Remembering Why I'm Here
Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, and I've decided I need to spend a few minutes publicly remembering. Since it's a statutory holiday, a lot of places are closed down, and TWU takes this as an opportunity for a two-day Reading Break, so I've been working on catching up on my grading, conference paper-writing, book-writing, course prep, and sleeping in. I have more to do than I have time, but in the middle of grading I realized I needed to pay tribute in the way I can. I literally wouldn't be here doing this if it weren't for the sacrifice of others. I don't mean that as empty platitude: I wouldn't be Canadian today if it weren't for the Canadian Army.
My family is Dutch. My mom's family is from Friesland in the North of the Netherlands. Her father grew up on a farm, her mother's father was a school teacher in town. My dad's family was from Drenthe in the east of the country. His father was a shoemaker. As far as I know, nobody ever thought of leaving: they've traced my Dad's family back to the 1300s, and they've always lived in the same 20 kilometer radius. What changed everything was World War II.
When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands of May 1940, my Opa (my mom's dad) was actually in the Dutch army. Thankfully, he never saw combat. The fight lasted five days. Most of my family's experience of the war, then, was the Occupation.
I've heard a lot of stories. I heard how my Uncle Ralph Schut, a teenager at the time, ran guns for the Resistance. I heard how my Oma Schut hid Jews on the run. How once she even hid some downed Allied (Canadian) pilots in empty sauerkraut barrels. How my Opa Dejong had to hide out in a polder for a day while evading soldiers looking to press him into service in factories in Germany, and how he went underground to hide. I've heard lots of stories from my wife's mom's family too. Of illegal radios in the hayloft, and fooling soldiers into thinking a Canadian pilot was a mute Dutchman. And over all this, I've heard about the general experience of the day-to-day: of hunger (near the end of the war), of fear, of danger.
And I've heard about the joy of liberation. The Canadian Army liberated most of the Netherlands in 1945, and the Dutch will not forget. It's why, when the post-war housing shortage was so bad that the Dutch government paid people to leave, so many of my countrymen left their ancestral home to move to Canada. Like the DeJong family with my one year-old mother in 1949. Like the Schut family with my nine year-old father in 1955.
I was born in Canada and I am Canadian because Canadians were willing to give their life for nation that was not theirs. I will not forget that, and I thank God for their sacrifice. And I can hardly afford to not give up 30 minutes of my life to publicly acknowledge that. I'm sure your family has stories too. I hope you take the time to remember and thank God as well.
*slight editing: my parents phoned me and corrected some of the details of my memories.