This paper, yellowed with age, torn, and tissue thin, was among the papers my mother gave me.
Sigaren, Tabak Enz.
Weste Wagenstraat 75
Goudsche Wagenstraat 7 (?)
Den Haag, Denneweg 9c
Specialiteit in Sigaretten & Eimporteerde Havana en Manila Sigaren
Even without knowing Dutch, it’s clear that Mr. Vanderdonck was in the tobacco business, cigars and cigarettes, and had three stores, two in Rotterdam and one in the Hague.
Steven and I were in Rotterdam for 6 days, and on arrival went looking for the sites of the two stores. The streets remained; the numbers sometimes remained. But nothing is left of Mr. Vanderdonck’s Rotterdam.
Traveling teaches history. I learned, in searching for my great-grandfather’s businesses, that all of Rotterdam, except for three buildings, was bombed to the ground on May 14, 1940. Hitler’s troops were advancing into the Netherlands. Rotterdam put up a much fiercer fight than Hitler expected, hence his decree:
The resistance capability of the Dutch army has proved to be stronger than expected. Political as well as military reasons demand that this resistance is broken as soon as possible. It is the task of the army to capture the Fortress Holland by committing enough forces from the south, combined with an attack on the east front. In addition to that the air force must, while weakening the forces that up till now have supported the 6th Army, facilitate the rapid fall of the Fortress Holland.
The objectives: to support the German troops fighting in Holland, to destroy the Dutch resistance, and to force Holland to surrender.
Fearful of losing other cities to the German bombers, and unable to defend themselves from the air, the Dutch surrendered after the almost total destruction of Rotterdam by carpet bombing. (Their resistance was never weakened.)
When the air strike was over, only three buildings were left standing. One was the Laurenskirk, which has since been restored, and the city was eventually rebuilt around it.
Laurenskirk was the neighborhood in which Grandmother lived with her mother and father. Nearby was the church where she made her First Holy Communion, St. Rosalia. (More on that soon.) And it was the neighborhood of the cigar stores.
From old photos, it looks as if it was a thriving business district. Butcher shops, patisseries, shoe stores lined the Wagenstraat. It was close enough to the busy port so that sailors and passengers might have walked up and purchased cigars and cigarettes.
We found a cafe that we especially liked, Cafe Dudok, on Weste Wagenstraat, and had several meals there. They served some Dutch specialities, including a marvellous dark beer, and braised lamp shanks with hutspot, a hodge-podge of vegetables which my mother used to make. In some way, we felt at home.
I’ll post our photos of current-day Rotterdam tomorrow.