I am in a difficult position. I have been urged to write my story for teenagers, and the idea seems the right thing to do. However, I am having a real hard time getting started. Even writing this is a difficult exercise. Where to start? Do I start by giving a background of who I was at the time when my life was turned upside down? Do I tell how a 12-year-old girl faces the hard reality of war? The subject of war was never discussed at home. It is true that I heard about people being displaced. I even went to school with German refugee children who had moved from Germany and Austria because their parents were afraid for their life. Yet somehow in my child’s mind, it never occurred to me that it could happen to me.
Yet on May 10, 1940, at 6:00 a.m., I was abruptly awakened by my father and told to hurry into the basement for safety. It is only then that I was told that the Germans were attacking Belgium. My father was very cool, calm and collected when he announced what the situation was and what we had to do. He took charge of what had to be done. He was very confident and definite as to what had to happen. No sooner were we able to get to the first floor that he informed us we would be leaving that same day for Paris. It was as though he became a different person. All he did that day, as I recall, was give us instructions as to what had to happen next.
At the time, I was totally befuddled by the events and suddenly realized that Friday was not at all going to be the kind of day I had anticipated. That particular day was to be a festive day to honor our mothers at school. We had planned to sing songs from Hansel & Gretel. I was going to stand by the pianist and turn the pages of the music. I was so thrilled by the opportunity. I was hoping that my mother would be proud of me. Also, I had worked really hard on a handmade napkin for a tray. It was really beautiful. The night before I had bought some sweet pea flowers for my mother. All that was not going to take place and I was really sad about it. Instead, I managed to hand my mother the napkin I had made during the previous month. All I was told was to pack and be ready to leave that day.
I think this was really the first time that I had to pack for myself and I did not know what I should take. Before I knew, it was time to leave for the train station. My father informed us that we were leaving that day at 4:00 p.m. He was going to stay a few more days to get his taxicab business ready. What he did not tell us was that he had offered his services to the Belgian army. They refused his help. So instead, he took it upon himself to save as many people as he could so that friends could leave Belgium, easily and travel away from the main routes being attacked by the German air force. My father knew the back roads of the country because at one time he used to drive a motorcycle and never traveled the main roads.
In the meantime we were waiting for him, hidden in the outskirts of Paris getting his whereabouts known to us through a friend who was in contact with him. He was risking his life every day. He stayed in Brussels until the last minute, twenty minutes before the Germans arrived in Brussels.
By Dina Klayman
Select all writings of Dina Klayman
Select biography of Dina Klayman