Soon, the mornings in the slave labor camp became more tolerable, as the Bavarian weather warmed. Each morning before going to work in the hills, the filthy emaciated prisoners were shackled and marched through the streets of the quaint Bavarian town of Offingen. The townsfolk would line the streets for the sad parade, as the guards announced to them, “Do what you want with this scum!”

Most of the crowd just stood there. They quietly watched the gaunt prisoners, some so weak and fragile that they could barely keep up with the rest. At this point in 1945, with the Allies advancing into Germany, many Germans had seen too much and were getting war-weary. The prisoners however, always anticipated the morning parade and for good reason: they soon learned that about every fourth person lining the streets of their parade route was an older German lady from another generation. These women covertly felt little or no allegiance to Hitler. These Bavarian angels would toss cookies from their open satchels onto the street where the prisoners marched. Although they could be whipped for doing so, the sickly, rail-thin prisoners would deliberately fall upon themselves to snatch up and savor the sweet nourishment. My dad once remarked, “As much as the Germans almost killed me, they were also the reason I survived.”

One afternoon, two British flyers were captured in the hills above where the prisoners were working. These men were put to work in the labor camp with the prisoners. After many days of laying tracks in the hills, the two flyers noticed that each afternoon the guard, who was supposed to be watching them, would drink a bottle of red wine and pass out alongside a barn. The two decided that the following day they would try to escape. My dad told them that he was with them.

The following afternoon, as the drunken guard lay sleeping, the two British flyers and my dad tiptoed toward him. They carefully took his rifle. Silently, they beckoned for the other prisoners to leave. But the dumbfounded men just stood there, motionless, like frightened rabbits. They had been intimidated by their oppressors. No doubt, they feared the dire consequences of a possible foiled escape. Regardless, my dad and the two British pilots looked ahead to the forest, and ran for their lives.

They tossed the rifle at the suggestion of the two Englishmen (to maintain order, anyone caught with a gun was shot on sight by the Allies). My dad parted with the British flyers at a river, which he decided to swim across to freedom. They never met again.

At the time of this escape, back in Holland, the Nazis were executing Dutch Resistance fighters in the sand dunes near Den Hague, not far from s’Gravenzande, the family hometown.

The same afternoon of my dad’s escape — April 30, 1945 — Adolf Hitler committed suicide with his mistress Eva Braun, in his bunker in Berlin, 360 miles away.

Van der Hout, who grew up in All Saints Parish, lives in Southeast Portland.