|  ©  Andria Hill - Lehr  |  Port George  |  Nova Scotia  | the Officical Web site from Mona Parsons.
Mona   was   crammed   once   more   into   the   airless cattle   car   of   a   train,   this   time   northbound   for   a   prison   in Vechta.   The   prison   had   been   a   reform   school   for   girls prior   to   the   war,   but   the   inmates   were   released   when the     need     for     space     to     house     foreign     prisoners increased. Shortly   after   Mona's   arrival   another   small   group   of   prisoners was   delivered   to   Vechta.   One   young   woman   was   confined   to   her   cell and   not   permitted   to   join   the   other   prisoners   for   meals   or   exercise. Though   initially   unsure   why   her   prison-mate   had   to   abide   by   special restrictions,   Mona   felt   sorry   for   her   and   attempted   to   make   contact, if   only   to   boost   the   young   woman's   spirits   and   to   let   her   know   she had   one   friend   in   the   prison.   At   the   end   of   her   kitchen   detail,   Mona slipped   a   cooked   potato   undetected   into   a   secret   pocket   she   had sewn   in   the   skirt   of   her   uniform   for   the   purpose,   and   smuggled   it   to the young woman. Grateful, the newcomer accepted the gift. The    recent    arrival    introduced    herself    as    Wendelien    van Boetzelaer,   a   22-year   old   baroness   and   university   student   who   had been    rounded    up    with    several    others    for    prolonged    resistance activity. Although   Wendelien   was   struck   by   Mona's   almost   wild-eyed appearance   and   a   cheerful   demeanor   that   bordered   on   manic,   she recalled   more   than   50   years   later   that   what   impressed   her   most about   Mona   was   her   life   force.   "She   had   a   great   repertoire   of   songs. She   had   naughty   songs,   happy   songs…."   And   with   the   inventive humor    that    seems    to    have    been    consistent    among    those    who survived   long   terms   in   Nazi   prisons   and   camps,   Mona   entertained her prison-mates. Mona quickly acquainted Wendelien with the hierarchy of the prison. The   prison   director,   Mona   had   discovered,   was   not   like   her Nazi   counterparts.   In   fact,   she   was   a   lesbian,   and   as   such   was   not sympathetic    to    the    Nazi    persecution    of    homosexuals.    She    had compassion   for   most   of   the   women   in   her   charge,   though   she   was not   willing   to   risk   her   life   or   position   for   them.   As   long   as   she   was head   of   the   prison,   she   could   take   care   of   the   women   in   some   way. Imprisoned or dead, she could be of no help. Mona   persuaded   the   prison   director   to   let   Wendelien   out   of her   cell   to   join   the   rest   of   the   prisoners   for   work   tasks,   meals   and   to take   exercise.   Although   daily   life   in   the   prison   was   bleak,   Mona knew   it   was   better   to   be   with   the   general   population   than   cooped   up alone   in   a   damp   cell   every   cold   winter   day.   When   assigned   to kitchen   duties,   both   women   smuggled   pieces   of   cooked   potatoes   to share with women assigned to other tasks in the prison. Exercise   in   the   prison   yard   consisted   of   prisoners   shuffling along   single   file   in   a   circle.   Talk   was   most   dangerous   during   these sessions.   The   exercise   was   torturous   for   malnourished   women   clad in   thin   clothing.   The   pace   at   which   they   needed   to   walk   to   create some   warmth   was   not   allowed,   so   they   struggled   along,   enduring the   cold   until   they   could   seek   shelter   inside   the   old   building,   which wasn't   much   warmer   but   which   at   least   offered   some   protection from the elements. On   returning   indoors   after   one   such   session,   Wendelien   quickly   told Mona   that   she   was   going   to   attempt   another   escape.   As   soon   as   she had   the   opportunity,   Mona   asked   Wendelien   how   and   when   she would    accomplish    this.    Wendelien    said    she    didn't    know;    an opportunity   was   sure   to   present   itself,   in   time,   and   both   of   them had to be ready to seize it.
