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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 money. 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 remained resolute. 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.
Mona Parsons
They wouldn't permit her to leave the room to get a jacket or her purse, and escorted her to the car outside.
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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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/martinstelbrink/3088827225/). While 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-