Child abuse in The Netherlands during the period 1943 t0 1960 – A personal account
My name is Richard Leopold Esveld. I was a Ward of the State in the Netherlands from the early 1940s to early 1960s. My date and place of birth was set by court order as being 13 October 1941 in Amsterdam. I was told this fact by my last Government Handler (Social Worker), Mrs van Wezel in 1963 in the presence of my then fiancée, Catharina Koekoek (now my wife, Catharina Esveld). Mrs van Wezel also told me that I was taken from my parents (Hendrik Esveld and Helena Esveld-Stam) when I was two or three years old and suffering from a ruptured appendix. She told me that I was in hospital for quite a while and that I had to learn to walk again. The operation was successful, but left a scar so ugly that during the rest of my life doctors would ask “who did this, a butcher?”
My earliest recollection of my childhood was me watching my eldest brother and sister being led away from the orphanage by a man and a woman. Many years later, as an adult, when I met my eldest brother again he told me that that was indeed what happened when I was approx. 3 years old.
The same foster parents, Mrs Kraayenbrink (not sure about the spelling of the name), from Haarlem took me in when I was about 12 years old. Unfortunately, she did not like the fact that I was still bedwetting, so after about a year she got rid of me and I was placed in yet another orphanage. I think this was a Salvation Army home in Amsterdam because I remember an occasion where us kids were told to stay away from the Home until late at night because the Home was being inspected by the Salvation Army’s Head Office staff from Switzerland. We were given sandwiches for our lunch and dinner.
That story also reminds me of the way teachers in the various schools I attended used to treat us because we were wearing “hand-me-downs”. We stood out and the teachers picked on us because we looked different.
Anyway, after being placed in a variety of orphanages between the ages 3 and 8 (I think they might all have been Salvation Army homes) located in and around Hilversum and Amersfoort, I was taken to a foster home in Weesp. I arrived at their door wearing all I owned. The lady, Mrs Kors, later made me a jacket and pants out of old curtain material. I have fond memories of this family, but unfortunately for me they had to let me go when their son came back from the war in Indonesia and their house was not big enough to accommodate both of us. A Government Handler picked me up and placed me in yet another orphanage (I don’t know where).
When I was about 10 years old I was placed in a foster home in Arnhem. I remember that my youngest brother Tony (who I had not seen since I was three) was also with that foster family. This family had 2 children of their own. I was treated like a slave by this family, darning their kids’ socks, cleaning the house and sewing buttons onto cards to make extra money for this family. If I or one of the other kids did something wrong, they would call me into their kitchen and hit me on the head with a wet tea towel until I admitted guilt, whether I had done whatever they accused me of, or not.
On my 11th birthday, late at night, a Government Handler took me away from this family and took me to a very bad children’s home in Velp. All I can remember of that place is arriving there late at night, nobody said “happy birthday”, and when I had to go to the toilet a guard would come with me. A horrible place in my memory.
After Velp they took me to Haarlem to join my eldest brother and sister in their foster home. I told you about what happened there earlier.
After Haarlem I was placed in a variety of homes but the only one I can remember was called “Beton Dorp”. Another terrible place in my memory. Something must have happened in Beton Dorp, what I don’t know, because the Dutch Government placed me in an even worse place called Eikenstein in Zeist. By then I was about 14 years old.
In Eikenstein we were not allowed out on our own. The first 4 weeks we were not even allowed to leave the building at all. In the 5th week we could walk as a group, under guard, into the township of Zeist. We lived in what was called “chambrettes”, an area containing a bed and a simple table for homework and a glass screen to allow the guards to view our small area. New kids, including me, were usually initiated by being tied up and having a bottle filled with paint emptied into their bottom.
When we had been naughty, and we were, we were forced to dig up tree stumps in the gardens dressed in shorts in any weather condition. Sometimes they would lock us away in a dark room with only ventilation holes. During shower time we were routinely hosed down by the guards with firehoses (cold water). When many years later I read a book called “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay, a similar scene in a South African orphanage caused me to have a mental breakdown.
The Dutch Government eventually realised that a person like me, who simply ended up in Eikenstein because no other place was available at the time, should be placed in a better environment. However, once again no room could be found in ordinary orphanages, so they put me temporarily in a place for kids whose parents worked overseas or in the country areas. It was probably the best six to eight months of my life. But it could not last because it was too expensive, and I was taken to yet more children’s homes.
