- Written by Gabriele Amersbach Gabriele Amersbach
Louis Meevers-Scholte was born in a windmill in a small Dutch village in 1934. Eventually both Meevers-Scholte and the windmill would end up in America, bearing scars of a war that defined his childhood.
Yet, relying on his faith and wits, Meevers-Scholte not only survived but thrived in dark times that would crush many. His life is a living embodiment of his personal philosophy: “Life is what you make it — it’s your choice how you live it.”
In 1940, when Meevers-Scholte was 5, Nazi Germany took over the country, a dark period of violence and repression, especially against the Jewish population. Only 38,000 of the 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands survived violence and deportation to death camps.
Meevers-Scholte’s family was not spared. Soldiers shot into his home (one can find six bullet holes in the windmill, which now rests in Holland, Michigan, a gift from Queen Beatrix of Holland in 1955).
During the five-year occupation, Meevers-Scholte and a gang of other boys joined the underground resistance. He tells of hiding underneath a train loaded with families heading for the death camps. When the train started, the boys climbed up the cars to the section where the engine was coupled to the rest of the train.
Meevers-Scholte describes their heart-stopping maneuver: “We stabbed the guard and uncoupled the engine from the cars. The people in the cars were then able to run away. A lot of people’s lives were saved.”
The group of boys also found creative ways to steal food to deliver to starving Dutch families — and to Jewish families in hiding, including Anne Frank in Amsterdam.
“We were all hungry, every one of us,” says Meevers-Scholte, explaining his stomach was distended from starvation.
He tells a chilling tale of chopping down a pine tree to cook and eat the bark. As he dragged the tree home, someone grabbed it.
Meevers-Scholte, age 9, told him, “I’ll chop off your hand if you don’t let go.” The hand came home with the tree.
“I had nightmares for years about that day,” he says.
Despite these deprivations, the family survived until the last day of the war in 1945. Enemy soldiers rounded up his father, who was Jewish, and 13 other men. They were massacred, while their families were forced to watch.
Meevers-Scholte was also injured. As he drew what he thought would be his last breath, “Jesus came into my soul,” he explains. “I know I’m never alone.”
He had found a lifelong spiritual belief that has sustained him through many hardships.
After the massacre, Meevers-Scholte knew he had to leave in order to survive. At age 10, he stole away, skating down the long canal out of his village, with only a flashlight and a bottle of water.
Eventually he reached Belgium, just one of several countries in war-torn Europe he would pass through on his way to America, his final destination.
Meevers-Scholte found ways to survive, from working on farms to selling abandoned newspapers he found in train stations. In France, he briefly slept in the Eiffel Tower. The swaying of the tower made him seasick, so he moved on to an elevator in the Arc de Triomphe.
“I liked that better,” says Meevers-Scholte. “It was warm.”
Eventually he reached Spain. There, Meevers-Scholte begged for food at restaurants or hung out near the bullfight rings. After the bull was killed, poor people were able to divide up the meat.
“I ate too much steak at that time and now avoid it,” he says with a smile.
After three years of wandering through postwar Europe, Meevers-Scholte arrived in Portugal, where he stowed away on a ship he thought was U.S. bound. Armed with a flashlight and pocket knife so he could cut himself free, Meevers-Scholte hid in a canvas laundry cart.
Unfortunately, the ship stopped in England, where Meevers-Scholte stayed six months until he could stow away again. He survived by sitting next to the same woman every day for the eight-day trip. Meevers-Scholte admits he was lucky.
“The crew thought I was with her, and I ate with the other guests. She never told anyone, or I would have been caught.”
When the ship docked in Hoboken, New Jersey, Meevers-Scholte decided to hitch to the Bronx. There he found a friend, a homeless man named Andrew Jackson.
“A Black man taught me to speak English and to read with the help of Donald Duck and Archie comics. He didn’t see color, just a young boy who needed help,” says Meevers-Scholte.
During the next three years, Meevers-Scholte and Jackson worked together, first selling newspapers, then selling umbrellas and roasted chestnuts in front of Macy’s and Gimbels.
Since Meevers-Scholte didn’t have a bank account, he buried his money in coffee cans in the Bronx Zoo or kept it in a money belt. By age 16, he had made enough money for his first apartment until he left to join the service.
“I continued to send Andrew money for the apartment and took care of him until he died when he was almost 90. I didn’t want him to live on the street,” says Meevers-Scholte, explaining race and age were never issues.
“I just saw a man, and I loved him. He took care of me, I took care of him. That’s the most important thing.”
A Citizen in 48 Hours
At age 16, Meevers-Scholte lied about his age and forged his mother’s signature to join the National Guard.
One of his duties was to cook for the officers. Meevers-Scholte decided his meals needed a boost and used his own money to buy extras that substantially improved the flavor of his cooking.
His extra efforts paid off. When Meevers-Scholte was 17, his colonel found out he wasn’t a citizen. Since he liked Meevers-Scholte, he was able to procure citizenship papers for him within 48 hours.
Meevers-Scholte reenlisted for nine years. During this time, he married his first wife and had five children. By age 24, he was able to bring his mother, his sister, and her family to the United States to live with him and his family in a large house with a separate apartment.
A few years later, Meevers-Scholte wanted his own used-furniture business. He filled an empty storefront within a few weeks by reviewing obituaries and offering to clean out the apartments.
“I’d auction off three items and send the family the money. The rest of the stuff was free!” he explains.
By the time Meevers-Scholte left the Bronx to seek a quieter life with fewer big-city problems, he had three stores and a bakery. In 1998, he sold everything and moved his family to Strasburg, Pennsylvania, his home ever since.
A few years later, Meevers-Scholte and his first wife divorced. He eventually married a second time and had five more children.
While he was busy with family and work, Meevers-Scholte never stopped learning. He exemplifies his own motto, “The longer you live, the more you learn.” Along the way he learned to carve wood and sold his toys and furniture at the Green Dragon Farmers Market in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, until age 84.
He also entertained shoppers by playing music on a keyboard he had taught himself to play. Over the years, Meevers-Scholte became accomplished enough to produce 18 CDs of his own classical music.
“All my feelings go into my music, both the happiness and sadness,” he explains.
Call Me ‘Santa’
Meevers-Scholte also added making clothes to his portfolio of skills. His favorites are three different Santa suits that he wears to play piano every December at Root’s Market in Manheim, Pennsylvania, ready to soothe the soul of anyone who listens.
He also volunteers with hospice groups and is currently learning the viola.
At 86, he has learned that to make room for joy and new beginnings requires “letting things go and forgiving. I’m not bitter about anything. Bitterness will destroy your life.”
Meevers-Scholte is sustained by his faith and a group of close friends who meet weekly at Chick-fil-A. At night, he falls asleep looking at a blue ceiling full of stars as he listens to an antique music box that lulls him to sleep.
Meevers-Scholte wants to be ready for what the new day brings.
“I have a lot more to do.”
Louis Meevers-Scholte Louis Meevers-Scholte will be performing as Kris Kringle at Root’s Country Market and Auction in Manheim, Pa., starting Nov. 30 and throughout December. During the morning, he performs in the market; in the afternoon, he performs in the market restaurant. On Dec. 7, Meevers-Scholte will perform as Kris Kringle in Colonial Williamsburg, Va.