“Good Luck, Dear Rose”

I have a Dutch family. None of my ancestors are Dutch, but I inherited a whole family in the Netherlands by researching and writing Dutch Girl, an effort that began in 2015 with our first visit to Arnhem. It was there I discovered Audrey Hepburn’s connection to that spot on the map, which intrigued me all the more when I tried to research her wartime years in Arnhem and found little available information, with much of that conflicting. What I did learn pretty quickly was that Audrey lived in Arnhem from December 1939 to sometime in the middle of the war, and then moved to the next village to the east, Velp.

That first lunch in June 2017 with Ben van Griethuysen, Annemarth Visser ‘t Hooft, Rosemarie Kamphuisen, and me. After Ben’s mother was killed in an Allied fighter attack late in 1944, it was hospital volunteer Audrey Hepburn who comforted him.

In the spring of 2017, I contacted Velp’s leading historian, Gety Hengeveld, to request her help with information; at once she marshaled forces there and served as a point of contact for my upcoming research visit. Gety put together a luncheon so I could interview several wartime survivors at once, and there, in June 2017, I met my Dutch family, which included several names you’ll recognize if you have read Dutch Girl. I sat next to Rosemarie Kamphuisen that day, and we didn’t exactly hit it off because I believe trust didn’t come easily to her, and who was this American author and what were his intentions? Through lunch she held in her lap a published history of her family, including the war years, and she would refer to it to refresh her memory and conjure up dates related to the German occupation.

In the end she allowed me to photograph the relevant pages of her family history when lunch had concluded. Why? I guess she had judged me to be OK and beyond that, “You are our liberators!” she said to me with what I can only describe as awe and wonder in her voice. Just by being an American, I had qualified in her mind as one of the liberators, and I was honored and a little embarrassed to be lumped into the same group as the Allied troops that had attempted to liberate Velp in 1944 and succeeded a year later.

Mary and I saw Rosemarie on our next research trip in April 2018 during Velp’s solemn Liberation Day ceremony that takes place the Sunday closest to 16 April, the date everyone in the village, including Audrey Hepburn and her family, were freed from German occupation. Rosemarie greeted us like family and we sat and talked after the ceremony for a long time. We agreed to meet for dinner at a local restaurant a few days later and when Mary and I arrived at the restaurant, there was Rosemarie waiting for us, standing beside a bicycle that seemed much too big for her—she must have been at that time somewhere around 88 years old, and she had biked to our meeting! I will never quite get over that, but bicycles are the Dutch way of life and key to their sense of independence and health.

That day we learned all about Rosemarie and her family. She’d had a hard life including a bad marriage that forced her to start over from scratch while supporting five children. She had also become a force in the local community, a volunteer for senior citizens’ groups and historical preservationist.

Just for some perspective, Rosemarie was a bit younger than Audrey but also Audrey’s contemporary in Velp. She remembered the van Heemstras and was very fond of Dr. Henrik Visser ’t Hooft, the Velpsche doctor for whom Audrey volunteered and local Resistance leader.

Of this fascinating man she said, “I have known hard times in my life, and he supported me without many words, but by respecting me and giving a boost to my self-confidence. In one way or another he gave me the feeling that he loved me in the most decent way possible. At his farewell reception [in the 1970s] he hugged me with the words: “Good luck, dear Rose.” It was just what I needed.”

Rosemarie participated in the committee that placed a historical marker and statue at the site of Villa Beukenhof in Velp and staged their unveiling in September 2019. The committee invited Audrey’s son Luca Dotti and me to speak at the ceremony, which was simply spectacular, attended by about a thousand people, brass band, parade, and a lavish book signing of the Dutch version of Dutch Girl. Those events marked the last times we saw Rosemarie. Our planned 2020 return visit was canceled by Covid and we couldn’t provide in-person moral support when she suffered a debilitating heart attack about a year ago. The best we could do was speak to her on the phone and keep touch via email.

Rosemarie Kamphuisen passed away yesterday in hospice, but not without one last battle. She kept warning us that her heart was giving out, but we kept believing that nothing could really stop her. She came from good stock that had helped defeat the Nazis, and she’d beaten the odds and successfully raised her children and gone on to help me write Dutch Girl. I’m so happy to report she also provided important reminiscences that appear in my latest book, Warrior: Audrey Hepburn, due September 28.

One of the hazards of writing books about World War II is that an author meets and works with wonderful, important people in the autumn of their lives and they become family and then they move on. It happens over and over and it hurts. But above the sense of loss is such gratitude that we met to establish new and loving relationships in the course of capturing stories important to history. These people live on in my books, and in my heart, forever.

With many in my Dutch family in September 2019. From left, Patrick Jansen, whose father wrote the most important diary of the war from the perspective of Velp, Mary Matzen, Gety Hengeveld, Annemarth Visser ‘t Hooft, me, Johan Vermeulen, whose home was destroyed by the Germans in the battle of Arnhem, Rosemarie Kamphuisen, Josje Mantel, and Dick Mantel, whose job as a teenager was to make the lives of the occupying Nazis as miserable as possible. Dick lived across the street from the van Heemstras on Rozendaalselaan and Baron van Heemstra and Audrey would sneak over to listen to Radio Oranje on the Mantel’s secret radio set.

