45. Hotel Erica
After Nijmegen was bombed on 22nd February 1944, Hotel Erica in nearby Berg en Dal became a refugee centre for those who had lost their homes. When Operation Market Garden commenced seven months later, the then seven year old Julia van Vliet and her father, watched in surprise asthousands of coloured parachutes fell from the skies. The largest airborne operation in history had begun!
Hundreds of gliders and thousands of parachutists landed in the area around Groesbeek and Berg en Dal. They had been given the important task of capturing the bridges in Nijmegen. When fierce fighting broke out on 17th September 1944 in Berg en Dal, the refugees were still hiding in the cellar at Hotel Erica, along with the hotel´s owner, Mr Van Vliet, and his family.
In 2013, Ms Van Vliet tells the story of what happened to her in 1944: "The people in the hotel´s cellar could hear the fighting coming and going in waves outside, and they were terrified. Machine-gun fire, mortars and grenades were going off all at once. It was pandemonium. Then all of a sudden, the door flew open and eight heavily-armed soldiers stormed into the cellar in strange green uniforms. Nobody recognised the soldiers´ uniforms, but they knew they were not German. Who could they be? The soldiers didn´t say a word. They just looked around the half-lit cellar in search of Germans, and when they didn´t find any, they dissappeared just as suddenly as they had arrived. Everybody was frightened, and wondered if this meant liberation or not… ”
… will have to wait
“A little while later, the door flew open again. First a gun barrel appeared from around the corner, followed by grey figures. We all knew who they were. They were German soldiers. Silent and tense; they looked around expecting to find Americans. It felt like a bizarre game of hide and seek. When the door flew open a third time and even more soldiers stormed in, we could see that they were the same American soldiers as a few hours earlier. But now there were only five of them... ”
It has been 70 years since these events took place, and they still remain firmly etched on Ms Van Vliet´s memory. She may have her own perspective compared to the historical reports, but that will never detract from her remarkable memories.
Fletcher Hotel Erica, Molenbosweg 17, 6571 BA Berg en Dal GPS code: 51˚49’18.7”N 5˚54’30”O