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Word of the day: overvaart (crossing)

Unfortunately Hendrik Marsman (of yesterday’s posting) was one of many ‘Engelandvaarders’ who never arrived in England during the second World War. His gloomy poem, in which he foresaw his own death, should have had the title ‘De overvaart’ instead of ‘De overtocht’.

The word OVERVAART is a combination of ‘over’ and ‘vaart’. VAART is the noun originating from the verb VAREN (sail). As we saw in the posting about VAREN the medieval verb did not specifically refer to transport across water. VAREN had a more general meaning. Broadly speaking VAART can now have three different meanings: ‘speed’, ‘waterway’ and ‘shipping’ or ‘crossing’.

In the polders around The Hague there are many VAARTEN (waterways) and in the city they are called GRACHTEN (canals). A couple of years ago a Hague group of volunteers started organizing RONDVAARTEN (round trips) in special round-trip boats. On their tours you get acquainted with surprising facets of The Hague. The name OOIEVAART is a pun on ‘ooievaar’ (stork, the emblem of the city) and ‘vaart’.

Apart from OVERVAART and RONDVAART Dutch knows many other combinations with VAART such as ‘scheepvaart’, ‘zeevaart’ (both meaning shipping) but also ‘luchtvaart’ (aviation), ‘ballonvaart’ (ballooning), ‘ruimtevaart’ (space travel), ‘bedevaart’ (pilgrimage), ‘hemelvaart’ (ascension) etcetera.

Today I hope you have enough patience to read on. I’ll tell you what James Bond learned from the ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ and end with a poignant quote from the book.

When Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema arrived in London, he and two other Engelandvaarders, Peter Tazelaar and Chris Krediet set up the group known as the Mews, after Chester Square Mews a house attached to Queen Wilhelmina’s house. With royal assent, because Queen Wilhelmina was very fond of them, they developed the plan ‘Contact Holland’ to establish connections with the Dutch VERZET (resistance).

Several agents were sent back to the Netherlands. Most of them were parachuted but some of them were put ashore at the beaches of Scheveningen and Noordwijk. Many Engelandvaarders who returned to the occupied Netherlands as agents did not survive the war because they were victims of the ‘Englandspiel’ (England Game). This was a counter intelligence operation designed by the Abwehr (Nazi intelligence agency).

Nazis captured the resistance agents and used the agents’ codes to trick the English and Dutch so that they kept on providing the Dutch agents with information and supplies. 54 agents were identified, captured, and eventually murdered.

This ‘Englandspiel’ was a gruesome cat and mouse game. It still is not quite clear whether the British Intelligence Service was aware of the Nazi snare. Were the Allies deliberately sacrificing agents and trick the Nazis into believing that they were planning an invasion in Holland instead of Normandy?

Anyway, there was not just one Soldier of Orange in WWII. There were hundreds of them. It would have been more respectful to all of them, if the publisher had given the novel the title ‘Soldiers of Orange’. Publicity laws must have dictated otherwise. We all hunger for ‘double o sevens’, don’t we?

The book Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema wrote, made a hero out of him and yet it is not as narcissistic as some critics claim it to be. The author puts his own deeds in perspective and gives everyone his fair due.

Parts of the story are very well written. Just to give you an impression of the quality of his style of writing I will end this posting with a short passage that can easily compete with some of Ian Fleming’s best prose.

I mentioned Ian Fleming and for good reason. One insane ‘Contact Holland’ adventure inspired the opening scene of the movie ‘Goldfinger’. Do you remember James Bond (Sean Connery) going ashore in a tuxedo underneath his diving suit? Well, this is based on the ‘real’ operation which happened on 23 November 1941 at 4.35 am.

The three heroes Erik, Chris and Peter had managed to sail to Scheveningen and arrived close to the Pier and the Kurhaus. The goal of the operation was to put Peter Tazelaar ashore so that he could make contact between the Dutch resistance and the English and Dutch intelligence Services.

Tazelaar later recounted that this operation was a wild and inconceivable idea. No Nazi would notice him cross the beach, take off his diving suit, sprinkle cognac over his tuxedo and walk nonchalantly along the Boulevard, past the Kurhaus to the Gevers Deynootplein where a Dutch tram was waiting.

Tazelaar jumped on the tram as if he was going home after a late night partying and boozing with the Nazis in the Kurhaus. This Engelandvaarder made history because he was the first Dutch person put ashore in occupied Netherlands.

Hazelhoff Roelfzema remained behind on the beach for a while, waiting to see if Tazelaar would make it safely to The Hague, before making the OVERVAART (crossing) back to London. Here is the quote, please read on. Remember it is early morning, dark and November cold.

‘[Peter Tazelaar] verdween in het duister. Enkele ogenblikken stond ik onbeweeglijk, heel erg alleen. Dit waren Peters gevaarlijkste ogenblikken. Ik spande mijn pistool en luisterde tot mijn oren zoemden. Ieder ogenblik van stilte was een geschenk van God. Ik wachtte. Stilte… Opeens besefte ik dat vlakbij mijn ouders lagen te slapen. En mijn zusje Ellen. En tientallen Leidenaren… en al onze kameraden in de cellen van het Oranje Hotel, geen vijfhonderd meter hiervandaan. Deze donkere strook land waarop wij een militaire operatie uitvoerden was niet alleen vijandelijk terrain, het was Nederland! Het roerloze Palace Hotel, het Kurhaus daar, duister en doods, dit strand, koud, uitgestorven – toch was het Scheveningen. Ik hoorde een kerkklok slaan en even later een trein fluiten. Ergens blafte een hond, heel gewoon. Onder deze zwarte korst leefde iets dat mijn hart van weemoed deed krimpen. […] Nu, uit de vrijheid teruggekeerd, stond ik als een geest te midden van alles wat mij lief was, onzichtbaar, machteloos reikend, onverbiddelijk afgesneden door de vloek die Adolf Hitler over de wereld had gebracht.

[Peter Tazelaar] disappeared in the dark. For several moments I stood perfectly still and very much alone. These were Peter’s most dangerous moments. I cocked my gun and listened until my ears buzzed. Each moment of silence was a gift from God. I was waiting. Silence…. Suddenly I realized that my parents were asleep in their beds nearby. And my sister Ellen. And scores of Leiden students… and all our mates in the prison cells of Hotel Orange, less than five hundred metres from here. This dark strip of land on which we carried out a military operation was not only hostile soil, it was also the Netherlands! The impassive Palace Hotel, the Kurhaus there, dark and deathly, this beach, cold, desolate – and yet this was Scheveningen. I heard a church bell ring and a moment later a train whistle. Somewhere a dog barked, very common. Below this black crust something was alive and it made my heart cringe with melancholy. […] Now, having returned from freedom, I stood there like a ghost in the midst of everything that was dear to me, invisible, helplessly reaching out, relentlessly cut off by the curse which Adolf Hitler had laid on the world.

(© translation: Ruud Hisgen 2013)

Note 1: The name of this Hotel Oranje (Hotel Orange) needs an explanation. The resistance fighters (‘verzetstrijders’) gave the prison this nickname during the German occupation when this penitentiary establishment was ironically named a ‘hotel’, the guests being ‘soldiers of Orange’. The name Orange, of course, refers to the royal monarch Wilhelmina and her family.

Note 2: The part of the beach south of the Scheveningen Pier where Tazelaar landed was baptized ‘Soldaat van Oranjestrand’ (Soldier of Orange beach). On the balustrade of the Boulevard a plaque was placed with a Dutch and English text giving information about the landings in 1941 and 1942. The plaque was unveiled by Hazelhoff Roelfzema in 2003.