A collection of photos, ephemera and a remarkable handwritten account of a Dutch/American young woman’s return from the Netherlands to the United States in May, 1941. Detroit resident, Flora Von Weiler (Married name Flora Von Weiler Arnoldi), who was born in 1920 in the Netherlands, moved to the United States as a 3 year old in 1924. In 1939 she moved back and seemed quite happy there, but because of worsening conditions with the German occupation, she was forced to make her way back to Detroit. This collection includes a binder with around 145 photos, many attached to album pages, but now in a more recent plastic protector in a binder. Many of these photos have what looks to be more recent identifications. Also included is a 21-page handwritten account of her travel home, including an itinerary with her stops along the way, including a train to Berlin, flight to Lyon, France, Marseilles, France, Barcelona, Spain, Madrid, Lisbon, Portugal, Azores, Bermuda, New York City and finally Detroit. Her journey took over 3 weeks. There is also a newspaper account from May 17, 1940 from the Detroit News telling her story, some photo-copied telegrams and some other photo-copied documents from 1943. One loose photo is captioned on the verso “Late spring, May 1941, Ottawa, Canada, visiting Princess Juliana.” (Princess of the Netherlands who was living in exile in Canada).
In part, the article says:
“In the face of incalculable events as have taken place in The Netherlands during the last week, many Detroiters and Michigan residents are wondering today about the fate of relatives in Holland, Among them are Mr. and Mrs. Von Weiler of Royal Oak, whose youthful daughter, Flora, realized a long cherished dream last August and sailed away happily to Holland, her native land. She ran slam bang into the war, which was declared two days after her arrival. It put a definite crimp in her plans to study in Switzerland and France, but in the belief that Holland was safe, she stayed on there to study the languages and to get acquainted with her relatives who had not seen her since she left Amsterdam for this country, at the age of three.”
“We aren’t really so worried about her, her father, a safety engineer said, but of course we are anxious. She said if there were sudden trouble she would fly to Italy or England and come home. She may be en-route now, but we can’t get word through since the cables and radio are being used almost exclusively for war purposes. We learned that they were selling deck space on the liners for the trips to America and that’s all we know.”
Her handwritten account seems to have been written a short time after her return to the states. It appears that she was hired by an older woman who was in ill health to accompany her on the trip back. For part of the trip, a man from a travel company also traveled with them.
Parts of her handwritten account include:
After 20 months in the Netherlands, from late August, 1939 to May 6, 1941, living with my relatives and being happily accepted as one of them, I must unhappily return to the states. My return to the U.S. started on Tuesday, May 6, 1941. Mrs. Clara Rath, Mr. Smol, from the travel agency, and I left the Hague in the later afternoon by train for Berlin. The trip to Berlin was uneventful. We had a meal in the dining car. Mrs. Rath had a room where I assisted her to bed. Mr. Smol and I sat up all night. The curtains were closed the entire trip and uniformed soldiers walked the aisles constantly. During the night, Mr. Smol and I heard planes and the train stopped for a short while, bet we heard and felt no bombing…….Curtains were closed in our rooms at all times and there was a German soldier at the door inside our sitting room the whole time we stayed at the hotel in Berlin. I must not forget to say that I was very grateful that little Mr. Smol was with us. While I was learning to be of service to Mrs. Rath, Mr. Smol handled passports, reservations and the many questions we were asked by the Germans. Considering that Mrs. Rath had been in Holland since 1938 and I was there since late August 1939, the Germans wanted to know what reasons we, as American citizens, were so long in the Netherlands……..We left the hotel by bus for the airport. Every seat was filled on the bus. There were about 10 people on this bus that were separated from the rest of us. Later I learned they were separated from us because that were Jews…….The Jewish people were escorted to a certain section of the plane where they were to remain……It had rained during the night in the Madrid area. Coming in for a landing we did not quite make the cement runway. We hit soft ground and got stuck in the mud. A bus had to come out and get us. Since we were just going to have passport inspection and a late lunch, the officials let Mrs. Rath stay on the plane because it was too difficult for her to walk in the soft ground…..We boarded the plane and continued on to Lisbon. During the flight, Mr. Smol sat with Mrs. Rath and asked