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Baroness Ella van Heemstra stood in the office of Adolf Hitler and offered her hand to the most famous man in the world, the man whose name was on simply everyone's lips. Hitler's deep blue eyes could have bored through her, such was their power. He was so pale, so composed as he smiled that enigmatic smile, full of humility, the one seen so often in newsreels flickering on screens around the world. He reached out his hand and accepted hers lightly. Then, with a gesture born of generations and centuries of European tradition, he bowed and touched his lips to her skin. Ella had often heard the touch of this man described as an electric shock, yet here she was, standing in the Fuhrer's office in National Socialist German Workers Party headquarters, better known as the Braunes Haus, in Munich, Germany. She had dropped off her two sons and little daughter in the Dutch resort village of Oosterbeek so that she and her husband could come here for what promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
How many women would have signed away their lives for this moment, their very lives, but the baroness had earned this audience thanks to a column she had written in The Blackshirt, the weekly newspaper of the British Union of Fascists, extolling the virtues of Hitler and his British disciple in National Socialism, Sir Oswald Mosley.
It didn't hurt that Ella's dear friends in her English social class also admired the great man. British journalist Micky Burn of the Gloucester Citizen had fallen under the Fuhrer's spell — the Fuhrer signed a copy of his book Mein Kampf for a breathless Burn. Unity Mitford of the Swinbrook Mitfords was mad for Hitler and had become his latest pet. Unity had introduced her elegant sister Diana, and now both women were smitten. A third Mitford, Pamela, was now running in the pack, but she just seemed bemused by the whole business.
Of course, Hitler had his reasons for courting the English and sought to embrace Britain's subjects at every opportunity. Unity told of a time when the British national anthem came up, and the Fuhrer "whistled it all the way through." So yes, he admired all things English, including women, and embracing the charming Mitfords, the so-called "scandal sisters," was no chore for the great man. What did he see in Ella van Heemstra now? A way inside the upper strata of Dutch society? Perhaps, but it didn't matter, because Ella was here and determined to enjoy this moment to the fullest. She hoped His Excellency didn't mind her lip rouge and powder — he was notorious for loathing women who wore them — but he paid no notice of the paints and powders on his foreign guests at this moment. He aimed a pleasantry at Ella, and she responded in flawless German.
Ella's husband, Joseph Ruston, and Unity Mitford were standing at her side; Ella's hand was in Hitler's. The Fuhrer was so gallant and so pleasant, with those arresting blue eyes and such a nice face. Dear God, how heady these times were, Germany reborn and lighting the way for all of Europe after the devastation of the worldwide Great Depression. Fascism held the answer for mankind. Fascism shone the light for those wise enough to see. Fascism had brought Germany back to full employment in a matter of a few years, proving its ideals more powerful and unstoppable than economic cataclysm. Blood-red flags with the fascist crest flew everywhere in Munich; banners of fire hung from every building and crosspiece. The narrow streets of the ancient city pulsed with energy as if arteries in a stirring beast.
The enchantment of all she saw and everyone she met beckoned Ella back to Germany from her home in Belgium later that year in September; once more she parked her children in Oosterbeek so she could attend the annual Nazi Party Congress, the Reichsparteitag, in Nuremberg. She had seen images from the 1934 event shining in glorious silver thanks to Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 film Triumph des Willen, and now Ella vowed to witness it in person. Imagine a city already at a half million bulging with as many guests. Hotels filled too quickly, and all those that could not find indoor rooms or accommodations in the nine open-air tent camps were placed in commandeered factories, churches, and schools. Here the infatuated Ella became immersed in a full week of Fascist activities, from the pealing of the city's church bells to a performance of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger to meeting after meeting and speech after speech. She witnessed the Fuhrer's review of his Hitler Youth at sprawling Zeppelin Field, the Nuremberg stadium, as he addressed 60,000 perfectly uniformed, precisely aligned young men. He told them, his voice booming from speakers: "You must learn to suffer privation without crumbling once. Whatever we create today, whatever we do, we will die, but Germany will live on in you. When there is nothing left of us, then you must hold in your fists the flags that we hoisted out of nothing. I know this cannot be otherwise because you are the flesh of our flesh, and the blood of our blood. In your young heads burns the same spirit that rules us."
This 1935 gathering was the Party Congress of Freedom, as in freedom from the restrictions of the horrendous Treaty of Versailles that had ended the Great War sixteen years earlier — and stripped Germany of its wealth, military might, and much of its territory. The Fuhrer paraded his Wehrmacht, his magnificent army, before the quarter million assembled at the stadium. Overhead, German war planes flew so thick that they seemed to blot out the sun, and demonstrations of anti-aircraft fire from cannon manned by calm and able crews boomed in response.
The Reichstag had passed the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which forbade marriages and intercourse between Germans and Jews and the employment of German females under the age of forty-five in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens; the remainder — including Jews, especially Jews — were classed as state subjects without citizenship rights. Ella had many Jewish friends in Belgium and elsewhere, but Diana Mitford summed it up beautifully quoting her dear friend Putzi Hanfstaengl: "If the Jews don't like it, they can get out. They have relations and money all over the world. Let them leave Germany to us Germans." It was the only instance Ella had for pause in an otherwise positive story, and it was easily reasoned out.
