garden, reassuring him that she would be all right. They bid each
other a hasty - and as it turned out, final - goodbye. Mona went
into the house to prepare for the arrival of the Gestapo. The
Gestapo arrived at Ingleside at approximately 7 p.m.. Mona played
the charming society hostess, inviting them into the house and
offering them drinks and cigars, which they readily accepted. They
told her that they had been to Willem's office and told that he was
away. They asked where he was. Mona told him the story that she
and Willem had agreed upon: Willem was fishing in Friesland and
Mona wasn't certain when he would return. They asked more
questions about their movements and activities, giving dates and
asking her to account for their whereabouts. Mona thought things
were going fairly well, and the conversation continued in this way
for about an hour. Then the two Gestapo officers announced that
they were taking her to the office. Confused, Mona said that Willem
wasn't at his office - he was fishing in Friesland. Then came the
words that caused her stomach to flip and her heart to chill. She
was to accompany them to their offices in Amsterdam. They
wouldn't permit her to leave the room to get a jacket or her purse,
and escorted her to the car outside. When the doors of Ingleside
closed behind her, they marked the last time she would see
Ingleside for nearly four years.
Mona was taken to the Weteringschane Prison, the skeleton of
which still stands today, located in one of the lively sections of
Amsterdam, famous for its street performers on the Leidseplein and
the nearby Rijksmuseum, Staadgebouw Theatre, and diamond
houses. After the war, the prison was closed down, and the space
rented to artists looking for painting studios or writers' garrets.
After its use as an arts cooperative ended, the former prison was
renovated, re-opening as the Holland Casino, one of the sites and
stopping points on the canal-boat tour and water-taxi routes. Peaks
of the original exterior walls are still visible, poking up from the top
of the new building like fingers of imprisoned wraiths, trying to
escape - reminders of the building's wartime use. Today, visitors
can play chess, moving large chess pieces on a board painted on
the ground in the courtyard, or they can take their chances in the
casino, where the only thing they risk losing these days is their
At Weteringschane, Mona was subjected to repeated questioning.
She tried various approaches, including feigning boredom and
pretending ignorance of people whose names she knew. Initially she
believed the Gestapo were on a bit of a fishing trip of their own,
asking about people and hoping that she would betray something.
She was shaken to the core, however, when the Gestapo produced
files with details about people she knew.
The two British flyers whom she and Willem had sheltered had been
caught in Leiden. Though Richard Pape made a desperate attempt
to tear up his diary and his code book and flush them down the
toilet, (as he dramatically described in a book he wrote later,
scooping the unflushed pieces out of the toilet and eating them as
the Gestapo broke down the door) he neglected to exercise the
same precaution with one damning piece of evidence against Mona.
In Pape's pocket was Mona's calling card.
Mona also learned that other members of the little network had
been captured. Numb with shock, she listened as she heard the
names of people she knew read aloud with others she didn't
recognise: Bernard Besselink, a farmer; Jan Agterkamp, a
journalist; Frederik Boessenkool, a teacher; Jan Huese, a
businessman; Harmen van der Leek, a professor; and Dirk Brouwer.
Brouwer would face a firing squad in November.
As she listened, Mona realised that there was no way out, but she
remained calm. By turns, the tactics used on her were gentle and
imploring, then aggressive and threatening. She was put in solitary
confinement, with nothing more than a piece of straw-filled ticking
on the stone floor and a bucket in which to relieve herself. She
The Nazis began to realise they'd completely misjudged the tall,
willowy socialite. They held Mona for nearly three months without
charge. At least one friend, Lie van Oldenburg tried to intervene on
her behalf to obtain her release. Her requests - to a former friend
who had joined the Dutch Nazi party - were denied, but she was
granted permission to visit. Lie described the visit as somewhat
surreal. Mona greeted her in the visit room as though they were
meeting at a restaurant, full of charm and confidence. The parcel of
food, personal care items and a sewing kit had been carefully
inspected and Lie was permitted to give them to Mona, who
thanked her for her kindness. They chatted about generalities.
