Through Pake’s eyes….

MaasdamThis morning I woke up thinking about the fact that 67 years ago my Pake and Beppe and 10 of their 12 kids set out to board the Maasdam ship. This ship would bring their thoughts, conversation, prayers and steps towards immigration to reality.

I have often wished I could have spoken more with my Pake and Beppe about what this was like for them. My Pake died when I was in 4th grade and even though I was in my 20’s when my Beppe died, I had was not yet reflective enough in my own spirit to envision what these major decisions were like for her.

Immigration is the story of both my Dad and Mom in their pre-teen years. They did not know one another then, but there is something they understood about one another when they met. Their story is our story and we embrace immigration as a very brave and courageous step on behalf of all who journeyed that road.

I wanted to share with you the words of my Pake as he wrote a 10-page letter during those days of travel. I share this with you so that it can be forever a part of my documents. I print my blogs each year and then I will have this letter bound and retained for future generations.

So I share with you a few pictures first of the days when my family story was marked by courage, adventure, travel, faith, grieving, sadness, anticipation, and hope. I am struck by the words of my Pake:

On our boat trip, we heard a lot about emigration and how people see the future. I hope the material things are not our priority because once when we land in a strange country, we hope we can assist one another in the material and spiritual matters. If we can spiritually help one another, then we have gained—we left much behind—two daughters, a future son-in-law, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and a brother-in-law seriously ill (Omke Cornelius Peereboom). We know that Moses’s prayer was the same as we pray today that unless the Lord accompanies us we cannot depart from here. The God we worshiped in the Netherlands is the same God in our new country. (see his full letter below)

This picture of my Mom and her family is a classic. It was taken the day they went for passports. It is all 12 of the children, even though 2 of them immigrated at a later date.

beppe birthday pic-1

The other pictures are taken on the Maasdam during the days of travel from Rotterdam to Hoboken, New York.

While on the boat, Pake wrote a 10-page letter (long-hand) to Aunt Follie who was over 18 and could not travel with her family. She came later and traveled with a neighbor/friend—Anne Rooks. My Aunt Anita translated Pake’s letter in 2003 when many of us went to Sussex to celebrate their arrival in Sussex 50 years ago. 

Wijnjeterp, March 28, 1953 

Around 5:00 A.M. we departed by chartered bus from Mr. And Mrs. Marcus Tolman’s home. Our family, 15 people, was joined by the Andringa family of 8 members and two friends. First, we stopped by Tante Aukje, mother’s sister, who joined us for the trip to Rotterdam. From there we traveled to Beetsterzwaag, where Anita and Wilma had stayed by Omke Andries (Dad’s brother) and Tante Harmke for their final night in the Netherlands. Next, we set off forKampen, Overijsel, where Tante Wietske, mother’s sister, joined us also. 

Finally, we were on our way to the boat in Rotterdam. We stopped in Amersfoort, Utrecht, where we enjoyed a final Dutch cup of coffee en broodje (sandwich). Once when we arrived in Rotterdam mom went shopping for a new dress and Dad bought Anita a fountain pen so she could do some writing on the boat. After those purchases, we were ready to set sail. Our luggage was taken from the bus and checked at the border. Everything was in order and the luggage was taken to our cabins, which was to be our home for the next several days.1953_family on the boat.jpg

Emigration papers (visum) were carefully checked which was very time-consuming. We were each given a yellow card and further checks were made, especially the money (dollars and guilders) was counted carefully. (Every family member was allowed to take a certain amount of money along. editor) Finally, we were ready to enter the boat. I got very confused with all the papers, because one needs this one, and the other some other paper, that I was happy when we were finally on board. We waved a final farewell to those who had accompanied us, which was extremely difficult. Around 2:00 P.M. everything was in order and we departed. 

1953_Dinner on the boat (2)

Early Sunday morning we arrived in Dover, France. Around500 people boarded the boat there and a lot of mail was put on board. The White Cliffs of Dover were a magnificent view, especially for those who had never traveled beyond Leeuwarden. We could not believe our eyes. When all was ready we set sail across the Channel to England. Everyone had a good night and we enjoyed our meal. The service is superb. Sunday morning around 10:30 A.M. we enjoyed a Dutch church service, given by a Gereformeerde dominie. Around 11:30 A.M. another American dinner with everything cooked together. We enjoyed the food more by our hostess of the last few weeks. You have to get used to everything, even the food. I cannot tell you how much silverware appeared at each plate, knives, forks, and spoons. Also, several types of plates were used for old and young alike. They provide excellent service. As far as that goes Tante Aukje en Tante Harmke can well enjoy a boat trip and come for a visit. It is too bad that after a few days you just cannot eat and enjoy all the food. If you don’t like the food, ask the waiter for something else, or a cold buffet. You can get anything your heart desires. 

