LAKE STEVENS — Peter Metzelaar remembers being 7 years old, and hiding under wooden floor boards as he listened to Nazi soldiers look for him above.
“Numerous times they’d be walking a foot and a half over my head,” he said. “All it would have taken was one cough, one sneeze, one hiccup, it would have been all over.”
In 1942, during World War II, most of Metzelaar’s family was taken away by Nazis, except for he and his mother. They went into hiding, and were sheltered by a couple named Klaas and Roefina Post who owned a farmhouse in Holland.
On Thursday, Metzelaar shared his story with eighth and ninth graders at Cavelero Mid-High School in Lake Stevens. At least 100 students, parents and teachers filled the school commons.
Teacher Emily Dykstra reached out to the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, to invite Metzelaar to the school. She wanted students to hear a real-life experience of the Holocaust, after reading books such as The Diary of Anne Frank.
Metzelaar was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1935. One of his first memories of the Holocaust came seven years later.
One night, trucks carrying German soldiers pulled up to the apartment complex he lived in and began to kick in doors, yelling about killing Jews. At school the next day some children were missing.
As time went on, members of his own family started to disappear. First it was an aunt and uncle, then his grandparents, and later his father.
In all cases, his mother broke the news. “How does a mother explain something like that?” Metzelaar asked.
June 1942 was the last time Metzelaar saw his father, who was arrested while fishing.
Metzelaar now has a certificate that says he died in Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. More than 1 million people were killed there.
Prisoners in the camp were liberated on Jan. 27, 1945, 75 years ago last month.
In 1942, soon after Metzelaar’s father went missing, the boy’s mother contacted the Dutch Underground, who put them in touch with the Posts, a Christian couple.
They stayed there for two and a half years, and never went outside during the daytime for fear of being caught. Metzelaar could only play with his toys in the fresh air after dusk.
“We didn’t exist,” he said. “We don’t have a body, we don’t have a soul, because the minute we think we do, we’re gonna be dead.”
Eventually, the family had to find other places to hide on the property. They dug a hole in the dirt outside. There was barely enough room for Metzelaar and his mother to squeeze in. They’d run there whenever they heard the Nazi trucks rumbling toward the house.
As raids became more frequent, Metzelaar’s mother decided to find another place to go. They found someone else to take them in, but less than a year later she decided to find a way back to Amsterdam. Metzelaar was 10 at the time.
One morning he woke up to her sewing sheets together, to make a nurse’s uniform. Later that day the two started walking. Eventually they arrived at a highway, and his mom started to hitchhike.
A Nazi flatbed truck stopped. Metzelaar was terrified.
His mom made up a story that she was a Red Cross nurse who needed to get the boy to an orphanage in Amsterdam, because his parents had just been killed by a British bomb.
The soldier helped them into the truck.
“The people that wanted to kill us took us where we wanted to go,” he told the gathering. “Absolutely unbelievable.”
Months passed, and in May 1945, Canada liberated the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.
Metzelaar and his mother came to the United States about four years later, when he was 13. Back then he didn’t know any English.
Time passed, and in 1954 he became a U.S. citizen and soon after joined the Army. He ended up getting married and raising his children in California.
He had always wondered what happened to the Post family. In 1992, when his children were grown, he tried to find them.
He didn’t know what village they lived in. His mother was ill at the time, but remembered the name of the dirt road.
He went back to Holland and after plenty of searching found the house. Klaas and Roefina Post had died about eight years before.
Metzelaar has now lived in Seattle for 23 years.
On Thursday, the group of young people listened quietly as he shared his story. Some asked questions once he was finished, and others lined up to meet him. One group of students presented him with flowers.
Eighth grader Camille Fang was most touched by the story of Metzelaar and his mother’s journey to Amsterdam, when the soldier picked them up.
Before the presentation, she was excited to hear his story.
“This is one of those chances you don’t really get to see every day,” she said.