Mona asked about her house and her dogs. Lie assured her that Bep
was looking after everything and that Mona's cat Wimpy was also
fine. He'd run away from home, but had eventually come back,
looking the sleek, healthy black cat he'd always been. Mona didn't
have a cat, but her heart leapt at the news. It meant that Willem -
whom she called Wim - had returned home and knew of her
detention. Mona also knew that he wouldn't have risked remaining
at Ingleside, which was doubtless still under surveillance, but she
couldn't ask Lie for more information. At the end of their visit, Mona
crossed the room to thank Lie for the visit and shake her hand. Lie's
heart skipped a beat when she realised that Mona had pressed
something into her hand. Petrified that someone had seen the
exchange, Lie didn't dare to look until she was well clear of the
prison. Mona had given her a list of items that she wanted moved
from Ingleside. Certain that she wouldn't soon be released and
realising that Willem couldn't risk living in the house, she wanted to
ensure that items of value - among them jewellery, papers, vintage
wines - were removed from the house before the inevitable
occupation by some high-ranking officers. With Bep's help, Lie went
to Ingleside and, in the course of one night, removed as much as
they could. Items were wrapped in cloth, then buried in Lie's garden
and cellar to await Mona's release.
About a month after her incarceration, Mona received a note that an
effort was being made to secure her release and to await further
instruction. She would be contacted by someone known to her,
someone she could trust. On a date now lost in time and with a plan
that was not recorded, her friend and chauffeur de Boer went to
Weteringschane Prison with the intention of helping Mona to escape.
Lie believed it's possible de Boer was duped by a traitor into
believing that, for a sum of money, Mona would be released in the
middle of the night, and that all de Boer had to do was show up at
the prison. Whatever his plan, it went awry. De Boer was taken into
custody. Mona was distraught when, a few days later, she received
a concealed message, written on tissue paper, informing her only
that de Boer had been executed for his efforts.
At 8 o'clock on the morning of December 22, 1941, the doors of
Mona's cell were thrown open and she was told to dress. Confused
and somewhat afraid, she asked why. The guard told her that she
was going to trial. The news confused her even more. No mention
had been made of a trial, she'd had no consultation with a lawyer,
didn't even know the charges against her. She was taken to the
Carlton Hotel on the Vijzelstraat where, in a ballroom, she was
taken before a military tribunal. According to Hans de Vries of RIOD
(The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation): "[Mona's] case
Mona was taken to the Weteringschane Prison.
They wouldn't permit her to leave the room to get a
jacket or her purse, and escorted her to the car
page 2 of 4
page 2 of 4
was taken very seriously by the Germans. She was tried before a
military court. No woman - or hardly any women - [had] been
convicted in a military court - and certainly not in 1941".
The military officer assigned to represent her spoke no English.
Mona protested and a second officer, who spoke a smattering of
English and Dutch, was assigned to her. She couldn't follow the
proceedings, but completely understood when the officer told her to
stand and the word 'todesstraffe' was pronounced - death sentence.
She was to die by firing squad. They may have expected that such
news would cause her to crack, to plead for her life, to tell them
what they wanted to know. But she remained calm and resolute,
bowing her slightly and clicking her heels together. "Guten Morgen,
meine Herren," was all she said in a clear voice before she turned
to be led from the room.
The chief judge of the tribunal was so impressed that he followed
her from the courtroom. He told her that, although she would be
transferred to Amstelveense Prison to await her execution, he
would permit her to appeal her sentence. To that end, she would be
permitted writing materials upon her return to Weteringschane. She
crafted her appeal to General der Flieger, Franz Christiansen - not a
many known for compassion and leniency. The document has not
survived, but in it Mona recalled that she spoke about the friends
they had in common and that, were it not for the insanity of war,
they would likely have met one another, possibly even have liked
one another. Whatever she wrote, on January 17, 1942,
Christiansen commuted her sentence to life at labour - exactly one
month before Mona's forty-first birthday.
On March 6, 1942 Mona was taken with several other prisoners to a
train station, where she was told that she was being moved to the
Anrath Prison in Germany (photo at
she waited, she was stunned to see Willem among other prisoners
being put on another train. Without thinking of the consequences,
she ran to him, embraced him. She was able to utter "Have
courage, my love" in Dutch before she was wrenched away. She
would later learn that Willem had been arrested the day before her
own trial in December 1941. There she was housed with other
political prisoners as well as common criminals. Cells were small
and over-crowded, sleeping four in a cell designed for one. Food
rations were minimal. The toilet was a bucket in the middle of the
floor, splashed with creosote to mask the smell. Bathing was
confined to a bowl of cold water and a piece of clay soap.
