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No time to dwell on the past

The Van Zijps lived through the reconstruction of Rotterdam, and also through its bombardment. After the war the built up their lives again quickly.

No time to dwell on the past

“We were one of the thousands of families who lived in the centre of Rotterdam. My father had a cigar shop on Westewagenstraat. In a very old building, and we lived in the downstairs flat. That afternoon, 14 May, the five of us we eating a sandwich in the living room when the bombing started. One bomb landed a little down the street, leaving a crater about eight metres in diameter. The force was so strong that the entire front of our building was pushed inwards. It caused a massive cloud of dust and soot that darkened the whole room, darker than the black of night. And then came the shout: “Are you still alive?” A few minutes later, after we could see a little, I discovered that we could reach the fire stairs through the corridor that ran along the side of the house. When we had made it outside through there, I looked up and saw the walls toppling towards each other. We had hardly reached Wagenstraat before the whole building collapsed.”

From: ‘And then it was dark’, a story written by Mr van Zijp in 1999.


Mr and Mrs van Zijp are Rotterdammers born and bred. Indeed, they witnessed the bombardment of the city centre first hand. Both of them lived in the centre, close to Meent. The story of Mr van Zijp has even appeared in the book Onze vaders in het verzet (‘Our fathers in the resistence’). The bombing has a terrible experience, an experience that only resurfaced years later, when they’d got their lives well and truly back on the rails again.

After the bombardment, the city centre was left uninhabitable at a stroke.

After the bombardment, the city centre was left uninhabitable at a stroke. Everything had disappeared, including the home and business of Mrs van Zijp’s family. Her father said: “We’ve nothing left, but we have each other.” That was all that mattered, but he passed away a year after the liberation.


Mrs van Zijp moved to Hilligersberg and Mr van Zijp moved in with his family. Both of them were teenagers at the time. Every week Mr van Zijp did a stint at Sint Franciscus Hospital, as a member of the rescue team. Two members slept in the hospital and two at the home of the doctor, which was closer to the barracks built to accommodate the extra demand for beds. Two of the boys secretly placed a typewriter in the boiler room, where a resistance newspaper called, De Wacht, named after keeping watch in the hospital, was published. Mr van Zijp distributed the newspaper, and he remembers it as a time when solidarity prevailed. And despite the constant fear, there was also time for a bit of fun, for flirting with nurses to get an extra cup of coffee. But there were also the friends they lost in the war.

And despite the constant fear, there was also time for a bit of fun, for flirting with nurses to get an extra cup of coffee.

Street parties

Both of them remember the joy they felt after the Liberation. Immediately after the war a number of parties were organized in the city, including street parties. Mr and Mrs van Zijp met at one such event. Mr van Zijp recalls it fondly, but doesn’t need to have it written down. In any case, the encounter led to their marriage, which ensures to this day. They married in Hilligersberg, because “Where the girl lives, that’s where you married, both the church wedding and civil ceremony.”

Building up again

They didn’t have time to process everything after the war. Life continued, and they were young. As the city around them was rebuilt bit by bit, they worked hard to build a brighter future. Studying, working, finding a house, eventually getting married. There was no time to dwell on the past. It must have been difficult, says Mr van Zijp, especially for the elderly. “You were happy just to be able to work again.” Mrs van Zijp even started an office job before the end of the war, while he began as a runner boy in the textile trade before gradually working his way up through promotion. “That’s what you thought about. You didn’t think too much about the war or the old city. Instead, it was about getting your manufacturing certificate and commercial diploma.” “All we did was build ourselves up.” In the meantime, the city was rebuilt, but the couple paid little attention to that, busy as they were with their own lives. “You had no time or energy to think about what was or wasn’t beautiful.”

“You had no time or energy to think about what was or wasn’t beautiful.”

City people

The couple moved a few times, and when a baby arrived they found a bigger home. “With another child you were entitled to another room.” Both prefer life at the heart of the city. “The centre attracts us.” Real city dwellers are what they are. Every day they take a stroll. But it’s not as if they had a choice in terms of location. “They built, and we followed”. The house had to look neat and tidy all the time of course, with carpeting and fine curtains and that type of thing. Luckily that wasn’t a problem, since Mr van Zijp worked ‘in textiles’. That meant he could arrange the furnishing of their new home easily. The retail business has changed tremendously, he thinks. Previously it really was about serving customers, but today it’s all about self-service. For years you saw an increase in the number of shops in the city, but now you see more and more vacant shops.

But it’s not as if they had a choice in terms of location.

Proud of the city

Today the couple lives quite happily above the neighbourhood centre on Kipstraat in the Hoogkwartier district. It’s lively in the centre, and they join various activities. Mrs van Zijp exercises in the gym, and the pair eat at ‘the wooden spoon’. Mrs van Zijp always did a lot of volunteer work, and she’s still in touch with people from those days. Why she did that? “Making a difference for people. That’s what you do it for. Helping others always did a lot for me.”

When Mr van Zijp casts his eye across the skyline of Rotterdam, he feels proud, proud of the city and respect and appreciation for the generation that rebuilt the city. He recites Jan Prins:

“In Rotterdam I was born

Close to the Maas and its fleet

And sunk in silence I walked,

Amidst the roar of the street.”

The couple is also proud of their “17-strong clan”: the whole family captured on a nicely framed family portrait. The following generations are doing fine.

The story of
Echtpaar Van Zijp