I lived through World War II and now I’m living through COVID.

Christian Courier has recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. The end of one world calamity and the beginning of a new world calamity stand as bookends to these 75 years. My feelings of isolation in the current pandemic have drawn my memory back to the days of WW II and my own experience in The Netherlands.

I was 10 years old when Germany invaded Holland – the 10th of May, 1940. Very early in the morning while we were still in bed, we woke up to an unfamiliar sound – airplanes. A woman on the street called out: “Het is oorlog!” (It is war!) Germany had invaded Holland, something they had promised not to do.

Soon German soldiers came to our village. Yet at first life went on as usual, or so it seemed. We went to school and our Dad went to work. Mother went about her regular household duties.

Rules and risks

A few years into the war, curfew was imposed on the people. From eight o’clock at night until four o’clock in the morning people were not supposed to be on the street, unless they had acquired a special permit. And when disobeyed, there was not a fee, as with current quarantine laws, but the risk of being shot or sent to a camp. Another significant difference is that the current restrictions have our well-being in mind, while the ones during the war were put on us by an enemy. We also had to cover up our windows at night with black-out paper so that no light would filter through. It became an unpleasant nightly routine.

A girl with her bicycle.
Didy during the war.

The German occupants made people turn in radios and all things copper. People buried their treasures in the garden, giving the enemy just some insignificant items. Some radios were secretly kept to be able to listen to “Radio Oranje.” Every night from London, England came the latest war news. Sometimes our Queen would speak from her safe exile in England, words of encouragement. We listened eagerly, following the progress of those who were going to deliver us! But it was dangerous to listen to that radio. If discovered there would be horrible repercussions.

At night we went to bed with fear, listening to squadrons of planes coming from England to bomb German cities, flying directly overhead. We could hear the fierce rattling of artillery and, if we dared look up, see search lights constantly scanning the sky. Our village was close to the last stronghold of the Germans, a town by the name of Delfzijl. Sometimes a pilot, when caught in a search light, would let go of his bombs. My sister and I anxiously listened to the swishing of the bombs coming down. A terrifying sound, becoming louder and louder, and we would wonder where they would hit. I shudder when I think of what it did to the German people as well, this relentless bombing of their cities for years! We were young children and often we were scared but I can only imagine the anxiety the war caused our parents.

Refuge and regret

In that second year of the occupation all the young men in our village, and later older men too, were told to go to work in Germany. Most of them went underground and spent miserable, anxious years in hiding. Some of them also went to work for the resistance movement, or tried to get to England. Some never came back. They were sons and fathers. As we grew older, we knew there were secret things going on that we children were not supposed to know about. After the war we heard of two pilots that had come down and had found refuge in our village.

Then came the attacks on Jewish people, which had already been going on for a long time in other countries. Seven pavilions stood in our village, where mentally unwell people were being cared for. Each one carried a Biblical name – Bethesda, Rehoboth, Salem, Hebron, Ebenhaezer, Bethel and Zoar. Four Jews were among them. They were sent away too. Simply put on the regular bus, I remember, to go . . . where? They were never heard of again. Later, great regret was felt that this had happened, to blindly have followed orders from the German authorities.

Dwindling rations

In 1942 I started going to school in Delfzijl. It was about a half hour bike trip. We rode our bikes together, a small group of boys and girls. We had a lot of fun, despite the war. The boys would sometimes hang on to the back of a moving truck when we had the wind against us, for it could get very windy there close to the North Sea and the dikes. A very dangerous practice I think now.

That last year of the war we did not go to school very often. In the country, we were unaware that in the cities the situation was very bad. Each year it had become a little harder, but in that last severe winter of 1944-45 there was little food nor warmth left. There were soup kitchens and people would line up once a day with a bowl to obtain some watery soup. But it wasn’t enough. Scores of hungry people would walk days on end or ride a bike and were on the road for days, knocking on farmers’ doors, begging for food to bring back to their family. In that last winter, many people starved or froze to death. There were no trees left in the cities; they were all used up for firewood. All the pets had mysteriously disappeared.

The final days

In the meantime, we had been listening to the latest war news, following the Allies’ progress. They were coming from the south and moving ever closer. We evacuated. Our lovely village turned into a battle ground. After a night, a day and yet another night, we came out of our hiding place. We saw destruction. Dead soldiers lying on the road. A very disturbing sight to a fifteen-year-old. But we also saw our liberators. They were Canadian soldiers! On big tanks they came rolling down the street where I lived. What a sight! Three of the Canadian soldiers lived for several days in our front room.

There was such exuberance and celebrating in the village in the days that followed. But there was also much sadness and grief for the many who had died during this horrible war. History tells us that from 75 to 80 million lives were lost during WWII.

I lived through WWII and am now living through the pandemic. Yes, they are both world calamities that have caused great grief, yet they are so different and really cannot be compared. What is important to remember is our sure foundation in every calamity and which Christian Courier has strived to proclaim in these 75 years: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Ps 62:6).


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