Thursday, February 21, 2013

My father, the electrician

Louis at age 14 as an electrician's apprentice in Utrecht

My father wrote that from the time he was a boy, he knew he wanted to work with electricity.  I read this a couple of years ago for the first time, and I was awed.  He lived the life he imagined as a child.  He began his apprenticeship at age 14 and went to school at night for three years, became a journeyman and then a master electrician.

He became the head lighting technician for what he called "the opera house" in Utrecht.  He pointed it out to me in 1981 when we were there together, and it was then a "concertgebouw." He had this job when my parents married in 1941 and gave it up in 1948 to emigrate to America.  His brother replaced him and worked there until his retirement.

My father's best war story was the one where the Nazis pulled men off the street, as they did periodically, and housed them temporarily in the opera house.  My father knew they were there, and he and Jan Copier (my mother's oldest brother)--somebody correct me if I'm wrong-- decided to save as many as they could through some obscure doorway into the auditorium.  They opened it slightly and beckoned men at the edges of the room to come out.  He said most were too scared to try, but about ten men did leave.  Then they walked them out of the building and into the street at night where they broke into groups of twos and threes and walked slowly out of the neighborhood.

Another war story:   After my parents were married, they were on their way to church one Sunday morning and were stopped by a Nazi soldier, who told them to go home.  "They're rounding up men today," he said.  "Go home.  The guy in the next block won't let you go."

My father said that even in 1948 after they had visas and tickets to leave the Netherlands, he was afraid they wouldn't be able to get out.  There was some last line they had to go through and have their passports stamped and he grew increasingly anxious that they wouldn't let him and his family pass.  When he arrived at the official's table, the man looked at his passport and then at him and said, "You were the man who got me out of the opera house."  Stamp.

Because he worked in a theater, my father had to have a permit to be out after curfew.  "Of course, the buggers could just as soon shoot you as ask to see a permit," he said.  Buggers was his favorite word for Nazis. 

I began with electricity and ended with Nazis.  "Oh vel," as my mother used to say.

My early life was shaped in fear. 


  1. I am blown away by that opera house/passport stamp story.

  2. Just letting you know that you're an inspiration. Wrote on my blog tonight...kudos to you.
    And a side note: he whistled while he worked....or at least tried.

  3. Louise, your dad was an electrician and a hero! Did your parents let you know they were scared when you were young or was there just a current of fear everywhere that you picked up on? How old were you when you immigrated? Did you understand what was going on? I am so interested in the details of what your early years were like.

  4. This stuff keeps getting better and better. I'm really enjoying your family history.

  5. i'm a fan who followed you from the apron stage---and i'm LOVING these family history posts. (i hope it's not weird that i'm still reading? ) If you made a book-I would buy it. For me, my parents, and each of my brothers and sisters. There's 6 copies right there. and this story is incredible.

  6. Your stories remind me of reading "Anne Frank", I couldn't and still can't imagine what it must have been like. So surreal for someone who has never lived through it. Thank you for sharing, I am so hooked, its the first thing I check when I get on the computer. I love how the writer in you mingles fact with fiction.

  7. I never knew the man, but even I wish I could hear your dad tell that story.
    I'd love to hear your mother say, "Oh vel."