Mona and Wendelien noticed an increase in plane traffic in the skies over Vechta.
Mona Parsons
Wendelien was struck by Mona's almost wild-eyed appearance and a cheerful demeanor that bordered on manic
Just   after   the   middle   of   March,   Mona   and   Wendelien   noticed an   increase   in   plane   traffic   in   the   skies   over   Vechta.   They   expected an    air    attack    was    imminent,    and    surmised    that    the    planes overhead   were   on   missions   beyond   bombing   selected   targets.   In anticipation   of   her   next   opportunity   to   escape,   Wendelien   asked the   prison   director   for   a   sweater   that   was   among   the   belongings taken   from   her   when   she   was   admitted   to   the   prison.   She   cited   the bone-chilling    dampness    and    her    rheumatism    as    grounds    for needing   extra   warmth,   but   her   real   reason   was   to   have   an   extra piece   of   non-prison   issue   clothing   on   her   when   the   time   came   to escape.   Buoyed   by   her   success,   Wendelien   encouraged   Mona   to ask   for   her   shoes   on   the   same   grounds   -   that   the   wooden   prison clogs   were   inadequate   to   keep   her   feet   warm.   If   the   prison   director suspected the real reason for their requests, she never let on. On   March   22,   1945,   Patton's   troops   crossed   the   Rhein   at Oppenheim;   at   the   same   time,   about   150   miles   down   river   from Patton's   location,   Montgomery   was   completing   preparations   for   his troops'   surge   across   the   Rhein   at   Wesel.   Late   at   night   on   March   23, Operation   Plunder   was   launched   with   a   tremendous   bombardment. Early   the   next   morning,   March   24,   Operation   Varsity   augmented Plunder,   while   members   of   the   North   Nova   Scotia   Highlanders   were part    of    the    force    that    readied    itself    to    continue    the    advance, observed   from   an   Allied   command   post   by   Winston   Churchill.   One wonders   what   Mona's   reaction   would   have   been   had   she   known that   her   fellow   Nova   Scotians   were   so   near   at   hand   and   about   to play a supporting role in her dramatic bid for freedom. The    inmates    were    just    starting    their    workday    when    the Allied attack was unleashed on their position. According   to   Wendelien,   a   general   panic   quickly   ensued,   which included   guards   throwing   themselves   on   the   floor,   crying   "Ich   will nicht   sterben!"   ("I   don't   want   to   die!")   The   director,   concerned about   the   fate   of   her   charges,   unlocked   the   prison   gates   and shouted   that   the   prisoners   had   a   choice.   They   could   go   to   the prison's   bomb   shelter,   or   they   could   take   their   chances   outside   in the   hail   of   bombs   and   gunfire.   The   director   had   no   chance   to reconsider   her   offer   before   Wendelien   grabbed   Mona's   hand,   and both women bolted out into the mayhem. "I    don't    know    what    we    used    for    energy,"    mused    the baroness   53   years   later.   "Especially   Mona.   She   was   particularly thin   and   weak.   She   had   been   in   Nazi   prisons   for   more   than   three years. But then, maybe that's what drove her on." Fear   prevailed   over   exhaustion,   and   the   two   proceeded   in what    they    thought    was    a    westerly    direction    toward    Holland; without   a   map   or   a   compass   they   couldn't   be   entirely   certain   of their course. Gradually,   the   relentless   bombing   subsided,   and   as   night approached   they   found   shelter   in   the   barn   of   a   deserted   farm. There,   for   the   first   time   in   their   brief   re-acquaintance   with   liberty, they   began   to   realize   that   they   were,   indeed,   free.   There   was   little time    to    examine    their    rapidly    changing    emotions    -    disbelief, exhilaration,   fear,   giddiness,   panic,   the   desire   to   laugh,   shriek   and cry   all   at   once   -   because   most   pressing   was   the   need   to   decide their   next   step.   The   quiet   and   safety   of   the   barn   provided   them with   their   first   opportunity   to   assess   their   situation   and   discuss their strategy for returning home.
Back to the Top Back to the Top The Escape The Escape