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No Time to Die

Wim Grotenbreg’s story

No Time to Die - Wim Grotenbreg's story

No Time to Die - Wim Grotenbreg's story

A man with at least nine lives and a talent for survival, Wim Grotenbreg chose to spend his last years devoting himself to spiritual healing, the care of animals, and charity work for the blind. This is a completely revised edition of his amazing story of survival and love for mankind.

By Kay Hunter

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Description

This is the story of a man who had no time to die; he was too busy surviving. Brought up in a working-class Dutch family, Wim Grotenbreg first grappled with the problem of equipping himself for University, which in turn led him to oppose the invading Germans when they overran Holland in 1940. A member of the Dutch Resistance Movement, he was arrested, and spent the rest of the war in various concentration camps.

Surviving sickness, potential death in a gas chamber, and the infamous Death March, during which he lived on dandelions, he ended the war as a broken man, but not defeated. After coming to London and working with the Royal Dutch Embassy, there were yet more challenges for him to face. Many times he was near to death, but the time was not ripe.

Finding he had a gift for spiritual healing,(under the tutorship of the wonderful Nan McKenzie), he devoted his time, in retirement, to creating Freezen Hill Sanctuary and Garden for the Blind, in Norfolk. Patients, both human and animal, and the many blind visitors to the Garden, found a whole new meaning to the term Dutch Courage.

Wim Grotenbreg's philosophy, whenever he was faced with a day-to-day setback, typified his lifelong belief. "I may have lost," he would say, "but I am not beaten."

This is a new edition of the book, which was first published in 1980, written for him by Kay Hunter, a gifted writer and one of the trustees of the Sanctuary. For the new layout Kay has written a new Forword and provided more photographs and extra text for this book. It is an amazing story of survival and love for mankind.

Product Details
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Saturday Night Press Publications (23 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908421067
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.0 x 0.6 cm
  • Price: £7(UK),  $10.00(US),  $10(AUS)
The Author

The author, Kay Hunter was born in the North-East of England. Her interests have always been in the fields of theatre and music, and she trained in London as a teacher of music and drama.

It was not long before she gave up teaching for writing, and became a journalist. In 1971 she was appointed Editor of a weekly newspaper, a post she held for four years.

She has contributed to newspapers and magazines, broadcast for BBC radio and TV. In the book field, her work has been published in this country and the United States. Her interests remain with music and theatre, especially ballet, about which she has written three books, her last being Ballet in the Blitz, published in 2008.

Earlier work includes biographies of psychic artist Coral Polge and medium Helen Duncan.

Prologue

I first met Wim Grotenbreg when I was Editor of a local weekly newspaper, and I went to interview him about his project, the Freezen Hill Sanctuary which was then in the process of creation. On that occasion he said nothing about his wartime experiences, and indeed,I first heard about those from another source. But he was a fascinating conversationalist with interesting philosophies which made tantalizing 'quotes' for any journalist.

The progress of the Sanctuary was marked by stories in the newspaper from time to time, and I became increasingly involved, eventually being elected to its Board of Trustees.

In our subsequent talks his story began to leak out, and I realized how much had previously been left unsaid. I commented that it should be written in full, but he could not imagine why anybody would be interested. As I knew nobody else who had been thrown into a mobile Nazi gas chamber, known as a 'gas van', and had escaped, I found it extremely interesting!

It is perhaps significant that the lane leading to Freezen Hill Sanctuary was narrow and winding. There was a kind of ironic symbolism in the fact that reaching the Sanctuary demanded purpose and a sense of direction, and that the ultimate arrival came at the end of a slightly bumpy ride.

Such was the road through life taken by the man who made Freezen Hill possible. At times it was seemingly endless, rarely smooth, and often tortuous. He had covered much rough ground before hacking a way through the weeds and undergrowth to mark out the beginnings of his unusual project – a branch of the Lord Dowding Animal Sanctuary and Garden for the Blind.

