Many Dutch-Canadians like me in Penticton are especially grateful to the men and women of this country who fought so valiantly in the Second World War to liberate the Netherlands.
Thousands of Canadians, including South Okanagan soldiers lost their lives battling the Germans there.
The horrors of war were told to us grandchildren many times by my grandparents in their thick Dutch accents. Those stories serve as constant reminder of what Canadian soldiers went through for my family’s freedom.
My grandparents were on the brink of starvation just before the Canadians freed Holland and helped win the war.
In the beginning of Holland’s occupation, my Opa, on my mother’s side, hid in a wall behind his ice box when German soldiers stormed his house, looking for men to work in their camps.
He hid behind the ice box so that when they shot at all the walls and the floors, the bullets wouldn’t reach him.
My Oma and her family were starving to death when they were liberated her home town of Utrecht. The joyous picture of her with Canadian soldiers piled on top of their army tank is priceless.
Just a month before that picture was taken, my Oma went on a hunger walk. They walked for days, sleeping in abandoned barns, desperate to find a potato or two left in a farmer’s field.
During that trip, a German plane flew overhead and started to shoot at the road they were walking. They hid in a ditch, with the bullets coming so close they left holes in the sacks they were using to gather potatoes.
On my father’s side, my Opa had his bicycle shop confiscated by the Germans who used all his bikes for themselves. He was taken to a work camp in Germany.
My Oma was left to raise my father, a baby at the time, and my uncle. Somehow my Opa actually escaped the Germans, jumping on a work train. As it slowed down for a tight bend, the train was bombed.
My Opa’s death certificate was sent home to my grandmother who had little time to mourn him because he showed up at the door five days later. The Germans assumed he’d died along with the other men on the work train but as fate would have it, he decided it would be a good time to jump off the train as it slowed for that bend.
My grandparents, on my dad’s side, helped their neighbours who were hiding a Jewish family. When the family first arrived, the children could only be fed tiny amounts of bread and sips of water because their stomachs had shrunk so much.
The stories my grandparents told me, some of which I have recorded for safe keeping, are astounding. The atrocities of the Holocaust and everything Nazi leader Adolf Hitler did should never be forgotten so they can never be repeated.
The sacrifices Penticton and South Okanagan soldiers made, leaving the comforts of their hometown for the unknowns of a war that were an ocean away, should always be honoured and remembered.
However, this Remembrance Day is like no other in our history, where we can’t gather to thank those who fought for our freedoms. But we can take a minute of silent reflection, wherever you are at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of November.
Lest We Forget.
Monique Tamminga is the editor of the Penticton Western News and the Keremeos Review.