World War II survivor shares story with Wayland students

Hans Moederzoon van Kuilenburg
Hans Moederzoon van Kuilenburg shares her memories of living through World War II to Wayland Union High School students.

HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — A woman who survived the tense and deadly time of World War II in Holland is sharing her story with West Michigan.

Hans Moederzoon van Kuilenburg, 87, recounted her experiences at Wayland Union High School Friday.

Van Kuilenburg is also an author. Her book, “Silent Heroes,” recounts her life in Holland when it was invaded by the Germans.

“I started out doing this for my grandchildren and then it grew because I realized they didn’t know why all this happened,” van Kuilenburg told 24 Hour News 8 earlier in Hastings.

She was just 10 years old, living in Amsterdam when German soldiers invaded Holland.

“When I was 13, I saw them hauled out of their house. The people were probably 72 or 73 years old. They got kicked and hit with rifle butts, I distinctly remember. Sometimes it gets me a little too much – after all those years and they never came back,” she said.

Van Kuilenburg said her dad helped the Jewish people in the “Dutch Underground.” He would help get them necessities since it wasn’t safe for them to appear in public. He even sheltered a Jewish family.

“They stayed with us for 48 hours, which was extremely dangerous, but we couldn’t keep them because we had Nazi sympathizers across the street and they observed every move we made,” van Kuilenburg said.

Van Kuilenburg recalls hearing the wailing sirens when the Germans crossed the Dutch coast, knowing planes were on their way. She also remembers the comforter her mom hung on their sliding glass door to protect them from flying glass if the window was shot out by tail gunners.

But van Kuilenburg says it all became very real for her when she saw a plane get shot down and the pilot eject.

“I saw him in the parachute and he was so close that I could see his face, and they shot him in the air,” van Kuilenburg said. “When I wrote it in the book, I cried after all those years, I cried because I was living it again.”

Van Kuilenburg got a special treat Friday when she spoke at Wayland High School: her great-grandson was in the audience.

“I just talk and the kids appreciate it so much,” she said. “I just talk and it just comes out, rolls out, because I have lived it and my memory is and I thank God for this, my memory is unbelievably good.”