"You had to watch that you didn't do anything out of the way" by Kaja Roscher

Posted: November 5, 2018

A profile on Brigitta Payne

It’s the 10th of May 1940.

At 4 o’clock in the morning Brigitta Payne suddenly woke up because she heard the sky exploding.

But it wasn’t only the sky.

The Germans came to her home country, the Netherlands. The moment the Germans entered the Netherlands war, violence and death was entering, too.

Payne was 14 when she saw planes crashing and bombs exploding. She clearly remembers one night when they all went downstairs and tried to sleep on matresses because the airplanes were going over the city. The emotion she remembers is fear because they “had no idea what was going on.”  She, her two older sisters and their parents had to leave their home for two days. They returned when the fighting stopped, because the Netherlands had to give up. The 14 year old Briddy, how her mom called her, lived in an occupied country. A difficult and dangerous time which ended her carefree childhood.

“You had to watch, that you didn’t do anything out of the way” remembers Payne.

Otherwise the Germans would have send you to one of the concentration camps. One of these places, where people “never got out” was just a few kilometres from Payne's hometown away. It was very close to her father’s business. One day she visited him at work. When she entered the business she saw some men she has never seen before. No One talked. Silence. Then the men took off their hats. Their heads were shaved. In this moment Payne knew that they escaped from the concentration camp. But her father never talked about the fact, that he helped people from the concentration camp. Payne isn’t even sure if her mother was aware of this. It was a time full of unspoken things. Things, no one talked about, but everybody knew.

“You couldn’t tell anybody anything”

This seems to be one of the rules which helped her family to survive these times in their house in Amersfoort. But not only her own family survived there. They also helped a Jewish couple to survive the war. Hiding Jews is one of the most, probably the most dangerous and risky thing you could do during that time. The Germans entered their house twice to search after the Jews. Thinking about the reasons for her family’s decision to help the couple Payne answers, “We just did it.” The Jewish couple survived the war. Because of Payne’s family, they didn’t just disappeared and never came back;as it happened to so many jewish children Payne was going to school with.

One day Payne’s oldest sister who was working in the underground called her mom and explained that there will be a young man coming to their house and that they should give him a meal and a place for the night. But she also said that they shouldn’t talk to the man, not a single word. He came, ate the meal, slept and left in the next morning and as her sister said they didn’t talk a word. The family was thinking that it was probably someone who had to hide from the Germans and they were right. But the man was a German. The reason why they shouldn’t talk to him was because no one should realize that he is German.

It seems like nothing makes sense anymore in wartimes, there are no rules anymore.

Even a German soldier has to hide from his ‘own’ people, even he is not safe anymore. Why? Because he didn’t wanted to fight anymore. No reason to fight or just nothing to fight for anymore.

Maybe he was right, maybe there wasn’t much left to fight for. Payne strongly remembers the days without heat, electricity and food. She and her family had to eat bread, which was almost black, and they “know what it is to be hungry”. The war seemed like an endless terrible dream, but after five years it was finally over. Payne was 19.

After the war she met her husband when she was still in school. He was a Canadian soldier and she was the girl he “dreamed about”. They didn’t see each other for two years because he went back to Canada and she was finishing her studies. But he wrote her two letters a day, one arrived with the morning mail, one in the afternoon. Sharing their thoughts and emotions must have connected them. After two years she followed her husband to Canada. The first time was very hard for her, because she really missed her family. Although she lived through five years of war, she describes herself as “kind of innocent” at this time. A new life for her has began.

World War II was over, but in many people’s mind and hearts it was still going on.

Payne explains that you “just live with it”.


“It is always there”.

After years she spent with her husband and her two children in Canada she went back to Holland for a visit. She went back after her husband died. He was her home in this strange country and the time after his death was very difficult for her. In Holland they went to the zoo and Payne strongly remembers her own reaction to some German voices she heard. She felt like their voices were a danger. She still saw them as enemies years after the war ended. It was still there. Maybe it will always be there.

But her sister believes, “We cannot forget, but we can forgive”