History is indifferent. The individual is interchangeable. The value of a human life determined by the importance for ruling powers. That sounds negative, for people who have known nothing but prosperity. Several generations of my ancestors together experienced three wars. When my father was liberated from Son by the 101st Airborne Division in September 1944, the first thing an American soldier said to him was: War is bad. Behind the Sanatorium where he spent five years recovering from TB, those American soldiers had just had to make an extremely fierce struggle to defuse a number of guns and mortars from the German army. It took the division many young lives. Around the small single person patients pavilions on the lawns lay the ripped bodies with the mutilated faces of the liberators. The peaceful silence after the fighting offered a deceitful sight. No time for reflection, because the Caravan had to continue. The dogs barked in the distance and for my father these images remained unforgettable.
Four years earlier, the German army had invaded Holland. After the death of my grandfather, the family had moved to a spacious home on the Prins Hendriklaan on the Noordereiland. In the May days the headquarters of the Germans was near this place. It has taken 50 years for this most important moment in the life of my father to appear in history books. At the request of the Dutch government, airmen of the RAF threw a bomb at the headquarters of the Germans. It missed its goal and ended up at a store of a fuel vendor at the end of the lane. The coal and petroleum that were stored there were instantly flammable and set the adjoining houses on fire. There was enough water from the river De Maas available, but the fire department had no access to this area because of the fighting operations between the Germans and Rotterdam Marines around the Maas-bridges. Thus that part of the Prins Hendriklaan burned down house by house. ‘Friendly Fire’ is the name of this event. A few days later the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam. The Netherlands capitulated.
The family of my father sought protection that afternoon in a shelter in the neighborhood. In the documents that are in my possession is a pen drawing of the interior of the shelter. The feelings of the people in that place are palpable. My father and his sister tried after some time to save some belongings from the house. The gramophone records collection of my father was legendary. Three hundred 78 rpm records with Big Band Jazz. The coffin with that collection, however, weighed so heavily that it could not be lifted. The youngest brother of my father remembered this moment as follows: I still see your father standing with that coffin with records. We did not have bikes or other transportation. The only thing your father could do was put the coffin back in the house and go back to the shelter. The eldest sister of my father had chosen her most beautiful dresses, but forgot to take them with her in the consternation. The fire that slowly but surely destroyed the houses came closer home after home. Grandfather on the mother’s side could not believe from the shelter that nothing remained of the house than a smoking cairn. When the fires were over, the brothers went to see the place where their house once stood with the old man. He still did not believe what his eyes saw.
After this event, the family spread around the city and moved in with family. From the house of his youngest sister on the Maaskade, my father saw how German planes set fire to the city on the other bank of the Maas river. There is a drawing of him who has been treated with watercolor paint that shows the burning and exploding houses on the Boompjeskade. That image is and remains impressive. In fact, it becomes part of your system. And whether you want it or not, you pass on the memory of those horrors to the next generations. Through the cellular jobs that unintentionally make a family legacy of every trauma.
Of course, you wonder if there was anything good that came from these experiences. Not so long ago I talked about it with a good friend. If you have experienced this kind of horror in your life, your view changes to what is of value. Property, houses, belongings, they are all perishable. In a war, saving your life is the only important thing. My father and his brothers and sisters are of a generation that gradually lost all kinds of illusions about human civilization. Whether it was religion or governments. In his time, too, a succession of scandals caused crumbling respect for worldly and other powers. In spite of this my father also remained a romantic, who wanted to continue to see the good in people and to bring compassion and helpfulness to those who had less. But deep in his soul he was also a Daoist, who likes to drag his tail through the mud like a millennial turtle.