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Orland woman recalls living in Nazi-occupied Holland
Nellie Dreschler was a young woman when a child in her Sunday School class told her she talked funny.
Today, the 81-year-old Orland resident laughs about never losing her heavy Dutch accent, even after five decades living in the U.S.
The message she has for others, however, is as clear as if she were born here.
"I am so proud that I am an American citizen," said Dreschler, who spoke to a large gathering Monday of Tea Party members from Glenn and Tehama counties. "This is such a wonderful country to live in."
Because both sides of the political aisle have recently blamed each other for social trends and policies once regarded as "typically German," some believe it is because Americans are recognizing that depriving private individuals of power and transferring it to the government is becoming as equally familiar in America as it was in Europe in the 1930s.
Dreschler, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland, said all the signs are there.
Even President Barack Obama's executive order on Friday, giving himself absolute control over the country's natural resources in the event of a natural disaster during a time of war and, in some circumstances, during peacetime, had Tea Party members saying it "scares their socks off."
What they view as a push for the government to ban guns, and take control of the water and forest lands have also left the group vowing never to give up the fight.
Dean Blankenship of Corning, a visitor at the gathering in Willows, said he is saddened to see America lose the wonderful legacy left by the country's forefathers.
"I don't want to let my children and grandchildren down because we let their legacy slip out of our hands," Blankenship said.
Like Blankenship, Dreshler and other Patriots said Americans can be just as easily taken off guard by the sudden and swift rise of power as the people in Europe were decades ago.
"On a Friday night, Hitler said he would never invade Holland," recalled Dreschler, who was 9 years old at the time. "But by 4 a.m. the next morning, the bombs were falling."
Dreschler said she remembers her family watching the bombing near the home of an uncle across the canal, the smoke billowing up in the sky, and the death toll afterward, including a baby who died in the arms of its mother.
Holland fell to the Germans in less than a week, she said.
The seventh of eight children born to a Dutch grocer outside Amsterdam, Dreschler said within five years of the initial attack, the Jewish people would be gone from Holland, rounded up and sent to death camps in Poland and Germany, and the Dutch people would know only oppression and starvation.
"The Germans took everything," she said. "People were so hungry. Some died."
The people of Holland were not allowed radios or allowed lights to burn at night, and the Germans were quick to turn the Dutch against each other.
Dreschler said her family did what they could to support the resistance movement, by hiding and protecting Jewish children whose parents were killed or captured.
They hid them under the floors of the store.
She can also conjure the image of her mother making bread every Monday, slicing it thin and passing it out to those in desperate need for food.
"There was no butter, no peanut butter and no jelly," she said. "It was just bread, but they were so thankful."
She also knew what happened if the Germans found out.
Dreschler's father, who was turned in by a Dutch traitor, spent eight months in a concentration camp for giving food to a Jew.
"He was such a soft, tender man," Dreschler said. "It was very hard for him. He never really got over it and didn't ever want to talk about it."
Even as an adult, Dreschler said she never understood how people could be so cruel.
She recalled a neighbor who was forced to turn over a 5-year-old Jewish boy or have his house burnt to the ground.
When the Americans and Canadians liberated Holland in 1945, Dreschler said the Dutch people danced in the street.
"I am still so proud of the American, English and Canadian men who gave their lives for our freedom," said Dreschler, noting the thousands of white crosses in a vast field of green lawn, near a battlefield in Belgium, that marks the graves of many heroes.
It is her memories, she said, that made her stand Monday to tell her story and encourage others to fight for the ideals Americans hold dear.
Although the Glenn County Patriots, which meet each Monday at Andy's Theater in Willows, is typically a small group, about 40 people attended to hear Dreschler speak.
"I'm glad there are still people around to tell the tale," said singer-songwriter Michael Smith of Pasketa, who performed at the event. He is a member of the Corning Tea Party group. "We have an obligation to spread the message, and it's up to the Patriots to continue to do so."
Even 14-year-old Amanda Roque, of Willows, said Dreschler's story hit an emotional cord.
"It was very touching," Roque said.
Dreschler emmigrated to America in 1954 after an Alabama farmer sponsored 11 Dutch families.
She was 23 years old and was newly married.
"I had to wait months for my papers," she said. "You couldn't just slip across the border like you do now."
Thankful to have survived the war, Dreschler eventually settled in Orland in 1962.
Her proudest moment, she said, was becoming an American citizen.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.