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Major General J.A. Baron Bentinck


Born in 1916, Jakarta, the Netherlands’ East Indies

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: 34 min.



ESCAPE FROM THE GERMAN PRISONER OF WAR CAMP IN STANISLAV


Interviewer: You jumped the train near the town of Halych.  Could you tell us how you managed to do so ?


Baron Bentinck: It was not so much I who managed to do so, but it was my dear friend, Byl de Vroe. He was a wood cutter. So he cut a hole in the back of our train car. That was rather easily done. And the four of us, we came out and we took a stand between the two carriages. And when the train was slowing down we hopped off one after the other. With the four of us it was the difficulty of finding each other. I only met my friend, Leen Kranenburg, and with the two of us we moved on. But later on we met when we were brought together by the Ukrainian partisans and then where we met Byl de Roe and Franz Brackel.


FINDING THE WAY THROUGH THE CARPATHIANS


Yes, we had small compasses and we had a map and we moved in the Southern direction because we thought Hungary would intern us and not hand us back to the Germans.  And in the snowy night there was bright moon, the two of us, after we have taken off our emblems and whatever and we looked like, I could say Ukrainian partisans, when I later saw the picture there was not much difference. The first village we saw we thought that was dangerous to go to the village, so we moved around, but you know, that’s time consuming. The second village we saw we said: “We don’t do that again”. In that hard frost, daylight we moved just through the village. We passed the school and there were small children singing a rhyme and we thought “well, that could be Holland”. Because in the Dutch schools in Holland, they do exactly the same. But nobody paid any attention and we passed through the village. We were happy that nobody paid any attention to us, because probably we looked like Ukrainians.


HELP FROM THE UKRAINIAN PEOPLE


After we had walked for about twelve hours maybe ten hours the darkness came in then we had to toss for somebody to knock  on the door and ask for water and asylum. So I drew the lots and I had to  go to the small farmhouse and a farmer opened a door and he said what do you want, and I said: “I want a little bit of water‘ [repeated in German], because it was all frozen in our flask. I was shown in, but I said: “I have a friend over there. Could he come in as well?”. A farmer said ok and he came in. It was a very small farm. He took off my shoes and rubbed my wet and cold feet and he said that everything was alright and  that we don’t have to worry. And I was looking at one sitting bedroom and small kitchen all in the same place and I saw a hen cackling out of the bed and I found it funny, because it laid an egg. The farmer said that we should go and sleep in the bed and they would sleep on the floor. I said that it could’t be. You should be on the bed and we would sleep on the floor. But long discussions...and no. We had to go into the bed. We slept very well. And the next morning after we were woken up they gave us bread and that one egg hardboiled, that was all they had, probably. It was great warmth and hospitality. And they wished us the very best. And we asked them how do we get on now. And they said “If you are in danger, you should go to the police”. We didn’t like the word “police” , so we didn’t turn to the police. We never saw any police.

So we walked on for the second day march. And in the end of that particular day, I think it was the fifteenth or the fourteenth of January, I think fifteenth, we came to the bigger farmhouse and they had a cow and again they said “You take our bed” and we said no, but we had to go to bed and it was 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We went to bed, the two of us. I woke up at about six o half past six in the afternoon I saw a crowd of people sitting  around and all looking at us, at least twenty. It could be fifteen, I don’t know.  And then, well, how to communicate? But then suddenly one of the ladies in the company said she was French by birth and she had married a Ukrainian, so we could discuss things. I woke up Leen. And said: “Look, we have French”. He was surprised. We had a very nice conversation all together. Schnapps was handed around and then we got something like rice, it could have been rice probably, but I don’t know... with meat and schnapps. One glass of schnapps you had to drink it and handed it to your neighbor. And so it went round and round.


MOVING DEEPER INTO THE CARPATHIANS


We were north of the Dnister river. And we had to cross the Dnister river. And that was the difficulty, because from the train we saw that all the bridges and crossings over the Dnister river were guarded quite well with German soldiers.  So we thought we must avoid the bridges. And so we came after long march again near the Dnister river, and near village we saw small canoes. And we thought how to get somebody who can take us over. That was a young guy about 16 or 17 and he took two of us in a little canoe and we crossed the Dnister river and we continued our trip. I think that was the third day and by the end of the day again we had a problem of finding accommodation, so we came to quite a big farm house. Bigger than we had seen before. And there was a cradle hanging up on the ceiling and in the cradle was a baby. There was a rope hanging down from the cradle and I tell you this minor detail, but I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. And everybody who was passing by the cradle he took the rope and the baby was very happy by swinging around. But that was more or less “obligatoire” to pull the rope and make the baby sleep again. That was quite a pleasant company.