Back in the stadium, Hitler heard the affirmations of his labor force and consecrated those of the party killed in the 1923 armed Nazi uprising known as the Beer Hall Putsch, when sixteen party members were gunned down on a Munich street. It was a moving display of love, remembrance, and most of all, power. Ella felt deep in her bones that in the not-too-distant future, she would be part of a Europe united under Adolf Hitler, the man who had generated all this out of the force of his will and ended the hopelessness of Germany in the decade and a half after the Great War.
On the final day of the Reichsparteitag, Zeppelin Field bulged with more than 300,000 people, with hundreds of flags rippling in the breeze, planes flying over, tanks rolling through, drums pounding, and bands playing; the seats seemed to vibrate from the high black boots of the Fuhrer's massed troops as they goose-stepped past. The banners, black and white swastikas inset in red, streamed past as if a river of blood. So red it hurt the eyes. The tinkling of Schellenbaum, the belltree staff carried in front of some army units, sent pure silver tones soaring high above the dull thuds of the drums and boots.
Finally, Hitler spoke and laid his soul bare speaking about his love for Germany and his hopes and dreams for the future. He pointed outthat the world's problems centered around the Jews who had manipulated nations into the Great War, which had culminated in the defeat of Germany and then the Great Depression. The Parteitag concluded with a tattoo, a stirring, masculine presentation by the drum corps, and then Hitler climbed into a touring car and was driven all the way around the inside of the stadium to be worshiped by the throngs.
With the Party Congress concluded, Ella ventured back to Munich to bask in Hitler's presence at, among other places, his favorite restaurant, the Osteria Bavaria, and passed her time with Unity Mitford, Unity's SS boyfriend Erich Widmann, and Citizen reporter Micky Burn. Unity was so incredibly territorial over Hitler that she kept the others at bay so she could have the Fuhrer all to herself, but Ella didn't need the great man's attention; she had already met him, and she returned home to Belgium where she took pen in hand.
Wrote Ella: "What struck me most forcibly among the million and one impressions I received there were: (a) the wonderful fitness of every man and woman one saw, on parades or in the street; and (b) the refreshing atmosphere around one, the absolute freedom from any form of mental pressure or depression."
Ella's words would boom in Sir Oswald's National Socialist newsletter, Action, as she concluded: "Well may Adolf Hitler be proud of the rebirth of this great country and of the rejuvenation of the German spirit. The Germany of today is a most present country, and the Germans, under Nazi rule, a splendid example to the white races of the world — a mighty people, upright and proud, as indeed, they have every right to be." And to these stirring words she affixed the Belgian version of her name, Baroness Ella de Heemstra, Brussels.CHAPTER 2
The Blood of Frisia
Audrey Kathleen van Heemstra Ruston, future shining Hollywood star, entered the world under a different kind of star, a dark one, on 4 May 1929. Her mother, Ella, Baroness van Heemstra, was a strong-willed, plain-speaking, high-spirited colt of a woman who at age twenty-eight still felt the need to sow wild oats, despite the fact she was now the mother of three, counting sons Alexander and Ian from her first marriage. In Ella's veins — in the veins of all the van Heemstras — raced Frisian blood. Frisia, known as Friesland to the Dutch, is a unique province in the far north of the Netherlands. Even today many Frisians bristle at being referred to as Dutch at all — they're too unique and independent for such a common classification.
That Audrey Hepburn should one day become an accomplished personage known around the world isn't surprising considering her bloodlines among Frisian nobility. The first Frisian van Heemstra found in records came long before William of Orange, under whose reign the Netherlands coalesced. Van Heemstras were recognized as nobility from the beginning, from the Middle Ages, and the title of baron was granted officially in 1814 to Willem Hendrik van Heemstra, whose son Schelto, Baron van Heemstra, represented Friesland in the Dutch House of Representatives before becoming prime minister of the Netherlands in 1861. Another son, Frans, Baron van Heemstra, also served in the House of Representatives. Frans' son W.H.J., Baron van Heemstra, had two sons, one of whom was Aarnoud Jan Anne Aleid — or A.J.A.A., Baron van Heemstra — father of Ella along with four other daughters and a son. This baron was Audrey's grandfather, or opa, as the position is known in Dutch.