her what the immigration official asked her. At this point we learned she was wearing a money belt under her long heavy skirts. She told the officials about this and they took the belt containing several hundred dollars away from her. She wanted Mr. Smol to get it back for her, but he said that was impossible now, she can kiss it goodbye…….Early Monday, May 12, the 3 of us went to the Consulate and had our passports stamped and was told we had to wait our turn for reservations on Pan American back to the States and it could take 10 days or 3 weeks. Tuesday, May 13, Mr. Smol spent the day trying to get us on the plane. He had to return to Holland on Wednesday and he wanted to make sure we were taken care of. Since he could not get us on the plane, he introduced us to another young man who promised to take care of us…….This morning, Tuesday, May 20, we had to go to Lisbon to get an extension of our passports. While Mrs. Rath waited in the car, I went into the consulate with the passports. At this time, I told the Consulate Mrs. Rath was getting a bit impatient and was becoming nervous and wanted to see her doctor in New York. The consulate needed Mrs. Rath’s signature and I told him he should go to the car and get it and this way he could see for himself how crippled Mrs. Rath was. The Consulate came back in to the office and said we should get her back to the states quickly before something happened to her. He gave me a letter to take to Pan American Airways office. I presented the letter at the airway office. And the gentleman said he had just talked with the Consulate. The man went to the car to see Mrs. Rath and came back into the office, looked over flight schedules and gave us the date of Monday, May 26 to fly back…..The rest of my time from now until next Monday was getting doctor’s permits to leave Portugal. We both had to be vaccinated before we could enter the states. I had to get exit visas to leave Portugal. Then I had to get visas for Bermuda, this being one of our stops on our return to New York. Finally, Monday, May 26 was here and we left Portugal for the first lap our return trip to the states. Our first stop was the Azores. Here we all got off the plane and had dinner at some club. Then we flew all night. There were accomodations for some of the passengers to sleep. Because of Mrs. Rath’s age, she got a sleeping berth. While she slept, I mingled with the passengers. Among them was the American News Commentator Elmer Davis. He was interested about my lengthy stay in Holland. He also told me that we would get a thorough questioning and inspection by the English immigration in Bermuda and if I did not want to be held over, to pretend not to know any answers to the questions they asked me. On Tuesday, May 27 in the morning, we landed in Bermuda. All our luggage was taken off the plane and brought into a hangar where we had to open it. The inspectors were very thorough. They ripped hems in my skirts and dresses, lifted photos in my photo album, tore linings in some of my shoes……Only the passengers who came out of Germany occupied countries were taken away for questioning. They did not question Mrs. Rath. In fact, she did not get off the plane. I took care of the inspection of her luggage. I was held for 2.5 hours for questioning. I had to tell every town in Holland I lived in or visited and what did I do in each of the places I went to. They showed me maps of large cities and asked if I recognized any streets and buildings. This is when I pretended not to know anything……What the English wanted to know was what buildings or homes did the Germans occupy. The map the English showed me of Wasseaar was so detailed, I could pick out the Raadhuis, the house of Hansje Blink and the house of Dom Krijenhoff. I finally told the English I would not tell them anything because I had family living in most all of the areas they were questioning me about and I did not want anything to happen to my family. Finally, they said my being an American, they could not make me answer the questions. When all luggage was returned to the plane, we left for New York. We arrived in New York at the dinner hour. The lawyer saw us settled in Mrs. Rath’s suite at the Hotel Plaza….After the meal, I made a phone call to the Walker residence in Royal Oak. Mrs. Walker answered and couldn’t believe it was me – ran quickly to get dad or mother. Mother tried to speak first, but handed the phone to dad. It was difficult to convince them I was really on US soil……In the meantime, Mrs. Rath said for my mother to come to New York at Mrs. Rath’s expense and take me back to Detroit on Friday, May 30……Thursday evening, Mrs. Rath, her lawyer and I had our final goodbyes. Mrs. Rath said she was very grateful that I helped her back to the states. I told her I was very thankful that she paid all my expenses back. Then she gave me a check….
From her obituary online, I can tell that she died in 2020 at the age of 99, and was preceded in death by her husband and two sons.