I found myself standing by a canal in the heart of Amsterdam while twilight darkened the city and night fell. Ice skimmed the water and snow brightened the sidewalks.

It was beautiful, but what struck me most was how quiet it was despite being a metropolis at rush hour. The occasional car rolled slowly by. I could see and hear the tram around a bend in the canal. But most people were going home by foot or by bike. Bicycles, I discovered, counter noise pollution as well as air pollution.

It made me realize how quiet Amsterdam and similar cities must have been during the war. By the end of the occupation, most Dutchmen, Belgians and Frenchmen had lost their motorcars to army requisitions, a lack of spare parts or gasoline shortages.

Deliveries could be made by horse-drawn vehicle, bicycle or by gazogène (charcoal-burning motor), which look noisy although I’ve never heard one. Even these would have been subject to requisition by 1944.

So most people were left with the tram, a bicycle or their feet. Now it’s true that rubber shortages forced many cyclers to switch to wooden wheels. Again, I’ve never heard a wooden-wheeled bicycle ride down a brick or cobbled street, but I suppose it’d be noisier than today’s bikes but still quieter than a car. And even bicycles were subject to requisition by 1944, although only men’s models. Apparently it was beneath the dignity of the Wehrmacht to ride ladies’ bicycles.

Add the prevalent fear and foreboding to a city without mechanical engines and you have a quiet city that is nonetheless listening.

So the sound of an engine might well make you turn the other way, given that by the end only the enemy and his collaborators had vehicles and the gasoline to run them.

Imagine how awfully the pounding march of the hobnail boots of a German squad must have ricocheted down the narrow streets as they came to arrest a neighbor or you.

And imagine how many people would hear a party of Germans and their local girlfriends laughing in the streets on their way home from a night out. Perhaps the memory of that unconcerned noise in a worried city fueled the anger at “horizontal collaborators” that spilled out into the public humiliation of such women at the liberation.

So for me as I stood by the canal in 2010, the quiet seemed peaceful. But had I been standing in that same place sixty-five years earlier in the last desperate winter of the war, the quiet would have meant scarcity, or fear, or even temporary safety.

 Do you remember what the war sounded like? Do I have it right? Please leave a comment by clicking on the word “comment” below and writing in the blue box. Thank you!