By 1900 van Heemstra had become a family name of national honor in Holland. The path to wealth for Dutchmen cut through the East Indies, but Aarnoud went his own way and obtained a doctorate of law in 1896, the same year he married Elbrig Willemina Henriette, Baroness van Asbeck. Aarnoud set up practice as a prosecuting attorney and then became a judge in the prosperous city of Arnhem on the Rhine, capital of the province of Gelderland, forty miles west of the German border. As he pursued his practice, the Baroness van Asbeck produced babies — Wilhelmina Cornelia (1897), Geraldine Caroline (1898), Ella (1900), Marianne Jacqueline (1903), Willem Hendrik (1907), and Arnoudina Johanna (1911). By now the father of six had become burgemeester, or mayor, of Arnhem, a position he held for ten years until 1920. The family lived in a beautiful villa beside the Lauwersgracht, a lake that was all that remained of a moat that once encircled the ancient walled city of Arnhem. Now the lake belonged to the Park Musis Sacrum in the city center, the most picturesque spot in all of Arnhem. The van Heemstra home was one of three in the "Paadje van Bleckmann," villas owned by a wealthy local family named Bleckmann. Another of these villas, known as de Nijenburgh, was occupied by Cornelia, Countess van Limburg Stirum. The baron's daughter Wilhelmina married the countess's nephew, Otto Ernst Gelder, Count van Limburg Stirum, in 1918, meaning that the van Heemstra family presence was both strong and close in Arnhem Centraal, overlooking the Rhine. In another twenty-six years these three grand villas of the van Heemstra and van Limburg Stirum families would be soaked in blood and destroyed in the most romanticized battle of the Second World War.
Under Burgemeester van Heemstra's direction, Arnhem prospered. The land development association Nederlandsche Heidemaatschappij chose the city for its headquarters, the soon-to-be-famous Openlucht Museum and Burgers' Zoo were established, and affordable housing became prevalent.
In March 1920 Aarnoud gave his daughter Ella's hand in marriage to Hendrik Gustaaf Adolf Quarles van Ufford of Oosterbeek, the next town over. Hendrik was a former horse cavalryman and now an oil executive assigned to the Dutch East Indies. After the nuptials the couple set sail for the Far East to begin a new life together. Later that same year Burgemeester van Heemstra, who was something of a penny-pincher, suddenly relinquished his office in a squabble with the city over money. He stated that "the meager salary does not allow me to continue to do my job properly." He returned to law but not for long. The Netherlands' Queen Wilhelmina of the House of Oranje appointed Aarnoud to be governor of the Dutch territory of Suriname on the northeast coast of South America, so the baron, baroness, and three of the van Heemstra children set sail for what would become a tumultuous eight years in the far-flung Suriname capital, Paramaribo.
Aarnoud was a charismatic aristocrat. Ella described her father as "about the most handsome man I ever saw. They say he is brilliantly clever. He forms his witty remarks in a French way. On Sundays he looks subdued but bubbling over with mischief. His teeth look very white behind a small black moustache."
The new governor of Suriname had spent his life among northern Europeans and now had to deal with a South American melting pot that included native Indians and escaped slaves, called Maroons, who had formed their own independent villages in the abundant rain forests of the interior. Administering this wild area meant keeping bauxite mines producing aluminum and also ensuring the stability of rice and banana crops, and all three required lots of muscle from either free men or indentured servants. Prior governors had been figureheads, but not Governor van Heemstra, who undertook several expeditions deep into the interior — places where white Europeans rarely were seen. He took an active interest because the baron was a visionary who saw the economic potential of Suriname. He pushed hard for financial independence at the expense of a Netherlands government that he correctly labeled as disinterested in this "unimportant" piece of real estate — the real money was to be made in thriving Dutch East Indies enterprises that produced coffee, tea, cacao, tobacco, and rubber.
Governor van Heemstra remained a progressive who worked tirelessly on behalf of his colony. His work ethic would be seen a generation later in his young granddaughter. In 1922 van Heemstra welcomed the Aluminum Company of America, better known as Alcoa, into the Moengo forest to mine bauxite. But the honeymoon between the governor and Alcoa was short-lived: He realized almost at once that danger lurked in this U.S. company monopolizing Suriname resources.
In 1924 he traveled to Germany to negotiate with the Stinnes group, a powerful mining conglomerate. His goal was to interest the Germans in bauxite mining in the colony, figuring a second company on hand would check the aggressive Americans. But the Dutch government feared that once the equally bold and enterprising Germans got in, they might try a total takeover, and so van Heemstra was ordered to break off contact.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dutch Girl"
Copyright © 2019 Robert Matzen.
Excerpted by permission of Paladin Communications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I: Cauldron,
2. The Blood of Frisia,
5. The Unthinkable,
Part II: Long Live Oranje!,
7. Pencil Scratches,
9. Born for the Spotlight,
10. Death Candidate,
12. The Secret,
Part III: Resistance,
13. Soul Sister,
14. Just Dutchmen,
15. Warmest Praise,
16. Black Evenings,
17. Het Vaderland,
18. If, If, If,
19. The Hun on the Run,
Part IV: The Liberators,
20. The Netherlands in Five Days,
22. The Devil's Picnic,
25. Champagne for One,
Part V: Toys,
26. The Princess,
28. The Magic Stamp,
29. Streaking Evil,
30. Peace on Earth. Yeah, Right.,
Part VI: Pursued,
31. A Tree,
32. The Race,
33. Gates of Hell,
34. First Cigarette,
37. Completely Nuts,
Dutch Girl: The Story in Pictures,
About the Author,