Wartime Palindrome

In my last post, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom, I mentioned my Dutch Opa, a radioman, who refused to continue working for the radio when it was taken over by the Nazis in World War Two. In doing so he risked his life. I wrote this poem for him, to honour his refusal to speak words of hate. May each of us fight the battle to find peace in our hearts, so there can be no more war in the world.

Opa,

your silence in the attic–

a defiance,

a refusal to speak false words.

Your face pale

under dusky skin,

as planes drone over Hilversum

and your children play above you,

innocently distracting the soldiers.

Under the floor boards you hide,

cramped–

radio silence.


Radio silence–

cramped,

you hide under the floor boards.

Innocently distracting the soldiers,

your children play above you,

as planes drone over Hilversum.

Under dusky skin,

your face is pale.

You refuse to speak false words,

your defiance–

your silence in the attic,

Opa.

In Honour of an Aunt I Never Knew

Today a Dutch aunt of mine I never met passed away. I only know a few things about her. She was a little girl during World War Two, and her family sheltered Jewish children. As a child she used to climb the house with her brother to play on the roof. Their mom, my granny, didn’t mind. When she grew up she did radio shows for children with her husband, and at some point she moved from Holland to France. Like her mother she was full of oomph: an artist with strong opinions.

Sadly, relations between her and the rest if the family were strained and minimal, as some of those opinions were hurtful. Sometimes the wounds of life tear apart even the bond of siblings. War is a traumatic thing to live through.

But what is wonderful is that in her last few weeks, she was positive about everyone. Perhaps she had run out of energy to resent. Perhaps the dazzling light of death put things in perspective.

Whatever the case may be, may the bitterness of past anger be sweetened with the humble realization that we are all, in our own ways, “een beetje gek:” a little bit crazy, a little bit difficult, a little bit prone to making mistakes.

May the impending warmth of Christmas fill our family, and all others, with forgiveness and peace, for as cliché as it sounds, these are surely the best gifts we can give each other.