The owner, Willem Grotenbreg, was a former Dutch Resistance worker, concentration camp victim, later an official at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, philosopher, healer and pioneer of Freezen Hill Sanctuary.
A man with at least nine lives and a talent for survival, he chose to spend his last years devoting himself to spiritual healing, the care of animals, and charity work for the blind.

With his eventual agreement, we set about writing his story. Countless often late-night tape recordings, dozens of questions and answers, and a lot of back-tracking for more details, led, after about eighteen months, to the final draft.

He once showed me one of those small weighted toys which, when pushed over, always returns to an upright position. It was in the form of a Red Indian, and when he threw it on to the table, it rocked and wobbled its way back to the perpendicular.

"In Dutch we call it a duikelaartje," he explained. "It comes from the word meaning to dive, or fall head over heels. I saw it in somebody's office and asked if I might have it. It's like me, you see. I may get knocked about, but I can still come up straight!"

Survival was the name of his game, but what was his secret? Surely there was some special law of preservation for this man, who emerged from the hazards of working for the Dutch Resistance movement, arrest and torture by the Gestapo, the horrors of concentration camps, and escape from a gas chamber.

Even after the war he came through numerous operations, survived a potentially fatal road accident, and conquered cancer. Nobody is immortal in this life, but his irreverent humour always caused him to comment that only the Very Best People have been born on Christmas Eve!

Wim's philosophy, whenever he was faced with a day-to-day setback, typified his lifelong belief. "I may have lost," he would say, "but I am not beaten."

Wim Grotenbreg's extraordinary life began on 24th December, 1913. As for its end? – He finally found time to die on April 1st 1987.

A commemorative plaque is to be seen in The Dutch Church in Austin Friars in the City of London, paying tribute to his life and work.

Kay Hunter
Diss
October 2012

1943: Avoiding detection (Chapter 3)

The PermitMany citizens adopted the names of those who were no longer alive, thus serving to hide their real identities. Every underground worker went under a false name, assuming an age and occupation which made him unfit for deportation. It seemed that nobody was to be found at his own address; there was a constant movement everywhere. Those who refused to go to work in Germany, or who were suspected of anti-German views were obliged to disappear 'underground'. Cars stopping outside doors after curfew caused many a bad quarter of an hour, and front doors were only opened at prearranged signals.

I did not want to be hampered by the curfew operating in Amsterdam. It was essential that I was out and about at night. I decided, therefore, that I must get hold of a permit to allow me into the streets after curfew. There was only one satisfactory way of doing this – I must somehow become a member of the medical profession. It was a tricky assignment.

"Have you something you can give me which reeks of medicine and hospitals?" I asked my dentist brother-in-law. He thought for a moment, and then gave me some chloroform paste, which I applied to the warmest parts of my body – under the arms and between the legs. I stank to high Heaven of chloroform; it was a miracle I did not anaesthetize myself!

Wafting my clinical smell everywhere as I moved, I strode boldly to The Hague, to German Headquarters in what is now the Foreign Office. My German was always good, and I wasn't a bad actor when the occasion demanded, so I flirted lightly with the buxom blonde German woman behind the reception desk.

I knew the difficulty was going to come when she asked me my profession. I was going to have to tell her I was a student. All students had previously had to sign a declaration to the effect that they would not work against the Germans. I had never done this, so I therefore had no proof of the fact that I was a genuine student. It could be the weak point of my whole performance, and somehow I was going to have to wriggle out of the situation as best I could.

I duly asked in my best German if I could have a permit to be out after curfew. I was working for the Red Cross, I explained, trying to sound as casual, and yet as convincing as I could.

As she took out her book to write me the permit, she inevitably said, "Profession?"

"Student," I replied without batting an eyelid.

"Medical of course," she said, without looking up. Her pen went on moving across the paper as she spoke. Was it really going to be so easy? I began to push my luck.

"Madam," I gasped in mock surprise, "why should you say 'of course'?"

"Because my whole office smells like a hospital," she retorted snappily. "You couldn't be anything else."

