| May 03, 2007

Feature Article - May 3, 2007

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Feature Article - May 3, 2007

My War

by Ina Turner

Outside my window the clouds are dark gray and full of snow. It reminds me of the day that I lost my mother for a time.

The year was 1943 in Amsterdam, Holland and there was no more food in the city. Reluctantly, my mother was forced to send me away to the countryside where farmers were being paid to take care of the starving children.


I was her last child to be sent away, my brothers and sisters having gone before me. We stand there silently waiting for the truck that will pick us up, surrounded by German soldiers with rifles on their shoulders. Why they are guarding us is a mystery to me, as we are just a few children with mothers too beaten down to put up any kind of a fight. Finally, the truck arrives and we are loaded in like cattle, our meagre belongings in bags or small suitcases. My mother, who until that time has been almost stoic in her demeanor, starts to cry. Not the loud sobs that one associates with crying, but large tears slowly running like rivulets down her face. At that time it hits me that I may never see my mother again and I jump off the truck to throw my arms around her one last time. "Mammy, mammy," I yell. "Please let me stay, I'll be good, I promise. I won't eat much."

Now we both cry in earnest, until a soldier comes over to gently separate us. He lifts me into the truck to take my allotted seat again beside my suitcase. The last glimpse I have of my mother as they close the truck doors is an old looking woman in a brown threadbare coat, crying as the heavy snowflakes start to fall, like frozen tears from heaven.

In May 1945 the war was over and we kids who were refugees were returned to our families. Some of us were damaged beyond repair. Abuse takes many forms and it is amazing how many people will abuse just because they can.

It was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived at my home. All the long months of homesickness were finally over and I would see my beloved Mom again.

The first thing that hit me was how devastated our city was. After the nice clean country the city looked positively dirty. The bus driver had to make sure that we were delivered to the right addresses so as I banged on the door, he stood alongside me with my suitcase in hand. Finally the door opened and there was a completely strange woman who I did not recognize. She bore a faint resemblance to the mother I had left behind, a relative perhaps?

But when this strange woman threw her arms around me and kissed me and hugged me, I realized that she was indeed my mother. For one awful moment I wanted to turn around and run, because I could not visualize having to live with this person. Her face was heavily lined and wrinkled and it was clear that she too had suffered a great deal. After the door closed behind me, I realized that this was going to be a new stranger who was going to look after me. At least I had the assurance that this one would be kind.

It is always there, resting just beneath my subconscious. Is it real? Or is it something I make up? I know that I lived through the war and I remember seeing a man getting out of a taxi near the Kalverstraat with the top of his head shot off. I remember my father coming home in the middle of the night, only to leave again the following night under the cover of darkness. But is it real, or did I dream it?

I remember how I used to feel about my mother and how differently I felt after the war was over. My one time protector had been unable to protect me and it gave me a feeling of disassociation as well as a sense of freedom. I no longer was duty-bound to love her and now was free to either love or reject.

I remember the sirens going off at any time to warn of approaching planes, potentially carrying bombs. I also remember the Jews being rounded up. We lived in a Jewish neighbourhood and were witnesses to a lot of the atrocities. I remember the Nazis humiliating people in the Vondel Park, the soldier ripping the Star of David off the man's coat and then slapping him with his open palm. Did I actually see a German soldier grab a baby out of his mother's arms and dash it against the side of the house or did I dream that? In the annals of time, this will eventually be forgotten. Other wars and other atrocities will take over and I have heard it said that whoever wins gets to write history.

Once all the survivors of the Second World War are gone, the story might read differently. But I was there and even I am no longer sure of what was real and what are nightmares.

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