Mona was crammed once more into the airless cattle car of a train, this time northbound for a prison in Vechta. The prison had been a reform school for girls prior to the war, but the inmates were released when the need for space to house foreign prisoners increased.
Shortly after Mona's arrival another small group of prisoners was delivered to Vechta. One young woman was confined to her cell and not permitted to join the other prisoners for meals or exercise. Though initially unsure why her prison-mate had to abide by special restrictions, Mona felt sorry for her and attempted to make contact, if only to boost the young woman's spirits and to let her know she had one friend in the prison. At the end of her kitchen detail, Mona slipped a cooked potato undetected into a secret pocket she had sewn in the skirt of her uniform for the purpose, and smuggled it to the young woman. Grateful, the newcomer accepted the gift.
The recent arrival introduced herself as Wendelien van Boetzelaer, a 22-year old baroness and university student who had been rounded up with several others for prolonged resistance activity.
Although Wendelien was struck by Mona's almost wild-eyed appearance and a cheerful demeanor that bordered on manic, she recalled more than 50 years later that what impressed her most about Mona was her life force. "She had a great repertoire of songs. She had naughty songs, happy songs…." And with the inventive humor that seems to have been consistent among those who survived long terms in Nazi prisons and camps, Mona entertained her prison-mates.
Mona quickly acquainted Wendelien with the hierarchy of the prison.
The prison director, Mona had discovered, was not like her Nazi counterparts. In fact, she was a lesbian, and as such was not sympathetic to the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. She had compassion for most of the women in her charge, though she was not willing to risk her life or position for them. As long as she was head of the prison, she could take care of the women in some way. Imprisoned or dead, she could be of no help.
Mona persuaded the prison director to let Wendelien out of her cell to join the rest of the prisoners for work tasks, meals and to take exercise. Although daily life in the prison was bleak, Mona knew it was better to be with the general population than cooped up alone in a damp cell every cold winter day. When assigned to kitchen duties, both women smuggled pieces of cooked potatoes to share with women assigned to other tasks in the prison.
Exercise in the prison yard consisted of prisoners shuffling along single file in a circle. Talk was most dangerous during these sessions. The exercise was torturous for malnourished women clad in thin clothing. The pace at which they needed to walk to create some warmth was not allowed, so they struggled along, enduring the cold until they could seek shelter inside the old building, which wasn't much warmer but which at least offered some protection from the elements.
On returning indoors after one such session, Wendelien quickly told Mona that she was going to attempt another escape. As soon as she had the opportunity, Mona asked Wendelien how and when she would accomplish this. Wendelien said she didn't know; an opportunity was sure to present itself, in time, and both of them had to be ready to seize it.
Just after the middle of March, Mona and Wendelien noticed an increase in plane traffic in the skies over Vechta. They expected an air attack was imminent, and surmised that the planes overhead were on missions beyond bombing selected targets. In anticipation of her next opportunity to escape, Wendelien asked the prison director for a sweater that was among the belongings taken from her when she was admitted to the prison. She cited the bone-chilling dampness and her rheumatism as grounds for needing extra warmth, but her real reason was to have an extra piece of non-prison issue clothing on her when the time came to escape. Buoyed by her success, Wendelien encouraged Mona to ask for her shoes on the same grounds - that the wooden prison clogs were inadequate to keep her feet warm. If the prison director suspected the real reason for their requests, she never let on.
On March 22, 1945, Patton's troops crossed the Rhein at Oppenheim; at the same time, about 150 miles down river from Patton's location, Montgomery was completing preparations for his troops' surge across the Rhein at Wesel. Late at night on March 23, Operation Plunder was launched with a tremendous bombardment. Early the next morning, March 24, Operation Varsity augmented Plunder, while members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders were part of the force that readied itself to continue the advance, observed from an Allied command post by Winston Churchill. One wonders what Mona's reaction would have been had she known that her fellow Nova Scotians were so near at hand and about to play a supporting role in her dramatic bid for freedom.
The inmates were just starting their workday when the Allied attack was unleashed on their position.
According to Wendelien, a general panic quickly ensued, which included guards throwing themselves on the floor, crying "Ich will nicht sterben!" ("I don't want to die!") The director, concerned about the fate of her charges, unlocked the prison gates and shouted that the prisoners had a choice. They could go to the prison's bomb shelter, or they could take their chances outside in the hail of bombs and gunfire. The director had no chance to reconsider her offer before Wendelien grabbed Mona's hand, and both women bolted out into the mayhem.
"I don't know what we used for energy," mused the baroness 53 years later. "Especially Mona. She was particularly thin and weak. She had been in Nazi prisons for more than three years. But then, maybe that's what drove her on."
Fear prevailed over exhaustion, and the two proceeded in what they thought was a westerly direction toward Holland; without a map or a compass, they couldn't be entirely certain of their course.
Gradually, the relentless bombing subsided, and as night approached they found shelter in the barn of a deserted farm. There, for the first time in their brief re-acquaintance with liberty, they began to realize that they were, indeed, free. There was little time to examine their rapidly changing emotions - disbelief, exhilaration, fear, giddiness, panic, the desire to laugh, shriek and cry all at once - because most pressing was the need to decide their next step. The quiet and safety of the barn provided them with their first opportunity to assess their situation and discuss their strategy for returning home.