3 comments

  1. Mooie! I was stationed in De Nederlands for 2 1/2 years on the east side near Enschede. I couldn’t begin to tell you all the crazy stories about the Dutch in our small village of Bornerbroek.

    But before that I was stationed in Germany and was temporary duty on the border near Arnhem. My colleagues and I weren’t sure were to go in Arnhem, so we just decided on this “American Bar.” We were drinking our first beer when a soccer team came into the bar. They were very irritating bc someone was blowing this infernal whistle wearing a striped referee shirt. We ended up talking. We bought them a round of beers. That was it; we never bought about beer. They were enamored by the fact that we were Americans. As you stated, we suddenly had hero status despite the fact we were “white-collared” soldiers without a combat patch. This phenomenon happened later to me again at a bar in Brussels. This elderly gentleman had tears in his eyes. He lamented about the war. He said that we Americans, “had rung the bell of freedom…” liberating the people of Europe.

    Back to my little town of Bornerbroek (and please do not forget to roll your “r’s.” They have an 800 year old Catholic church (the entire village is Catholic, but Enter next village over, all are Protestant) where some aviators from WWII are buried when their plane was shot down. The crash killed the parents of a rather large family on the ground. The kids were farmed out, literally, to other farmers’ families to live.

    My landlord there, who spoke no English, told me all about it. He was a boy. He told me how he snuck between farmhouse in the farming ditches. They refer to the Germans as de (ScheiSSe Kopf) poo heads.

    My own three children, 5, 6 and 12, could read and write in American, so they all were immersed into the Dutch schools.

    You can readily understand that Holland is a Socislist country, when my son brought home his first report card. It was hand-written the length of one page. There was nothing about academia, but about his emotional development and his social skills. His teacher indicated which boys with whom he likes to play and had their telephone numbers included so we could arrange after school play dates. She also described David as a great singer and how much he loves it; “Look at his eyes when he sings!”

    One of the traditions to pass between grades was where the kindergarten teacher and her aide would hold each child by the arms and the legs, and literally swing them into the open and waiting arms of the first grade teacher. They did this very ceremoniously.

    Soccer is so important there esp with their arch enemy. When I was negotiating the rent for my farmhouse, the game between Germany and Holland started. Negotiations ended abruptly. We could talk after the game. So the realtor, the Dutch family and I sat around the table watching the game. First came cake and koffie-drinking. Almost immediately as soon as the last cake crumb was gone, bier-drinking? It was SO funny because, they told me the signs the fans held up at the game said “Give us back our grandmothers bikes!” This was 1992.

    Another funny thing was the New Year’s Eve tradition. In our neighborhood on Wolbeslanden, a small, single-laned and winding road, Mr. Braamhaar at the first house, ride his bike to the Winkel brothers next door and they all drank one beer and talked story. When those beers were finished, the three neighbors rode to the next farmhouse, the Peeze’s, and drank a beer and so on. They all ended up at the last house very drunk esp the first few neighbors.

    Our first New Year’s Eve though, my husband and I had to attend the official US Army Battalion party in Coeverden. However the buren (neighbors), heavy from their hangovers, told us all about it and how one farm boy was so drunk, he rode his fiets (bike) into the slot (ditch)!

    Despite their condition, it was decided that the neighborhood of Wolbeslanden would do an entire repeat of tradition just for “The Americans.” They would make this sacrifice. Lol

    Another cool tradition was riding the bikes to school in a “pack.” I had seen enormous ones before but never really knew had they formed. When school began after summer, we found out. Like the New Year’s Eve tradition, it began with one bike, one child at the opposite end of Wolbeslanden (sans beer)! She rode to the next farmhouse and “picked up” their kids and so on. Our kids eagerly waited at the end of the driveway, on their bikes for the “pack” to arrive so they could merge into it.

    Ah, so many stories! So much fun! Sorry to drone on, but grappig (funny) to reminisce.

    The little old ladies on bikes is the same all over Europe, I’ve found. It would appear that the Europeans have a different paradigm on aging than we Americans.

    So much more…

    Groetjes,

    Terry (Teddy as the landlord Maneer Wilmink used to pronounce it.)

  2. Hi Robert, — Thank you for your blog. I’m saddened about Rosemarie Kamphuisen’s passing. I briefly met her at an interview with a local newspaper journalist in Velp. I accompanied my nonagenarian mom, who participated in this luncheon-interview held at the bookstore, Jansen & De Feijter, a few years ago. My mom was a classmate of Audrey at the Christian Science Sunday school in Arnhem. It was a privilege for me to sit in with these folks (many featured in this photo), who had known Audrey during her Arnhem/Velp years. My condolence to Rosemarie’s family and friends.

    Met vriendelijke groet uit Seattle

    Uko Gorter

    1. Very interesting about your mom, Uko! Jansen & de Feijter is also our hangout in Velp and where many of my interviews were conducted. Beautiful place, beautiful people. Thank you for checking in from Seattle.

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