Saturday, July 16, 2005

Occupation memories

Our hosts in Basel were both children in Holland during World War II. Over our time there, they related stories from the German occupation of Holland that had eerie parallels to what we see daily on CNN.

The Germans wanted to be seen as friends and protectors of the Dutch, but were instead universally reviled. Most of the schools were closed, food was strictly rationed and basics like bread were unobtainable.

As an eight-year old girl, our hostess thrived playing dangerous tricks on German officers like pulling on water-covered branches to drench them as they walked under a tree. Older girls played far more dangerous games, flirting with the German troops while carrying weapons and supplies for the Dutch resistance in the saddlebags of their bicycles. “Every child understood, even without being told, that you should smile politely to the Germans while doing whatever you could to help the resistance.”

Their city was liberated by the Canadians who came in tanks and brought fresh bread. Her entire neighborhood ran to see their liberators, passing in their excitement through a well known minefield where miraculously nobody was hurt. “When the Canadians distributed white bread, that is the first time I can ever remember being hungry for food.”

After singing songs and dancing with the Canadian troops, people went home thinking that the war was over. What came next though was in some ways the most dangerous time of the war. “After the Canadians came, there were still German troops all over, and if they had a gun, they would kill people just because they could. They had been told that if they were defeated they would have nothing to live for, so they killed many people. For months after the liberation we had to be very careful and stay home.”

It seems in Iraq we are learning again the huge difference between liberation and peace and the long shadow cast by a totalitarian government and its fanatic adherents.