I never got to meet my paternal grandfather. From what I’ve been told, he seems to have been quite an amazing man. An adventurous and accomplished technical engineer, who traveled the world (wonder where I got that from ;-)) before settling down with his wife, my grandmother. Life looked good, he had a job, they bought a house, they were starting a family.
Then WW2 started.
Now he could have just done nothing when the Germans invaded his country. He simply could have kept on working as an engineer, trying to make ends meet in those difficult years and raise his two blue-eyed baby boys. But he didn’t. Instead, he joined the resistance.
I would have loved to be able to talk to him and ask him why he did that. If he ever was afraid. If his wife ever tried to dissuade him. If he ever worried about his boys. But I can’t. Because one day, the very same evil he was trying to fight, caught him. Rumour has it he and his team were betrayed.
The Nazi’s transported him to a concentration camp. By miracle, he lived to see the early days of May 1945. Even survived the bizarre allied bombing of the very boat he and his fellow prisoners were forced to board, exactly 71 years ago today. He made it home. But it all had been too much. He passed away, only shortly upon his return to his family.
His city wanted to honour his memory by naming a street after him, but he had always said he didn’t want any of that. He’d said he had just done his duty. (I can suddenly imagine him not being too keen on me writing this blog either. Sorry Grandfather. I feel I just have to.)
I remember my father showing me his last picture, an incredibly skinny man lying in bed, more bones than body, staring into the camera with big black hollow eyes. A hero. Broken into bits.
Each year on May 4th, when the Dutch remember the victims of war, and May 5th, when we celebrate our liberation, I think of him and what he did. How his choice may have saved the lives of many – but cost him his own. How his heroism meant my dad grew up without a father. He fought for freedom. And paid the highest possible price.
Each year, around this time of year, I hear people say they don’t want to remember the dead, nor celebrate our liberation. Because it’s not about them. Not about their struggle, not about their heroes, not about their freedom. This year, the voice of those people is louder than ever.
Don’t think I don’t understand where some of that pain is coming from. I agree we need to rewrite history, and have a critical look at whose dead we commemorate and whose freedom we allow ourselves to celebrate – and at which cost. I also agree there is way too much wrong in today’s society for one moment of silence per year to make things right.
But in the name of my grandfather whom I never met, I ask of those who do not feel this is about them, to think about all those heroes and sheroes who died in the name of freedom. People who could have thought: ‘this war is not about me’ and done nothing. But they chose to stand up instead. Cause they understood freedom does not come in colors, shapes or forms. Freedom does not have a caveat. Freedom is for all, and if not, it’s not it. My grandfather understood that. And that’s why he died, together with so many others. So you and I could have the freedom to be and breathe and speak our mind. Yes, even if we don’t agree. And that’s what I’m remembering and celebrating this week.
I sincerely hope you’ll join me.