This is Herman Veenendaal - my mom's dad, and my Opa. If not for this man's determination and tenacity, I would not be here today. I visited him this weekend, and thought I'd tell you a little about him. 

Europe during the Second World War was full of stories that amaze and inspire. Here's my family's:

Before the War, Opa met Jacoba Nijland, who would later become my Oma, when her family had moved close to his town. He saw her standing in the garden outside her family's new home, and thought to himself that he had to meet her. Not one to let moss gather under his feet he walked up and asked her if she's busy that afternoon, and if she'd like to go to see a movie with him. She checked with her mother, and off they went.

There was a brief courtship, and then despite the Netherlands' declared neutrality, on May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded. On May 15, Dutch military forces surrendered, and all men aged 18-45 were ordered into forced labour camps to feed the Nazi war machine. Opa was posted to a bomb factory - the Allies bombed that factory in the early part of 1943, destroying it's capacity for manufacture. Opa was one of the few survivors, having hidden under a flight of stairs during the attack. 

Having nowhere for him to work immediately, the Nazis sent him home, with the admonition to remain available to work as soon as they required him. His reaction to that was a big fat "NOPE", and so the Dutch underground resistance movement transported him from the south of Nazi-occupied Holland to the north - sometimes by foot, sometimes literally in the back of a cart filled with hay. Posing as a farmhand, they hid him from Nazi authorities until the Allies liberated Holland to end the war in 1945.

Holland-America Line ship the SS Waterman

Holland-America Line ship the SS Waterman

At the end of the occupation, Opa walked home to find his future wife had survived the occupation. They emigrated to Halifax in 1953 on the SS Waterman, with the first two of their seven children. My mother would be born in Kingston on September 26, 1955.

They built a life for themselves in Kingston. Opa learned english working on construction sites and in the 1970s, watching Wheel of Fortune in the evenings. They built their home just outside of Kingston in a new subdivision, and a family named the Breens moved in next door.

Opa and Mr Breen (I never knew his full name) one day got to talking about their respective war experiences, and they found they had something in common. Mr Breen was a bombardier on the raid that set Opa free in 1943!

That's something that always amazes me. What are the odds that your next door neighbour had simultaneously almost ended your life, but also set you free from one of the most oppressive regimes in human history?

I'm glad it went the way it did.

Oma passed away on July 1, 2014, surrounded by her family. We maxed out at 38 - we're breeders! She was such a light of joy and happiness through my life - always quick with a laugh and a smile. Opa tears up when he talks about her: "She waited for me through the war".

Jacoba (Oma) Veenendaal (née Nijland). March 2, 1924-July 1, 2014. This photo was made in 2007.

Jacoba (Oma) Veenendaal (née Nijland). March 2, 1924-July 1, 2014. This photo was made in 2007.

Aric Guité3 Comments