There are some things you never forget.
Sarnia’s Edith Vandenberg shares her memories of being imprisoned during the Second World War because she wants this generation to appreciate their freedom.
Even after 72 years, Edith says she gets goosebumps when she thinks of the day the Canadians arrived in her village to liberate the Dutch from German occupation.
She was only 12-years-old when she became a prisoner of war and knows very well that freedom can be so easily taken for granted.
“On the night of October 27, 1943 German soldiers stormed into our home,” she said. Her father, Waestra Klaas, was the police commander in their village of Burdaard in northern Holland. Throughout the war, he and Edith’s 20-year-old brother helped many Jewish people hide in nearby farms.
“But there was a traitor and they were found out,” said Edith.
“The night the Germans came, my dad was away and my mother, my brother, my little sister and I were home. At 1:30 a.m., I heard the bell ring and Germans telling us to get up and get dressed.”
They were driven to a neighbour’s where Edith’s six-year-old sister was dropped off, deemed too young to go to prison.
As the rest were driven through Burdaard in a German jeep, she recalls passing her high school and thinking she should be getting to class shortly.
But the jeep drove on, picking up more villagers. “I still didn’t realize we were arrested, even when I was put in this awful cell all by myself,” said Edith.
It wasn’t until later, when a librarian brought school books to her, that the 12-year-old finally understood she was not going home.
“Then the tears started coming. I cried and I cried,” she said.
She never heard the charges. They wanted my dad,” she said. “If they didn’t get him, they’d use us.”
Weeks later, Edith, her mother and her brother were transported in a crowded train car to another jail.
“I was never interrogated,” she said. “I remember being so bored and so lonely that I wanted to be interrogated, but my mother said I was lucky it didn’t happen.”
By that time, Waestra Klaas had been jailed too. There were times during her imprisonment when Edith went to the jail’s church and could hear her father clearing his throat there.
“I’d cough when I heard him and we communicated like that,” she said. “I was a daddy’s girl.”
But the prisoners were kept separate and Edith never saw her father again.
Klaas and his son were taken to the Dachau concentration camp where Klaas became ill and died just weeks before the Liberation of Holland.
Edith and her mother spent six weeks in prison and were suddenly freed. They returned home and continued Klaas’ work by hiding an American pilot until the end of the war.
“Anyone who was in danger, we would help,” she said.
Her older brother survived Dachau and later became a police captain.
After the war, Edith eventually followed her fiancé to Canada where they settled in Sarnia and raised six children.
It was a long time ago but Edith –now in her early 80s – still vividly remembers when the Canadian tanks rolled into Burdaard and liberated the Dutch.
“Ah man, it was beautiful,” she said. “The Canadians get the credit.”
This week’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation means a great deal, she said.
“It’s awful to lose your freedom and the Canadian boys who lost their lives…they gave our freedom back.
“We must talk about it. We can’t forget.”