Was there any reason that you had to move?
Opa and Oma had a farm with a young family and that was during the thirties so there were lots of difficulties. We had illness in the family and illness in the livestock, at times, plus during the thirties things were very difficult because of the depression. So Opa decided it was not worth it there, they were losing money, and it was lots of work, so he decided to sell the farm and move to Enschede and found a job there. He got a job on an estate, just outside the city, working as a grounds keeper, maintenance person, and gardener, etc. He worked there for awhile, He did end up working for a place that supplied fuel for the city, sort of like our natural gas.
How were you or any of your family members involved in the war?
Uncle Gerry was active in the resistance. He did things like helping people hide and finding food coupons to distribute to the people who didn’t have them. In secret they did as much as they could to hinder the Germans and to help local people. I don’t know of specific things that he has done, other than being involved. They never talked about it very much, because a lot of the memories are not good memories, there was a lot of fear and uncertainties. One of the things was of course resisting the enemy and helping as much as possible with local people that were in need. The underground as a whole would help some of the Jewish people hide, they would help Allied pilots that were shot down and try find them an escape route to get back to England. (If that was the case). In some cases they sabotaged the German facilities. But they stayed away from that to some degree because there were usually very heavy reprisals. So they tried doing the passive, quiet things helping their people silently.
Do you have any outstanding memories from the war?
My memories really don’t start until the late 40’s . I started in school in Holland in 1948. I remember going to school. I remember what the school building looks like, and how you got there, I remember the church that we went to and how you got there. I remember my Opa’s farm and two of my uncles’ farm a little bit because we would go there occasionally though not very often because it was about an hour’s bike ride. I remember nothing from the war, by the end of the war I was just two years old.
What were the effects on the people after the war was over?
The war had not only put everything on hold for five years but it had also done so much damage to the country that it had set things back in many ways. So for example, in personal relationships, marriages and things like that slowed down, not completely to a halt, but slowed down because of the turmoil and lack of housing. And that lasted for a long time after the war because in Holland after the war it was not uncommon for young couples to be engaged for three or even up to five, six years before getting married because there was simply no place to find a home. Many of them ended up living in a single room with other family members or parents who might have a spare room. So it had those kinds of effects on marriages and families. It also brought many people together because they had survived the war together and then had to work together afterwards to build things again and to get life back into a normal pattern. So I think you can see in older generations and in my brothers and sisters and other families that there is a really close bond between them because they had to really help each other and relied on each other very much. That would be a very lasting effect that they learned to work hard to build things up again; they learned to work together and they became very close and dependent on each other. So maybe less independent in a way then what we are now, although they had learned to be very mature for their age because of the things they went through, but still relied more on each other and working together than every person working for himself. And you saw that in the immigration years too still, when families came here and that the whole family worked together and pooled their resources to buy a farm.
How old was Uncle Gerry when he was working for the resistance?
Uncle Gerry was born in 1924 so he was sixteen at the beginning of the war and at the end he was twenty-one. So in the last several years of the war when they were involved they would have been nineteen, twenty, in that neighborhood. That was their teenage years so to speak. So about the age you guys are now; for the next five or six years your life is totally dictated by the events of that foreign occupation. And that was an enemy occupation so there would have been a curfew at eight o’clock. Nobody was allowed on the streets after that time and if you were a young man and you were caught on the streets you were in trouble because you were likely up to no good. And so families spent a lot of evenings together because everybody had to be in the house. Windows had to be blacked so no lights could shine through. You didn’t know what today or the next day might bring. There were planes flying over head accidentally dropping bombs. There was a little military airport on the outskirts of the city near where we lived so there was some activity at times. In the streets where we lived, close to the end of the war at least half a dozen houses were bombed out, I think only three houses down from ours. That was our play ground after the war. I remember us playing in that area. So we were that close to the bombing activity on certain occasions. The fear at night if you heard airplanes, the fear of a bomb coming through your house was not at all unfounded. It was a reality.
How did your family cope during the war?
Well, there was a lot of hunger during the war, close to the end especially. Our family did not suffer any food problems because of where Opa worked and also because of the farm relatives that we had. In the day time, I don’t know exactly how all that was moved around but quite often the girls would go out on their bikes and they would be carrying stuff around in their saddle bags on their bikes. But we always had a supply of food from other sources besides the food coupons that all the families received. So, physically, in that sense we coped very well. There was one point towards the end of the war when Uncle Gerry and Uncle John and Oom Jan were picked up, Uncle John was in a work camp, so all the older sons were gone and nobody knew where they were. So you can imagine having a family of eight children, and the girls are at home, Uncle Bert was on a farm with an uncle and aunt who didn’t have children and they looked after him because they had food, so one young child of three or four was away from home, the three oldest sons were gone and nobody knew where they were, and there you sat at night in your house wondering where your children were and what was happening, and really wondering, because of the hostile occupation, whether they were in mortal danger or not. That stress and worry about what was happening to people and friends, and neighbors that you heard about, friends that would get picked up, they heard about things happening all over.
What do you think is most important for young people to remember about this time?
The most important thing I think is for us to look at a history like that and all of history then and not take for granted that how we live in Canada today is the way it always is and always has been and that it is, so to speak, normal. You know there are many chapters throughout history where that is not at all normal and we have to think about that. But the most important thing I think then is that our parents and grandparents survived because they trusted in the Lord. And probably their faith was really strengthened by that in a certain way; they learned, or were almost forced to rely on the Lord alone, because there was nothing else for them. I think that that also gave them courage later on in the immigration years, that they were not afraid to go out into new parts of the world and tackle things because they lived from day to day very much and did their work and trusted in the Lord, and that He would care for them as he had done through the war, although not everyone survived.
That sort of answers the last question: How did you see God’s faithfulness in this time?
Well, that raises a question, because of course, you see God’s faithfulness in that He continues to care and provide but you still have to answer the question that not everybody survived. I have a brother whom I don’t know. I was born in ’43, but he was picked up shortly after that, I was just a little baby. So even for me, although I don’t feel any effect, in a sense, because I lost somebody that I didn’t know, but I do have a brother that I never knew as a direct result of the war. Not due to sickness or something like that. So I always kind of blamed the Germans that I have a brother that I don’t know. So you learn to put things in the Lord’s hand and pray and trust that He will provide. The Bible speaks about being tested in many things, it’s probably a test. I think for the younger generation that history is very important because it links directly to your family members and it’s important to remember that the world is still full of evil and that there is always these struggles and that the Lord is continuing with His church gathering work in all of this. And that in the end even as the allies, by the grace of the Lord, were victorious, although there were many wrongs on their side too, that in the end the Lord will bring about the victory of the Lord Jesus coming back the second time. So I think during the war they, we, learned to look prayerfully forward to the end of the war especially when the signs were there, that the Germans were going to lose, that there was much anticipation towards the end of the war. And in some ways I think we should relate to that too and also look too, with much anticipation, to the end of the sin and misery in this world which will only come in the final day, when Jesus returns.