|    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
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
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. 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.
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