The permit was handed over without further questions, and I walked out with a thumping heart. That piece of administration achieved, I then went on to procure the rest of my disguise. I acquired a white coat and stethoscope from my father-in-law, and made sure the Germans saw me in my role of doctor. A black bag full of instruments completed the picture.

The lifesaving dandelion (Chapter 7)

DandelionsThe sight of dandelions growing in my lawn never causes me the annoyance which they engender in other gardeners..

While the average gardener may wish to run for the trowel and dig up the offending weed immediately, I view it indulgently and with great affection. Let it live. That little yellow weed with its spreading green leaves saved my life during the Death March when there was nothing else to eat. So many of us set off, and so few survived to see the end of the journey.

At the time of the Death March, as it became known, I was in Sachsenhausen camp, near Berlin, and the border of what is now Eastern Germany. It was the headquarters of the Gestapo and the S.S., and towards the end of the war the Russians were approaching it from the east. The Germans had no desire to fall into Russian hands, and one of Hitler's last commands was that all inmates of concentration camps were to be killed. The guards would then, presumably, have escaped by fleeing westwards in front of the advancing Russians.

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, came the order to evacuate the entire camp. Confusion was rife. We had no idea where we were going at that time of night, but we were roughly pushed, shoved, and otherwise persuaded into some kind of order, and led out of the camp. There were 25,000 of us, all men, walking in columns of four, with guards on either side. After every 500 men there followed three S.S. guards with guns at the ready. It was a tremendous exodus, and we did not know where we were being led. One rumour was followed by another, each worse than the last.

The first men to leave were given some bread and a piece of sausage, but by the time my group was ready to go there were no rations left, so we set off with nothing.

We were led off in the direction of Hamburg. The prevailing rumour among us was that we were to be taken to a forest near Hamburg where we were all to be killed – presumably rounded up and shot.

We walked all day with short breaks, and then at six o'clock we were commanded to stop for the night. We were allowed to make small fires, but food and drink were non-existent. This was where my little dandelion friends saved my life.

I had with me the small oval dish in which we were given our soup ration at the camp. During the march I managed to scoop up some water from the ditches. It was probably very dirty water, but I didn't care about that as long as it provided some kind of liquid. I also collected some dandelions on the way, and when we stopped for our evening rest, I put dandelions and ditch water into my small tin, and performed a cordon bleu miracle by cooking the mixture over the fire. This was my diet for the duration of the Death March, which lasted for twelve days.

For this reason I regard the dandelion with the greatest affection and respect. It may be a weed, but how grateful I am that it was growing wild on the roadsides of Germany!

The Door opened... (Chapter 8)

The door opened, and I glimpsed the figure of my aunt standing there, framed in the doorway. She let out a cry as I stumbled past her and literally fell into the house, crutches and all, collapsing into a heap on the floor.

It was not until later that I realised the shock I had caused by my untimely and dramatic entrance, which must have looked like something out of a bad movie. I looked nothing like the nephew they had known in happier days, but more like some elderly tramp who had been on the road for months.

At the time I arrived, my uncle was entertaining two British officers, a Scot and an Englishman. Their jeep was parked outside the door, but this was a detail which had escaped me in my confusion and bewilderment.

The two officers had brought whisky and gin for my uncle, and just before I arrived he had been telling them about his nephew who was in the underground movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and put into a concentration camp.

"We have heard nothing from him," he had told the two men sadly, "so we can only assume he is dead."

And it was at this precise moment, I was told later, that I fell in through the front door. For the first few minutes of this Hollywood style arrival, total confusion reigned. My aunt's scream brought my uncle rushing out, followed by his guests. I was dragged into the living-room, a tattered bundle of rags weighing seven stone, with a beard, and looking twice my age.

I was placed carefully in a chair while they fussed around me. How marvellous that I was alive . . . how wonderful that I had survived and come back ... the excited words came tumbling out.

The Scottish officer was a newspaper man, and although genuinely pleased at this touching family reunion, he had the journalist's instinct for a good story. Even after a few drinks he was still shrewd enough to grab this opportunity, as I heard later.