The last orphanage I can remember was “Het Weeshuis” in Amsterdam. I stayed there until I was 19 years old and moved out to study navigation at the Maritime School in Den Helder. This was a boarding school. To cut a long story short, I took part in a prank and I was punished and dismissed from the school. Since I had nowhere to go I hitched a ride with a Brazilian couple who were on holidays in the Netherlands. They drove me from Den Helder to Amsterdam.
Having no home to go to I decided to go back to my last orphanage, “Het Weeshuis”. However, since I was now 20 years old I was too old for an orphanage. They allowed me to stay for 3 days until the Government could find me a room to rent somewhere in Amsterdam.
In the meantime, two things happened. I can’t remember how, but somehow it was arranged that I would stay with my mother and her husband. I moved in for a short while, but my mother fell ill and had to go to hospital. Whilst visiting her I met a cute little nurse who was to become my wife (we have now been married for almost 53 years).
Mrs van Wezel, my last Government Handler, organised for me to join a shipping company to complete my year of apprenticeship as a navigator. I was planning to return to the Maritime School in Den Helder to complete my interrupted education, after completion of my apprenticeship. However, my then girlfriend gave me an ultimatum, “it’s either me or the sea”. I chose her.
Once I left the sea, I was forced to do my compulsory military service. With no parents or family to stay with at weekends whilst off duty, I was forced to sign up for 4 years with the Airforce (KVV).
During my time in the Airforce my then fiancée discovered that my father worked as a printer at a newspaper, “Het Vrije Volk”, and she contacted him without my knowledge. He invited us to come over to his house. He offered me a place to stay when I was off duty. It was the first time I had seen him since I was 3 years old.
One day when I came to his house I found myself locked out. He had met a woman who had moved in with him and there was no room for me anymore. I went to my fiancee’s house and her grandmother kindly offered me her spare room to stay.
When my fiancée and I decided to get married we discovered that by law I had to get parental permission to get married. My father signed straight away but I had to locate my mother’s whereabouts. After locating her, my fiancée and I went to her house and rang the bell. She was on the first floor and had a rope connected to the door, so she could open it from above. When I looked up and saw her and told her that I needed her permission to get married, she said bluntly: “I have no son!” And with that she shut the door in my face. As a result, I had to get permission from the courts to get married.
After we got married (January 1965) we moved to a shared house in Zeist (we shared this house with two other young couples, sharing a toilet with one of them, no bath nor shower). As fate would have it, our first home was located directly opposite Eikenstein. I only realised this after we had signed a lease. So, I had to relive the horrors of Eikenstein daily. I was then still in the Airforce working as an assistant meteorologist in Soesterberg. However, the stresses of my past were catching up with me. I couldn’t sleep, visited my psychiatrist on a regular basis, took many drugs to keep me going and as a result unsettled the lives of my young family in the process.
We had many sleepless nights sitting up in bed playing various games to take my mind of the darkness that was engulfing me. My poor young wife had to endure it all and it started to affect our lives in many negative ways.
Wherever I went I saw people I seemed to know but I could never put a name to a face! For instance, I was a regular umpire at tennis games, yet every game I umpired I had to ask the players, who I had known for a couple of years, for their names. Very embarrassing (I still have that problem today).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, my doctor and psychiatrist suggested that I move my young family (my children were 1 and 3 years old) to another country. My doctor told me “to get sworn at in a different language”.
The company I worked for after my 4 years in the Airforce (Douwe Egberts in Utrecht) didn’t want to lose me and offered me positions in either Canada, South Africa or Australia. We opted for Australia and left The Netherlands in June 1969.
My life in Australia has been good. I worked for the Douwe Egberts local affiliates for a while and then became a Senior Marketing Manager for Panasonic for 10 years. I re-schooled myself and became a lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics for the past 25 years.
I am still a burden to my wife, and I can only keep going with the aid of sleeping tablets and anti-depressants. My past, unfortunately, will haunt me until the day I die.
Whether I was sexually assaulted in any of the institutions or homes I was in during the first 20 years of my life, I do not know. However, I do know that it has adversely and dramatically affected the quality of my life.
The Dutch Government is not responsible for the fact that my parents did not look after me, but they are responsible for using unqualified people to take charge of my life. In the 18 years the Government of The Netherlands had control over my life they only used one qualified handler! All the others, and there were many, were simply people who had some time on their hands.
T H E E N D