Mona was transferred to Wiedenbruck, where she worked on an
assembly line creating plywood wings for small craft, then on a line
assembling igniters for bombs. She became ill with bronchitis
several times, and when put in the infirmary, was tasked with
knitting socks for German soldiers. She recalled having performed
the same task for Canadian soldiers in World War Two. Although
instructed not to have more than three breaks in the wool, Mona
derived great satisfaction in breaking it frequently when not
watched, then incorporating large knots of wool in the soles of the
socks. Any act of defiance, regardless of how small, was enough to
buoy her spirits, to help her survive.
On February 6, 1945, the prisoners at Wiedenbruck were herded
onto a train bound for another prison in Vechta. Close by were two
hospitals, an airfield and a major train junction. Mona was put to
work both in the prison and on occasional details outside, to take
food from the prison kitchen to wounded soldiers and other patients
in the hospitals.
Shortly after arriving at Vechta, another group of prisoners were
brought in, among them a 22-year old Dutch baroness named
Wendelien van Boetzelaer. Intrigued why Wendelien was separated
from the group and immediately put in solitary confinement, Mona
resolved to find out more. While working in the kitchen, she slipped
a cooked potato into a secret pocket in her prison apron, and
smuggled it to Wendelien in her cell on the top floor of the prison.
Had she been caught, the consequences would have been dire.
Wendelien recalled years later that when she saw Mona's hand poke
through the door, holding a potato, she knew she had a friend.
Although some of the guards were drawn from Nazi ranks, the
director of the prison was a civilian who showed as much
compassion as she deemed safe. Mona begged her to let Wendelien
- housed in a cell in a century-old prison, with no heat, in the
middle of winter - to join the rest of the prison population. After
several days, Wendelien was permitted to move to the main floor
and to take part in exercise in the prison yard. Although permitted
to walk only in a circle in one direction and forbidden to talk to one
another, Wendelien managed to convey to Mona that she intended
to escape, as she had done a few other times. This time, she
intended to take Mona with her.
The morning of March 24, 1945 was sunny despite the frosty chill.
Although Allied planes had flown overhead over the previous
several days and had been chased off with anti-aircraft fire, the
skies were quiet as the work details went about their daily chores.
Without warning, the skies were suddenly filled with Allied planes.
This time, however, they carried deadly payloads. The air was filled
with smoke, bursts of anti-aircraft fire and the sound of bombs
exploding. For a moment, the female prisoners stood frozen in
horrified silence as a bomb struck the men's prison next door,
killing all inside. The director of the women's prison scramble to
throw open the doors of her prison. Many had realised for some
time that the war was close to ending. She decided to let her
prisoners take their chances, rather than face certain death inside
the prison walls.
Without hesitation, Wendelien grabbed Mona's hand and raced out
of the gates, through the smoke, gunfire and bombs, uncertain of
exactly where they were heading. They only knew that they had to
put some distance between them and the prison, finding safe
refuge along the way. They ran towards the airfield, intending to
make their way along the periphery towards the forest at the other
side. Dropping into pillboxes along the way, they rested there until
the smoked cleared enough for Wendelien to cite another pillbox.
Once certain they were free and not followed, the women stopped
to consider their next steps. They'd been permitted to have
sweaters, which they still wore, and had shoes which, though falling
apart would carry them over the frozen countryside for a few
kilometres. They removed as much of their garb that marked them
as prisoners and buried it in the mud on the roadside.
Wendelien spoke German fluently and proposed that she play the
part of Mona's niece. Although Mona also spoke German, they
realised they couldn't risk having her speak, as her Canadian accent
would give her away. Mona decided that, given her training as an
actor, she could convincingly play the part of someone with a cleft
palate who was also intellectually challenged. It would be the role
of a lifetime.
For the next three weeks, they walked across Germany, even after
their shoes gave out and they were forced to walk barefoot. They
begged food and lodging at farms along the way, offering their
physical labour as payment. They were nearly caught on a couple of
occasions, but finally reached the village of Rhede on the Dutch-