FIRST MEETING WITH THE UPA


And then suddenly there was a heavy knock on the door and two or three people came in and they asked us what we were. And one of them said that:  “You are German soldiers, deserters, because we had German nails under our shoes. We told them that we were not German soldiers. And the two of us were taken and we were transported by sled with a horse and four guardians next to us. Leen and I back to back and on each side there were guardians. We were taken to the police station and I don’t know in what village. At some time a very tall and lean gentleman came in, armed to the teeth with hand grenades and a  pistol and I don’t know what. We were taken to the small room, with a small stove with wood in it.  After a small interrogation, he knew already that we were visitors from the Dutch POW camp. He took a bottle, a flask, and he said: “Don’t you worry. We’ll help you. We have already several friends. We will help you to come to Hungary.” “Unless...” and then he first told us a long story of the Ukrainian freedom movement. And he said: “We are partisans, and we are fighting on the Russian communication lines as well as German communication lines. We are daredevils, but we don’t have necessary trainings and, in fact, it would be of great help if the two of you could join us.” Well, we didn’t decide at the moment. It was difficult, of course, because Russia was more or less an ally of the UK, France, the States, and Holland, of course. And our first thing was to report on Ukraine to England in the UK. During the next day we told him that we had reflected the idea that we prefer to go to Hungary and try to find our way to England.


THE UPA HELP DUTCH OFFICERS REACH HUNGARY


Then the two of us were taken to another camp. I don’t know if that was the fourth or the fifth night exactly.  But that was a huge farm, where I met, I think, four of our compatriots, who were taken right away by the Ukrainian partisan movement.

In that particular farm house a wedding had taken place a day before. With the four of us and our guardians together it was rather crowded in that farm house. But they said: “Two of you go to the bride’s room”. We said: “To the bride’s room?”. “Yes, because there was a wedding yesterday.” And there were dried flowers and all that what happens in the bride’s room. We said: “No, we could never do that. We go to the ceiling or other place.” But, nevertheless, we were forced to take the bride room. And the bride and the bridegroom, they had to move somewhere else. There was a sort of luxury. We could shave with warm water. And that afternoon, we met all together, the Ukrainians and the six Dutchmen, and our guardians. We had a very good time if you look back at it now.

They took us to the...well, could I say about four or five kilometers from the border with Hungary. And I think that altogether took about fortnight, maybe. Then, at the distances... I am not sure about the distances. I don’t know the names, I don’t know names of the villages, I don’t know the names of the persons. You could have tried to write down these names, of course. And then they said that in that general direction there was Hungary. They wished us the best of luck and said that we would find our way. But there were last four or five kilometers, and it took us quite a long time and that was January in the Carpathian Mountains at the height of, I think, sixteen hundred, seventeen hundred meters. So we had guides on the ropes and when it was too deep they came back... Anyway, we reached the border, we crossed the border...


IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE UKRAINIAN INSURGENTS


They took care of us, they transported us, well they took care of our safety and they gave us the right direction. And they were hard people, brave people. I have the greatest admiration of them.


UNDERSTANDING THE  UKRAINIAN FREEDOM MOVEMENT


I might recollect that story, the Ukrainian hetman gave us about the history of the Ukrainians and that they had been struggling against Russia, against Poland, against Germany or whatever. But you can’t do much. And when I got to England and I could tell our Premier, that was Professor Gerbrandy, but what he could do about it? He was Premier in exile. But you can’t do much. But you can follow the developments. And there are nowadays the developments I think we can be quite happy, isn’t it? And it gives some courage.


FEELINGS OF GRATITUDE


First thought that comes to my mind is feeling of gratitude to all those who helped us, that started in Ukraine and the same applies to Hungary and my Hungarian friends. Gratitude. Great gratitude for the hospitality, the generosity and the courage they showed to help us to, because that was a dangerous thing to help a prisoner.



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