Throughout the trip I kept hearing, ‘Buy a silver ring.’ I had no idea what this meant but I was on the hunt for it. Somewhere. This was also the week I was giving a lecture every other day. I have never before given so many talks in that short a time period. It was quite an experience.
On 26 October I slept late. This afternoon I was to drive to Goirle, Netherlands to meet my colleague John Boeren of Antecedentia. He arranged for me to give a talk for the Tilburg Netherlands Liberation Ceremonies, three of which would be held 27 October. I slept a good 12 hours and finally by 8:00 a.m., the soldiers were banging around the B&B as if to say, ‘Rise and Shine already and look at your email and Facebook!’
What did I see? In my email there was an invitation to speak at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Springfield, IL in August 2016. This will be my first national conference and honestly, I never expected them to pick me. My name never appears on any “rock star” genealogy lists and while I’m known in the Chicago area – that’s it. But they did, so the conference will have some WWII programs!
Then I checked Facebook and found John Boeren tagged me in a post with photos of the Goirle sign with my name on it – IN LIGHTS! It was so exciting to see! I always wanted to see my name in lights.
In the afternoon I drove to Goirle to De Roovertsche Leij, where I was going to spend the night after giving my talk there. I was to meet with John, who had impeccable timing. I arrived early so sat in the restaurant with coffee and a piece of apple pie. I had just put a piece of pie in my mouth when I looked up and there John Boeren grinning at me. Upon swallowing and wiping my hands, we had a proper introduction.
We chatted and then met Gerrit Kobes, a local historian. The two took me on a long walk in the woods and then along large fields, out to an isolated area. It was a beautiful walk as acorns and colored leaves fell from the trees. The sun was still high enough over the field to produce light with incredible shadows.
In an area of the forest not far off the road, were the graves of some resistance members and a memorial to those who were shot by the Germans during the war. A forester had heard the shots and later found the bodies. He reported it but was told to keep quiet for three years. It wasn’t until many years after the war that people really knew what happened in that forest.
As we walked toward the memorial site and while we were there, Gerrit told me about the history of the area, the resistance, the executions, the Liberation, and about a local factory owner who agreed to work with the Germans so his employees would have jobs and be allowed to remain in Goirle. His other option was to close his factory and everyone would be shipped to Germany to work. Apparently people still debate whether or not he was a Nazi sympathizer or was trying to protect his family and employees.
That event during the war begged the question, “What would you do?”
Before you answer that question, consider the events in historical context. This means to look at what was happening through the eyes of those living in that time period. Do not judge based on what you believe to be right or wrong, good or bad, today.
What would you do?
After our walk back, the three of us headed to the restaurant to meet John’s husband Matt and wait for Helen Patton to join us. Helen told me when I met her on 17 October, she would attend two of my programs.
My program for the Tilburg Liberation Ceremonies was “Stories of Our Past.” This was a new program which I felt was never going to write itself. In fact, due to the way things developed the last month and a half before my trip, I finished this program as I got on the plane to fly to Europe. What is interesting, is I had been writing it in scattered pieces since my trip to Europe in April-May.
The program was about the stories we can tell about the war. But not just as an American talking about a soldier. I asked the audience to consider the major themes of war that affected everyone. I gave examples of ways stories could be written. I told stories and read a letter from a British soldier to his mother before he was Killed In Action at Operation Market Garden. I read the end of Michael Kokoska’s story when he is coming home after the war, not walking off the train, but carried off in a flag draped casket. And I told the story of how love can heal all wounds across time and space when hearts meet in the perfect moment.
In the end, the program was a success. Several people shared their stories with me after I was finished and the following evening after the final Liberation Ceremony in Tilburg, a Dutch man spoke to me. He told me he attended the talk and was inspired to write his family’s stories about the war.
A lot of people think if you can’t move the masses to do what you want, change will not happen. I have always been of the opinion that if one, just one person, leaves one of my programs or reads one of my books and feels inspired to research or just put their story on paper…..I have done my job. You never know where that one person will take what you shared with them or who they will tell. That one person – pebble you dropped into the water – may spread so far out you never know exactly what effect it really had. It doesn’t take an Army to move a mountain. Sometimes it takes just one soul.
My evening finished off with a delicious beer and great conversation with Helen. We stayed up really late talking about everything. It was the perfect way to end an amazing day.
© 2015 Jennifer Holik
Barrie Walters says
I have just seen your article regarding Goirle Liberation day. It was very poignant to see that you have met the late Gerrit Kobes. He was instrumental in helping me find other members of my fathers aircrew in WW11. Plus through him I found a whole new family of my fathers relations. I had the pleasure of meeting Gerrit and attending a Liberation day celebration some years ago as my father is buried in the WW11 Commonwealth Cemetary in Tilsburg., where the Liberation Day ceremony was held.With Gerrits help we set up a website and attempted to trace relatives of all 21 of the WW11 soldiers and airmen buried in the cemetery and added photos of all those that we could trace. He also arranged for me to appear on local television and radio to discuss my visit. I will be eternally grateful to him.