taking up most of the space, opening onto a terrace where the bin of anthracite was kept for the ceramic stove, two bedrooms, a cold water kitchen with a sunny veranda and the water closet. The public bathhouse was down the road. Upstairs were two large bedrooms and a smaller bedroom. It was a happy full house! At first I slept in a cot in Opa and Tante’s room, then as the boys got married along the way, with me as their flower girl, I eventually ended up in one of the bedrooms by myself, my bed right next to the chimney to keep me warm in winter and I could see the moon through the trees out the window at night.
The enclave was built adjacent to the Ringdijk canal and dike, at the eastern edge of Amsterdam, constructed to keep out the inland Zuiderzee, which gave Holland its casual name (Hollow-land). Nowadays most of the sea’s water has been drained and made into polder land for grazing cows and building new towns. I could cross a white wooden bridge over the canal to run and play with my dog Ida in the meadows because there were still dairy and crop farms. Once or twice a week a local farmer would come by with a horse drawn wagon to collect vegetable trimmings and left overs for his animals. He had a chubby old white horse that I fell in love with the first time I saw it and made drawings of many times.
As I learned in the “Oranje Vrijstaat” elementary school a few streets away, Amsterdam was built on pilings. Everything was built with red bricks, even the street. This material was used for its low weight. Since the boggy soil of the Low Countries frequently required pile foundations, the cost of the system could be reduced if the foundation carried less weight…Behind the school’s massive iron gate, animals were still kept in large pens around the playground for the farmers kids’ instruction of animal care. There were goats, sheep, a dove coup, chickens, a fishpond with water lilies and a rabbit warren. I was thrilled to be in charge of the rabbits for a whole year in second grade, I enjoyed that very much! Our great teacher Jan Tienstra in the 5th. and 6th. grade, also became a life long friend who gave me encouragement and confidence.
In winter a woman would deliver the glass milk bottles with her shaggy dog drawn cart through the snow, wearing wooden clogs stuffed with straw against the freezing cold. Us children would skate to school on the canal with wooden skates that tied onto our shoes but in summer we could swim in the Amstel River further down the road. I got a bright red scooter with pneumatic tires for my 8th birthday, which I raced over and down the Ringdijk at breakneck speed.
During school vacations I often got to spend time with my mother’s sister Thea’s 3 daughters, my cousins Yvonne, Bertine and Marianne, in the south of Holland where I leaned to waterski or I spent New Year’s with them making traditional apple-flaps. Bertine and I are the same age and we also got to stay with our grandmother in Rotterdam where we swam in the natural “Black Pool”, so called because the water appeared black and she would bribe us to dive from the ten meter diving board with Mars bars. Those truly were idyllic times.
In the first grade I made my first “mural” in colored chalk on the blackboards around the class room about the story of St. Nicholas (aka Sinterklaas) who arrived from Spain on a large ship with an entourage of Moors to help him distribute presents to those children who had been good. St. Nicholas in his bishop’s tabard and miter rode his white horse over the rooftops and dropped the gifts down the chimney. Only if a carrot or apple for the horse was placed in the child’s shoe by the stove or fireplace, would they receive the first letter of their name made of chocolate! This event is celebrated on the 5th of December and the Spanish connection stems from the 80 year occupation of Philip II of Spain in order to repress Protestantism in the Low Countries in the 16th. Century.
Alas, all things must pass… Opa retired from is job with the telephone company, the boys were married and had started their own families. The house was too big now so my foster parents moved to a smaller place in the same neighborhood, next to the elementary school. The last time I saw Tante (Opa had passed many years before), was in 1973 at Evert’s house when Simon and I were in Amsterdam promoting our single “I saw you” which went to # 2 on the hit parade in the Netherlands, the Captain and Tenille being #1. In1981 Evert came to Hollywood for my exhibition patronized by Mrs. Ethel Bradley, wife of mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles and that was the last time I saw him.
By the time I was 12 my mother suddenly got married again and was pregnant so she wanted me to come live with her and the new husband, Wim Verhoef. Curiously, I was not invited to their wedding! I reluctantly agreed to stay with them during the week because I now had to go to a middle school in the new neighborhood but I ran back to my beloved foster parents as often as possible, especially when I wasn’t feeling well or had a wisdom tooth pulled. After my half brother Willem was born it was endearing to watch him sleep in his crib and fun to play with him when awake, he was a sweet beautiful boy…
In ancient days the stubborn people settling tenaciously in the Low Countries’ geographically swampy situation including the delta of the mighty Rhine river, ingenuously defied their precarious toehold on the edge of the North Sea by building dikes and canals and creating new land by dredging. By necessity they displayed extreme tolerance towards strangers, foreigners and different cultures in order to survive through trade and merchandise, mainly fish and farmer’s crops and dairy products.
After the country was unified in a republic in 1609, after 30 years of rebellion against Spain, it became the most advanced shipbuilding nation in the world and its explorers, on behalf of the East India Company, founded colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, within 50 years constituting the “Golden Age”, which included Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Amsterdam became the world center for international finance for a while. The Dutch Puritan settlers soon forgot about their homeland’s practice of tolerance. Cruelty, exploitation and suppression ensued on the colonies’ local populace for over 200 years because of the Calvinists’ strict adherence to the dogma of Old Testament biblical scriptures that pronounced the white man to be supreme.
To be continued…