In 2019 I was honoured to be invited to Ottawa by the Canadian Tulip Festival to tell this story in person at the Heritage Pavillion. A version of this piece has also been included in the Liberation75 School Curriculum for Grade 9 – 10 students across Canada.
In 1942, my mother (Johanna deGroot nee Meijer) and her mother were evacuated from their home in Zandvoort, Netherlands and moved to a room in a house in Haarlem. My mother was fortunate enough to work in a hospital, meaning that there were times she could bring scraps of food home to her mother, as well as getting food for herself.
She told me stories of those days; tales about the routine inspections of the hospital by the Occupiers in search of Resistance fighters and downed Allies. The hospital kept a ward for infectious diseases with large warning signs of the danger of entering the ward, and this is where those hunted men were occasionally hidden.
The most memorable story was of the liberation. When the Canadians drove into the city of Haarlem, they were mobbed by wildly exuberant crowds. Mam recalled that many of the patients were far too ill or wounded to go out and participate in the celebrations but wanted to share in the joy of the moment. As one convoy came past the hospital, the institute Matron ran out into the street and stopped a jeep carrying an officer. She explained how the patients would be so grateful for a chance to thank the Canadian liberators. The officer, along with his small entourage immediately parked and came inside. They spent the next hour going from bed to bed to shake hands, touch gently and speak to the patients, who cried with appreciation for the liberation and for their thoughtfulness in taking the time to come in.
In the drama of those days, it would have been easier for that jeep, that officer, to keep driving, but that’s not what Canadians do. Canadians stop. Canadians care.
On this 75th anniversary of the Liberation, there’s talk again of liberation. Not like this one where a starving, injured and sick population wept with gratitude for being liberated from a brutal occupation. No, this year, the year of the 2020 Pandemic, there are calls from ignorant, selfish people for the liberation of a state, or a city – because people want a haircut. Can there be any greater contrast between the values of our parents and grandparents and the values of many today? I speak to my fellow Canadians now – let’s stop that nonsense. Let’s care about our fellow citizens.
Luckily, we still see so many selfless acts. Our front-line workers, be they medical, grocery or cleaning staff, are out there putting themselves at risk for our sake. All we at home must do, is show a little patience.