Sentimental Journey Continued
September 29, 1945
Rotterdam Harbor, The Netherlands
On Monday, October 1, 1945, Dave Miller and I took a 20-minute train ride to the Netherlands’ capital, The Hague. A phone call from the Canadian Embassy to the British Consulate brought only the routine answer “No.” So we had no other solution, except for Canada’s official letter saying our passport was in order.
Dave and I returned disconsolately to The Mexican. We were immediately told to go quickly to the American Consulate where we found Captain Grundy, who sent us to the USWSA, where Captain Schumalt sent us to the Dutch Ministry of Shipping, who gave us a letter approving our passage to England. We returned to the USWSA, who added another letter, which we carried back to the American Consulate where Captain Grundy signed our discharge papers.
Having been a nominal member of the Canadian Merchant Marine, I was now discharged from the American Coast Guard. Having been paid on Saturday and to fulfill Coast Guard regulations, we were each paid one cent each. With elation, we went to the Netherlands Shipping Company to get our tickets where we were told, “We cannot issue tickets unless you have the approval of the British Consul!”
So, we carried the papers back to the British Consulate, who now told us, “Look, we don’t have anything to do with you Canadians, so if you can, just go.” That new stance satisfied the Netherlands Shipping Company, except that they said, “Tomorrow’s weekly vessel is full, so you must wait until next week.” One of our five, Big Mouth Baker, rose to the occasion and loudly demanded that our passage must be the next day because “we have a contract with the Dutch government, we have a letter from the American Consulate, and we have a letter from your superior, the Dutch Ministry of Shipping, so if you can’t give us passage tomorrow, you must provide us with food coupons, food, and accommodation for the coming week.” Legally true or not, it caused a huddle of the shipping line superiors, and our tickets were issued, with us agreeing to sleep on the deck. A wonderful late-Monday stress release.
Wanting to make certain we didn’t sleep through the Tuesday, 4:00 a.m. departure, Dave and I took our suitcases and went looking for accommodation. With nothing found, a policeman—Mr. Greutens—took us to his apartment. Until he got off at 11:00 p.m., Dave and I returned to the seamen’s club where we were serenaded by the band with “Mexicali Rose” and “South of the Border” and offered warm thanks for bringing horse food to Rotterdam.
Back at Mr. and Mrs. Greutens’, we were given black coffee and warm Dutch conversation, which Dave Miller understood, and slept on the floor. For breakfast, we had coffee, bread, and jam. We later took them food and cigarettes. In the afternoon, we joined the others on the Batavia II, got bully beef sandwiches, and bedded on deck.
Our experience had not warmed British Commonwealth relationships. It said on our passports that we were “British Subjects”; though promised in print that we would be helped if in need, the British Consulate had certainly not done so. However now, over 70 years later, it has long been very clear that September 1945 was a peak time for the most heinous Nazi criminals to escape Europe, two of them being Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele.
I can imagine the pressure that all consulates were experiencing. No one wanted it to happen “on their watch.” Anything that hinted at less than perfect documentation was avoided. Within the framework of the big picture, our minor personal needs were easily sacrificed for security. Maybe if we had failed, I would have felt differently, but I have long ago forgiven the faceless British Consul.