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‘The U.S. bombing of Nijmegen, 1944’
On 22 February 1944 the city of Nijmegen was bombed by the Americans. Mistake? Intent? The last word on this issue is certainly not yet spoken, but we want to leave that to others.
At this web site, we report mainly how ordinary people are affected by history.
Jetty Cremers (data) studied in Nijmegen at that time and wrote this letter to her family a day later to calm them but also because she had to to tell the things she had seen. The burning houses, the dead and injured people in the streets, but also the lootings. Although it made her ill, she went to the hospital to help. The text isn’t legible at several places, so you find question marks [?] there. But nothing of the content is lost that way.
You find the complete handwritten text here: BombardementNijmegen.pdf
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You find the typed one below
I just want to write some words to calm you, for you will probably have heard of the terrible bomb attack on Nijmegen, and you must have been terrified immediately because two of your children were here at tht time. But Jopie and his family and also Carla and I have come out without injuries after we have seen the death in the middle of his face and felt strongly threatened. The whole morning there had been air raid alarms. When we were at lunch, a whole gang of airplanes came. We went outside to watch. But we did not know what was going to happen. We thought it would be a punishment for “the other side”, not that they would kill innocent people.
Shortly thereafter the signal “safe” was given and Carla and I hurried back home. Carla first had to go to Jurgens quickly. I was not even five minutes in the house, when the sirens howled again and the bombs fell immediately after it. Out of the shock I did not know what to do, it was a big blow. But a few seconds later, nothing was to be heard anymore, so I thought it was not that bad, and not that much was destroyed. But it surely had been close and I was surprised that we had no windows broken. As I looked out of the window, huge black smoke columns rose behind the houses on the other side of the road. Then I realized that I just escaped death, or rather that the bomb could have hit our Van Slichtenhorststraat just as well. But I worried most for Carla, who was downtown. After 15 minutes however, Carla was back home. When the bomb fell, she just was standing in front of the Jurgens house.
She saw huge dust and fire clouds and she ran into the house. She said her message, which was her reason to be there and since they did not offer her to stay and shelter, she quickly went home. On her way she heard already rumours about what had happened. Then I immediately took her with me downtown. Which was very dangerous when I think about it now. When we came to Keizer-Karelplein (Charlemagne Circus), we saw large smoke and dust clouds on the direction of the station and the Molenstraat. We went to the Molenstraat. We bypassed the policeman, who was there to keep the people back, by a very narrow lane (Vlaamse gas?). That’s how we got into the middle of the Molenstraat. The church was on fire, it was completely burnt out. Only the towers still stood. An altar boy of 7 years had brought out the Most Blessed Sacrament. The figurine of the [?]Holy Virgin[?] was also saved. Further than the church, in the Broerstraat, the Burchtstraat, the Bloemerstraat and the Sikke Hezelstraat everything is burnt out.
Now, the afternoon of the next day, they are still extinguishing and keeping everything wet. But we did not dare to go really into the burnt zone. Smoke and dust kept us away. Suddenly there was a scream, that the church towers would fall and like hares we ran away from there. But they are still standing. We would have liked to help people. All people were emptying their homes to save as much as possible. We offered several times to help carrying, but they did not trust us because we were strangers to them. Which is understandable when you hear how much has been stolen. People have already been arrested, they have been shot. The bank near the station was emptied. And in the city centre with all the shops, everything was just lying about. Even the corpses were plundered. When one also saw what was laying on the street: fabric balls, mattresses, canned food (glasses). That was in the neighbourhoods
where only the windows were broken, and where they just were clearing. That was really necessary, for the huge fires were not extinguished, and the wind threw the flames from one house to the next one.
We also went to the station, where no one got through, and where it was terrible as well. A direct hit smashed a crowded train. Trains stood ready to go. Only the middle part of the station is still standing. Oranje Hotel, Victoria Hotel, Hotel Bellevue, all completely burnt out. They were full of Jerries. You may understand that the dead and injured, who were all around, were countless. I can not write what I’ve seen. A corpse still burning. Just arms and legs. The wounded had already been taken away, almost all of them. How many had the sacrament of the dying? The expression in the faces of the people was terrible. Eyes and mouths standing open. Some of them had split their heads completely. Carla got so sick of all that, that she dragged me home. Afterwards we went straight to the hospital, there was a total mess. Lots of cars and carts with wounded. Then we quickly put on a white apron, and began to carry stretches. All the corridors were full of stretches, some people lay simply on the floor, a terrible sight, big wounds, and black burnt. I also helped for a while in the ambulance, but I don’t know much about that and so I could not do a lot. I handed out H2O2, iodine, bandages and so on, and those who had been cared for we brought to the wards where they had to be lodged. By the way, the nurses couldn’t do more either.
When I saw that Later I went to help in the operating room. Normally the operating room is taboo for any lay person, not even every nurse may enter there. I could not do anything but hold people when they were under anaesthesia. But I’ve seen everything. Yesterday I was sick from it all day and last night I was really ill. Some were simply operated without anaesthesia. The shrieking was terrible. I do not know how many arms and legs were amputated, laying all on a heap in the corner. It was not until 11 o’clock I went home. Carla left already at half past eight. She had helped in the X-ray department. I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately, but last night it was not so easy. I was never afraid of bomb attacks. Only now that I have experienced it myself. Today has been an alarm twice. As it seems, bombs have fallen again, but more distant. Yesterday there was no water, today it was back. There is still no gas.
Approximately one thousand deaths are estimated. I was so worried about Jopie and his children. I thought that they could have left in the afternoon with the train I wrote about. So I made it to the station to ask, but that train had already gone at that time. Moreover, I met [?] in the afternoon, who told me that Jopie was still at home safely. People say that Enschede and Venlo have been bombed too, even worse than here. In Arnhem there are also 16 deaths.
This morning I received your letter, mum. There was no money in it, which you announced. From whom do you know about Paul? Nice that Dora will come to help you. Has Gerda got 3 girls now? I will come home as soon as possible.
At the moment you can feel safe nowhere, but then I am at least with you. I think about March 3rd. One day I still have to stay in Roermond.
All love from me
The center of Nijmegen after both German and Allied bomb attacks