Meanwhile, I was given some milk, the first for years, had a bath, and was given some of my uncle's clothes. The luxury of clean underwear and the feel of clean sheets in a wholesome bed was indescribable. For a few moments I savoured the sheer bliss of it before passing out into an exhausted sleep.

Later I heard that the diligent Scot had cabled my story to his newspaper. The cutting was sent to me at a later date, but unfortunately I have since lost it. I do, however, recall the headline very clearly: 'AS THEY SAID HE WAS DEAD HE KNOCKED AT THE DOOR.'

Then came the story, which was half true and half journalistic licence, but it looked good, and one could not blame him for grasping the chance of such a scoop. For sheer drama and human interest it could not be bettered! It was 1945, and somehow the Ministry of Information in London got hold of the cutting. At that time they had an organisation which booked speakers from the Continent to go to England for lecture tours. They cabled the British Ambassador in The Hague: "Find us W. M. Grotenbreg. Somewhere in Haarlem."

Healing and Nan McKenzie (Chapter 10)

Wim and Kay with Nan McKenzie on her 96th birthdayI have learned a great deal from Nan during the years I have known her. In the field of Spiritualism and healing it is very easy to fall into the wrong hands. I was fortunate enough to fall into Nan's, and she became like a mother to me. For some years now I have always referred to her as 'Mum', and it is as Mum she has become known to my friends who have met her during her visits to me in Norfolk.

It is now about sixteen years since I went to watch her at work that first Monday, and then every following Monday until I became competent to give healing myself.

If I have a difficult case to deal with, it is to Nan that I turn for help and advice. She has a gift for sensing immediately what is wrong with somebody. I cannot compare myself with her, as she is far in advance of me. It was therefore very flattering when we were recently faced with a patient in a wheelchair, and Mum said to me, "Let's do this together."

Even more satisfying was the fact that the patient got out of her wheelchair and walked into the dining-room for dinner at the house where she was staying. She had not walked for some time.

I later asked Nan if it was possible for healers to work together as a partnership.

"I can only work with somebody if we are on the same wavelength," she replied, an answer which gave me enormous pleasure. It was the greatest compliment I could have had.

For me to have developed into a healer seemed in the early days to be a strange turn of events. Nothing had been further from my mind, particularly during the war years, although it now appears that there was some spiritual influence at work when I was in the camps. Nan has told me that one of my three spirit guides is a German doctor who saw me in the camp, and who now works through me.

..... After observing Nan Mackenzie at work for some time during my early days of exploring the subject, the day came for me to treat my first patient. It was during one of our Monday lunchtime sessions that Nan brought a woman to me. "Wim," said Nan, "here is your first patient."

I realised the moment had come for me to take on responsibility. It must be a moment faced by all doctors, all surgeons – any healer who has to follow his training by beginning to practise his profession for the first time. One wants so much to succeed. How appalling it would be to fail – to fall at the first fence, as it were. I was terrified. What was I to do with this woman?

Nan saw my apprehension. "Put your hands on her," she advised, "say your little prayer, and do no more."

Wim welcomes a disabled visitor to Freezen HillThe patient was suffering from pain and a lack of mobility in her leg. If my colleagues could have seen me, I thought, sitting in this cubicle with my hands on the hips of a strange woman, I would have been a laughing stock.

"Move your leg in a circle," I said to the woman, and she laboriously moved a leg half-heartedly. "That's not a circle," I protested. "That's a square. I want you to make a circle."

She cautiously moved her leg in a wider sphere as I held it. Suddenly there was a loud crack beneath my hands. My God, I thought, I've ruined this woman for life! The sweat began to stand out on my brow as Nan came in and saw my panic; "How are you now?" she asked the woman whose leg I thought I had broken.

The woman's face broke into a smile. "I'm fine now," she beamed. "I'm sure I'll be able to climb the stairs now. Thank you very much."

She walked out much improved, to my relief and astonishment.

And that's how it all started.

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