I was in my early teens during the years of World War II, 1940-1945, having been born in 1930.
Though those events took place more than half a century ago, I remember some details clearly.
By the fall of 1944, life in the Netherlands had become depressive. Food was scarce, freedom limited on all sides, and we, as a family too, were surrounded by all sorts of dangers and tragedies. My father had passed away, the family farm sold, and the school I attended was closed down. The summer and winter of 1944 were darker than anything I had experienced in my young life.
My mother proposed that I spend the fall and winter of that year with relatives on a farm in the northern part of Friesland. Though the region was isolated I have good memories of my stay there.
I discovered a small river good for fishing near the farm. One day, as I was staring at the bobber, a German army truck stopped on the nearby road and out stepped a soldier. While the truck continued, he made his way in my direction, fishing rod in hand. He asked whether he might join me and also try his luck as a fisherman.
For me that was a new and daunting experience. He was a member of the foreign forces that occupied our country! But he seemed friendly enough and in spite of the language barrier we communicated as well as we could. It was soon clear to me that he was not a fisherman. So I found myself helping him ready his rod and casting it properly. I couldn’t help liking him, in spite of who and what he represented. The soldier told me that he and a fellow soldier comprised the entire German army presence in that small rural area of northern Friesland. Later he added that, though they felt lonely, they were fortunate not to have not been shipped to the Oost (Eastern) front.
At home, this visit at the river was discussed in some detail. It was agreed that among the German soldiers there were some good and some bad. And it appeared that my new friend belonged to the good ones. But our budding friendship was not without problems. People saw me fishing there regularly with a soldier of the enemy forces. There was talk. . .
But then something unexpected happened. One day he pointed to the farm where I stayed.
“You live there, don’t you?” he asked.
Yes, I did. Why?
He looked at me thoughtfully. “There is someone hiding there.”
Fear gripped my soul. “No,” I said “No. No one hiding.”
He ignored what I said. “That person must leave,” he said. “He must leave as soon as possible!”
I felt sweat on my forehead, in my hands. I made my way to the farm as fast as I could. I told my uncle what the soldier had said. The reaction was quick. The several young men hiding on the farm left right away and found another hiding place.
That very afternoon a German army truck stopped by the farm and army troops surrounded us in minutes. Military police searched the house and barns at length. They seemed hesitant to leave, even when they could find nothing.
Later that day my uncle thanked the Lord for rescuing those young men.
A week or so later the soldier and I sat again at the river with our rods. I said to him, “They were over. . ..”
“Yes,” he said, “they do that sometimes.” And he changed the subject.
Time went on.
I returned to my hometown of Leeuwarden and the soldier was sent to another location. Did he return home? Did he survive the cruel war? During the final dark months of the war, I saw his face in my mind, especially at night. I found myself praying for him. I began to think of him as a distant friend. And I think he did of me.
And that remains today the little treasure that I took with me from World War II.
Liberation Day is celebrated in the Netherlands every year on May 5 to mark the end of German occupation.
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