If you are troubled with seasickness then don’t eat too much soup, just take a rusk and an apple. I am sure you will hear about that. 

Follie and Anna (Rooks, a friend), rent a couple of deck chairs with blankets right away which will cost you around 10 guilders a piece. You can use them for the entire trip—do it right away and the best place is in the middle of the boat because at the front and back it is quite drafty. Just rent the blankets because then you don’t need to take any of your own and then you do not need to care for them either. 

Around 6 o’clock on Sunday evening we arrived in England. More people etc. joined us and around midnight we left for Ireland. Our cabin boy was not the friendliest so I decided to tip him 10 guilders. If you travel with the two of you just give him each 1 guilder and you can pay that from the boat credit which is paid by Vander Meulen from Gorredyk, and then you can exchange by the purser. If you have extra money you can always exchange it in the USA. Take each around 50 guilders and if you don’t think that is enough take a bit more, because it is the beginning in America and we’ll let it roll. But that does not matter, because you can earn it here again. 

Monday afternoon around 2:20 P.M. English time (in the Netherlands it is one hour later). Aafke (Mem) is next to me reading a book in a very luxurious sitting room. P. (Piet) D. (Dirkje) H. (Henny) in bed and Jaltina and Simmie and Minne in the playroom. Aukje and Wieke are on deck and Jan in the beszaal (?) Now I quit for the evening. 

Monday evening 8:15 P.M. (English time)—Around 6 o’clock we had a delicious dinner and arrived in Ireland. The boat did not go ashore but the passengers and freight, including automobiles, were loaded by boat—all in all it took about two hours. 

We met the New Amsterdam, which was returning from New York and going towards Rotterdam. When it arrived in Ireland we could see it. It was a very picturesque site. Possibly because of the rough coast, the larger ships do not go directly into the harbor but remain at sea. We also enjoyed some folk dancing with around 500 people. It’s around 9 o’clock–I would like to do some reading yet and then under the wool blankets. 

Tuesday morning–half of the twelve absent at the breakfast table. We just took some dry rusks and apples to the “patients”, and then quickly on deck and just lay around in the deck chairs. All but one of the Andringa family was seasick. Our minister on board, Rev. Van Dyk, is immigrating to Canada with 6 or 7 children. He was serving in Gouda, a nice place. Every day he was the only one at the table because the rest of the family was all seasick. Rev. Van Dyk’s parents used to live on a farm in Marum, Groningen. He is a very nice person with whom I have enjoyed many hours discussing emigration. He had ministered in four different places and experienced an awful lot in his congregations during World War II. He is a very sympathetic person and sees the emigration as part of a calling. It was also difficult for him to leave since his parents are still living. In spite of that, he felt he had to answer the call. 

On our boat trip, we heard a lot about emigration and how people see the future. I hope the material things are not our priority because once when we land in a strange country, we hope we can assist one another in the material and spiritual matters. If we can spiritually help one another, then we have gained—we left much behind—two daughters, a future son-in-law, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and a brother-in-law seriously ill (Omke Cornelius Peereboom). We know that Moses’s prayer was the same as we pray today that unless the Lord accompanies us we cannot depart from here. The God we worshiped in the Netherlands is the same God in our new country. 

This afternoon 6 family members were absent at the table. We had a cold buffet because soup etc did not look appetizing. After dinner, I was favored with the company of someone from Murmerswoude who was immigrating to America with his wife and five children. We played some checkers. After that, I met a 65-year-old German who had lived in Michigan for more than 20 years. His first wife had died and he recently married a 25-year-old. He had served in the German army during World War I and had returned to Germany to visit his children. There are many passengers around 50 and 60 years old who are taking a trip to the U.S.A. One person from Wolvega now living in Echten is 78 years old and he plans to visit his daughter in the U.S.A. Nobody on the boat is discouraging immigration. Everybody is very positive and hopefully, we will not be disappointed. One praises the U.S.A. more than the other. 

