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Major General F. J. G. Brackel


Born in 1914, the Hague, the Netherlands

Served in the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces


Date of interview: 24 August, 1989

Place of interview: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Interviewer: Petro Potichnyj

Length of Interview: 1h. 32 min.



DUTCH OFFICERS AS PRISONERS OF WAR


In ‘42 and then suddenly the gates were closed and we were declared officially the prisoners of war and were taken into the custody, as they called it quite nicely. Well, we were sent off in trucks. Well we went...the train went on and on and we arrived, finally, in Nuremberg. We stayed there for about three months and then we were moved off again by train to Stanislav. When we arrived there, I don’t know in what....and even when we entered the barracks we didn’t know properly where we were at what town. I think we saw sign at the station “Stanislav.” That was all. We knew that it was in the southern part of Ukraine. And when we walked around and especially when looked out of the second floor of the big buildings, we could see the Carpathian mountains.


ESCAPE FROM THE GERMAN PRISONER OF WAR CAMP IN STANISLAV


I managed to get into the same cattle truck as Byl de Roe, Bentinck, and Kranenburg, and some other people, of course. Well, Byl de Roe was rather good with handicrafts ... he managed to cut a big hole in the back of the car. Well, we got out. I think, I got our first and we stood on the bumpers and when the train slowed only a little bit down I jumped off in the snow and turned over.


FINDING HIS WAY THROUGH THE CARPATHIANS


Taking southern direction by the star. I didn’t see my three other friends, Kranenburg, Byl de Roe, and Bentinck. They all jumped from the other side, apparently. I went on my own as well. I walked through the night. And it was a very nice walk, I must say. I didn’t see anybody at all. But the track suddenly more or less ended at the little stream which was flowing, water. But there was somebody on the other side of the stream who winked at me and he got into a small boat, a kind of canoe, and he came to my side of the river and brought me over and took me to his house.


HELP FROM THE UKRAINIAN PEOPLE


And this man took me to his house and I got a little bit of milk and some bread, and I tried to explain myself, but he didn’t understand me, of course. I had a little slip of paper with written some Ukrainian words and some Dutch words and I pointed them out, but he could not understand me either. May be he couldn’t read or my Ukrainian was not good.

But then there came another man and said: “Come with me.” That was a Ukrainian farmer. We went to his farmhouse, not a small one, but not a big one either. And he spoke a little bit of English, for he had worked, as he told me, about twenty years in New Zealand and then came back and bought that farmhouse. That was a farmhouse with a few rooms and a gate as well, covered gate.


MEETING WITH THE UPA


There came two people, who wanted to talk to me in German. Always there was somebody with me, but most of the time there were two and, apparently, they talked about everything. It was some kind of interrogation, that was clear. And at last, in the afternoon there was one sitting opposite me and he put in front of me a parabellum, a kind of a gun, a pistol. He said: ”Do I know that?” I said: “Yes, for we use that in the Dutch Colonial Army.” And I could take it into pieces, put it out of each other and put it together again. Then he said: “Within short time a friend of yours will be coming in.” We heard outside horses..I heard horses, and apparently a sledge, and then came in a chap, called Byl de Roe. And we could talk a little bit together. And they said that they would move us off. We were put on that sledge and in a gallop we went out of the little village on track to somewhere. In roughly twenty minutes we were nearing a crossroad with hedges on both sides, or fourth sides. And there were some people standing there, and in the evening light we could see that there were some wearing uniforms and some with rifles on their shoulders. And my friend, Byl de Roe said to me that they were Germans. And I said: “No. I don’t think so.” And then we came in...after about twenty minutes again into some village and we stopped near farmhouse. And then we came into that farmhouse and there were sitting Edward van Hootegem, and Kees Harteveld, and Lineman, and Pieter Ruijter, and we shook hands and then a number of people came in every time again and we stayed there for the night.



FROM THE FIRST MEETING WITH THE UPA I KNEW I WAS ALRIGHT


From the first meeting I had with that farmer I thought: “Well, I am alright, alright. No doubt about it.” We were transported from one village to another, most of the time by night, evening, or night. We had to walk sometimes. But most of the time on the sledges, on sleds. Some very little discussions for the general aim of the Ukrainian partisans were brought forward and they asked us if we would stay with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. But we said, well, we thought, but it was very difficult. We didn’t speak the language and so on. And the order also had reached us that if we could escape we should go to our own forces again as soon as possible, which is normal, I think.


IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE UKRAINIAN INSURGENTS


They trusted us. As it is explained in that paper, we were in a little village. And we were in the house of a school master. We were at that time with the ten of us or with the eight and with a few of the partisans and also with a...we called him ”Tommy gun”, a very big fellow. I called him so. With riding boots, riding breeches, nice fur coat on the inside, fur hat on, and always that fur coat was open and with a tommy gun loosely over his shoulder he walked around. He didn’t accompany us but nearly every time we were in the next village he was with us there the next day.


But we got there a bread, and butter, and a bottle was brought forward and a little glass without a foot. And, in my opinion, it was as follows, that the leader of the partisans he filled in the glass, and said: “Na zdorovya and Slava Ukraine ” also and emptied it down then he filled it again and passed it on to his left, to the next one. The circle had been completed and then we did it again. And, of course... it was some kind of vodka with honey, I think, it was rather nice. But if you didn’t drink anything at all for about a year it was rather heavy, I must say. But the bread and especially with the butter was help.

And also I tell it at home sometimes how ladies should behave properly for we were sitting and the ladies were standing in the corner supplying us with bread and butter. They were not sitting at all. And I tell that to my wife, but she always gets annoyed. I say: “That’s a proper way of handling men.” You can laugh.


Interviewer: So that custom you liked?


Brackel: Yes. My wife doesn’t like it.

Interviewer: Tell me what was the general attitude of the people toward the Germans?

Brackel: They were the enemies and they were ready to fight anywhere and everywhere. There was a little boy who was brought forward and some of the partisans they had very nice winter clothing on from sheep wool, which was fat, and they could lay on the snow without getting cold and without getting wet. And that little boy was dressed in that as well and a tommy gun was given to him and then he sang Ukrainian partisan melody.

Interviewer: So he was entertaining you?

Brackel: Entertaining. Yes. It made a big impression on us. And then we officially got a Russian hand grenade. It was presented to our senior officer, General van Hootegem. And he handed that to me. I had to safeguard. I put it in my belt.

Interviewer: The morale of the the UPA troops was it good?

Brackel: Oh, very good, indeed. No doubt about it. We were once brought on sledges over railway line. We had to cross a railway line and we had to cross the railway line, and we had some shooting left and right. We were passing a building, apparently German barracks with some people, and the guide who was with us. The guide said: “Well, there are Germans in it, but let them get out if they dare to, we will shoot them. We are not afraid at all. No.”

Interviewer: And the discipline of the troops was it good?

Brackel: It was very good, indeed. We were always brought into a village, and it was not the first house in the village, but we were brought somewhere through the village, through the little farmhouses and we stopped there. Then the driver of the sledge he was thanked and turned around and went away. They always did so. And then we had to walk fifty yards or twenty five yards. And we didn’t go to the farmhouse where we stopped it was always another farmhouse, that he didn’t know exactly where we were. It was very good, indeed.

Interviewer: So good conspiracy?

Brackel: Very good conspiracy, yes.

Interviewer: And...so their organization...?

Brackel: It was excellent.


THE UPA HELP DUTCH OFFICERS REACH HUNGARY


But then from there we went on through the mountains with the guide, it was rather steep in the woods. And then he said: “Here is the stone, that’s the marker of the frontier. Straight on into the valley, that is Hungary. If you go to the left or to the right then you still stay in the Ukrainian countryside, therefore be careful.”


IMPRESSIONS OF THE ESCAPE


The hospitality we got in Ukraine from all the people, the safety we felt there. No, we were not afraid at all that we were to be given over to the Germans or that the Germans had any chance of getting us. Not at all. And the hospitality. And we would never had or hardly had been able in winter to cross the Carpathian mountains into Hungary on our own, for we had no food with us and we didn’t know the countryside, and so on and on.

The interviews can be accessed at the UCRDC. Please contact us office@ucrdc.org

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