On Remembrance Day, many people remember the fallen soldiers of World War I and World War II. However, the days of having family, friends, and neighbors who had served, lived, and died during these wars are on the verge of passing away. While we may set aside an hour to remember the fallen one day a year, how much do we actually care about the blood that bought our freedom? How much do we actually care about the men and women who gave up everything, either coming home broken or not coming home at all? This generation is slipping away, without notice or concern.
My grandparents were Dutch immigrants to Canada. I knew Grandpa was born in the 1930s, but for some reason I had never asked about what he remembers about World War II. Tonight, I asked him. He told me about hiding Jews and refugees, and never having enough to eat. He told me that his family would plant a field of potatoes one day, and the next day the entire field had been dug up by people who were starving to death. People were killing rats and mice, trying to find anything to stay alive.
Every day, there were people knocking on my Grandpa’s door, begging for something, anything, to eat. Every male aged 18 to 40, except for a select few, were forcibly carried off to Germany to work there. Of everything the family farm grew, the Germans took a certain amount. Grandpa told me about little tricks they would use just so they could hide enough food to survive.
After all, his family was feeding a minimum of 25 people every single meal. One time, a couple of German officers saw a few of the people they were hiding slip into the barn. So they came to the farm, searched through everything, and demanded that Grandpa’s dad give them up. He refused. Eventually, the officers lined him up to be killed, telling him that if he did not give the men up, it was his life for theirs.
He never gave them up and ended up making a deal with the officers, giving them food and promising more for the future. My grandpa still has nightmares about those years, even though he says he was too young to understand the enormity of what was going on. I had no idea he had gone through so much. I had no idea I have such an honorable heritage. My family risked everything in order to aid those who could not help themselves, even when they were in danger of death and starvation. I had no idea about any of this before tonight.
My grandpa is in his eighties. I want him to be there when I graduate from university. I want him to be there if I ever get married. However, it is a real possibility that he won’t make it that far. He was only a child during World War II, and his generation is passing away, disappearing without a trace. The youngest veterans of that war are now in their nineties. This generation will disappear within the next decade or two, along with their stories. So, if you know someone who is old enough to remember World War II, ask them about it.
You will never regret it because those stories are our heritage. Those stories are powerful reminders of what life was like back then. Now, we get annoyed if we don’t get our coffee in minutes, or we have to go fill up our gas tank. Men and women lived and died for us and our families, risking starvation, death, deportation, and everything they held dear. Remembrance Day may only come once a year, but make an effort to honour those who have lived through war every day.
By: A UPEI Student
Photo: Britsoc: The British Society of Amsterdam and the Netherlands
The views expressed in this letter are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by The Cadre.
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