“In April, 1945, the end of the war was in sight. The Nazis allowed the Red Cross to fly in bread from Sweden for the Dutch city people. I can still see the planes flying low over our city, their bellies painted orange. And some of us saw the big parcels dropping at Schiphol airfield. We all cried when we got that bread. It tasted like the most delicious cake. On May 5th our liberators came—Canadian soldiers. What a relief, and how thankful we were. Liberation. It is such a deep, joyful word.”
This excerpt from the memoirs of a long-time member of West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alta., now deceased, was among the many stories shared on the evening of May 8 as approximately 180 church members and guests gathered to emotionally remember and enthusiastically celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from enemy occupation during World War II.
The deep gratitude and respect that the Dutch and the Netherlands have for Canada and for Canadians today can be traced back to the key role that Canada played in liberating the Netherlands from the Nazis. More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers died on Dutch soil in the effort. As well as its role in liberation, Canada also provided sanctuary during the war to some members of the Dutch royal family. The enduring connection between the two countries is evidenced by the ongoing care the Dutch bestow on the graves of all the Canadian soldiers buried in the Netherlands and in the tulips—gifts from the Netherlands—that bloom in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa each spring.
Most of the storytellers, senior members of West End CRC, were children in the Netherlands at the time of World War II, their parents later immigrating to Canada, where they established some of the first Christian Reformed congregations in this country. Other storytellers shared not their own memories but stories that relatives had handed down either verbally or in writing. There were stories of fear, hunger, and death as well as life-giving stories about acts of kindness and mercy shown and many expressions of gratitude to God and to Canada.
“You only know what freedom is when you’ve had a time when you didn’t have freedom,” explained one elderly man before sharing his story.
Another man in his 80s started his presentation by saying, “Thank God for godly people.” He went on to tell the story of the farmer who saved his life. At age 9, Jim Cupido was starving, as were many in Holland’s cities. A six-hour train ride away, a Christian farmer took in Cupido and other children for six weeks at a time and fed them back to health and strength. Because they were so weak, they were not expected to do any farm work.
Two German women who grew up near the border with Holland also shared stories of their lives during the war, explaining how dangerous it was to speak out against Hitler in their German town and how “scary” a time it was. “I started school in 1939,” one of them said, “but spent half the time in a bunker.” And so the storytelling went throughout the evening.
Remembering and celebrating Liberation Day through storytelling turned out to be a powerful intergenerational community-building event. Many in the audience voiced their gratitude for the gift of the stories shared, and those who spoke appeared proud and invigorated in the telling.