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Arizona woman tells students about life under the Nazis during WWII

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By Lisa Irish, The Daily Courier
March 8, 2012

When Julie Gianettino, a student at Prescott Mile High Middle School, asked Lucy Hanson how they cooked after the Nazis took over her hometown of Hilversum in the Netherlands during World War II, Hanson told her she and her grandfather cut firewood from the forest.

“We had no gas, no electricity, water for an hour in the morning and little food,” said Hanson, who was 10 years old when her country was occupied. “Thank goodness we had a garden. Everybody was growing their own vegetables in their front and backyards. We made lots of soups, but we were all very skinny.”

Mile High Middle School teacher Robin Andre asked Hanson to speak to her eighth grade social studies class, which had just finished studying World War II, so they could learn what it was like from someone who survived the war.

“Nowadays you hear so much about how things are so bad. Well, I am going to tell you how bad it can get,” said Hanson, who has lived in Prescott for the past 10 years.

On May 10, 1940, Hanson’s family woke up to the whole house shaking and the windows rattling. She said she thought it might be a thunderstorm, so she and her little sister ran to the windows.

“My mom came running from upstairs and said, ‘Get away from the windows. This is a war,’” Hanson said. “We didn’t know what war was. We went downstairs to sit and wait. We didn’t know what was happening.”

They later learned their house had been shaking from the Nazi bombing of the Amsterdam airport. Life became more miserable over time, and resistance to the Nazi occupation grew, Hanson related.

“After a few weeks, we were told that we had to bring in all our radios to a certain place downtown,” Hanson said. “Many people didn’t do that, so they hid them in their wood floors under the carpet. At night there were broadcasts from England about what was really happening in the world, and you sat there and listened.”

People were forced to give their cars and bicycles to the Nazis, who melted down every metal item to make bullets and bombs.

“Toward the end of the war, they even took the bells out of the church steeples,” Hanson said.

The people gave up their silver money for “paper money, which was not worth anything,” and Hanson’s grandfather made her a bracelet of silver dimes, which they hid away.

With no food in the stores, ration coupons were no good, so Hanson’s mother would go to farms to trade for food.

“She brought a tablecloth, her nice sterling silver, whatever she had, because the farmers didn’t want to take her money. They wanted goods,” Hanson said. “She would come back with a little bag of whole wheat. I would use our coffee grinder and grind it into a mush; she would add water and make pancakes in the big iron skillet.”

The Germans rounded up all the men between the ages of 18 and 40 years old, sent them to Germany, and forced them to work in factories making ammunition, bombs and tanks.

“People went underground trying to hide,” said Hanson, noting her father hid in their attic.

Since the harbors were blocked, no food, clothing, or other items could come into the country. After three years, Hanson and her two sisters needed new shoes, so Hanson’s mother made wooden platforms and cut an old belt to fit them to their feet.

“We let out old clothes; we ripped out old sweaters and knitted new ones,” she remembered.

The Dutch thought they’d be liberated soon after D-Day in France, but it took another year for the Canadians and Americans to get over the rivers the Nazis defended. In May 1945, the Canadians liberated Hanson’s town, and planes dropped crates of food for the starving people in a field outside town.

“One morning, I was looking for crates in the heather fields, and I saw a big tank coming down the road,” Hanson said. “The German tanks were grey and black, but this tank was a green color.”

A soldier saw her hiding in the bushes and spoke to her. She learned he was from Liverpool, England, and he gave her two cigarettes for her father.

After the presentation, students Gianettino, LaRissa LaMaster and Emily Sparks listened to Hanson describe the food the Canadian soldiers prepared for them in kitchens they set up in the fields.

“They gave us bread pudding and raisins – no fat, because our stomachs were so weak we couldn’t handle it,” Hanson said. “I’m telling you this because we see many things in the newspapers and televisions about war. But it’s not only the soldiers who suffer during a war – it’s the people who live in the (occupied) country who really suffer.”