During World War II, Maria Jozefina “Mia” Kleijnen and her family lived in Heerlen, a municipality in the southeastern Netherlands. When her country was freed from Nazi occupation in 1945, 19-year-old Mia wrote with relief to the family of George Grise in Bowling Green, Kentucky. While serving in Europe, George had befriended Mia and her boyfriend Fritz Kraat, and George’s sisters Dorothy and Mary Ruth, his brother Richard, and his parents Mary and Finley Grise had also embraced the Kleijnens. Mia’s letters to them, part of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library, continued for more than 20 years.
Mia’s letters provide a portrait of an ordinary Dutch family grateful to have survived the war. “The Americans are our liberators and friends and therefore we’ll always be thankful!” she declared. The Grises sent gifts and other support, but immediate postwar conditions hampered the Kleijnens’ efforts to rebuild their lives. Christmas gift-giving in 1945 brought Mia “2 pieces of soap, a pair of summer socks and a chocolat bar”–less than before the war, but much more, she admitted, than over the past five years of German occupation. Other precious consumer goods were slow to reappear. “I think whole Holland needs shoes,” Mia observed. She had finally redeemed her ration ticket for a pair of “real leather shoes,” but laid aside her ticket for stockings as “they are not to get in no shop.” Explaining to Dorothy Grise that fountain pens were only available on the black market at high prices, Mia asked if she could arrange to buy one–even a used one–from America for Fritz’s birthday. Nevertheless, Mia was hopeful as she moved toward marriage and a family of her own in the postwar world. “We are going forward, a little slow,” she wrote, “but we go.”