Now it is 3:30 (English Time) and we are on the big ocean. It is quite calm to be gliding along with a seafaring village. You just cannot imagine what it is like. Dance floors and really everything is on board. I’ll quit for now, perhaps after dinner, I’ll start again. 

1953_family of 10

Around 6:00 P.M.—We were all at the dinner table. At night I played checkers with an American, who had taken a trip to Groningen, a very nice person. He lives around 60 km from our place. He is also CRC. Around ten o’clock everybody went to the cabin. Wednesday morning everybody was there for breakfast, then we walked and after that, it was just laying around. Around 10:30 a demonstration was held with the life jackets and boats should something serioushappen. Around noon everybody was at the table for lunch and in the afternoon reading, laying around, and a nap was in order. Dinner at 6 o’clock, then I played checkers with a principal’s wife from Itens around Sneek. She was a bit too clever for me as I lost twice, but she belonged to a club, so she was a special player. She was traveling to see her sister in Canada. Around 9 o’clock we went to bed as my wife was getting tired and sleepy. It will be a long night because we will lose again 45 minutes. Everybody had a wonderful rest and Thursday morning accompanied by the three youngest children walking on deck. Because it is too warm to be in the cabins. A bit of activity— then the food tastes better too. After we ate I enjoyed some quiet time reading and the younger children went to the playroom. 

All-day Friday we just sat around, the weather quite rough so that they had to fasten down the deck chairs. It is Good Friday and 8:30 we had a church service in the children’s playroom. It was overcrowded. It is surely nice to be in “church” again, it gives you again a different feeling. The minister had a good sermon. After church we sat around for a while—once again we lost another 45 minutes and if you go to bed early then the night does get to be very long. In the morning you really don’t have anything to do–it is getting a bit tiresome. 

Saturday morning everybody ate breakfast, and Sunday one more sermon from our Dutch minister. Beautiful weather and Monday P.M. we expect to land in Hoboken, New York. Then the officers will come on board before we enter the harbor. All papers have to be ready. Should you arrive in the evening then look around carefully because it is a beautiful sight to see the city all lit up. If all is well we hope to be there then. When you leave the boat the suitcases are placed on a big lot, they will take them there for you. Keep your purse and money with you, Follie. Your suitcases will be placed by the “K” while Anna’s will be at the “R.” After that, you are ready to start your journey to Sussex 

Summary of Heit’s instructions: 

  1. Follie and Anna, in Rotterdam you’ll see a long table with officers behind it. They may open the suitcases (they did not open ours) and after that, they will be delivered for you to your cabin. They will be there before you get to see i.t 
  2. When you get there ask for information as to where you must show your paperwork, stay calm, they will not leave without you. There you’ll receive your paperwork as a passenger and you have to show that when you enter the boat. 
  1. In your cabin, you’ll find the seating for the dining room. At mealtime, someone will walk around with a bell and then you just follow the crowd. 
  1. Read carefully the instructions above the sink in the cabin. You’ll find it in Dutch and English. It looks something like this. 
  1. When Trina and Louis take you to the boat try to show them your cabin. That is allowed. Just prior to departure there was an announcement that visitors had to leave because the boat was leaving. It will give them a chance to see something. 
  1. It would be good for both of you to write a diary—that way you can look back and remember what it was like and it will also help pass the time. 
  1. Now, immediately rent a deck chair with a blanket when you go onboard. If you get seasick it will be helpful to be on deck, and if you rent the blanket you do not need to take care of your own. They do put them out for you every morning. If you don’t get seasick you can enjoy the chair reading and just laying around. The best place is under the roof. One area has windows but they open and at the rear, it gets quite drafty.

It has been a good day to be with the thoughts of what this day may have been like so many years ago. I would love to sit with my Aunts and Uncles and hear more of what they remember from the experience. Perhaps in these days of COVID-19 you can sit and write a letter to a loved one and ask them some of the questions that you wonder about. We have time my friends to pursue the details of our stories I am grateful to know more of mine today!


Author: trishborgdorff

I am on a life long journey to live with integrity, honesty, kindness and full of grace.

One thought on “Through Pake’s eyes….”

  1. Trish, I really enjoyed reading your Pair’s letter (my omke). It’s the first letter that I’ve read with a mention of my Dad Kornelus. Also your beppe’s sister tante Wietske as a kid I spend a lot of time with omke Geert and tante Wietske in Kampen at apeldoornse straat 52A .


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