This Saturday, November 11, marks Remembrance Day in Canada. In the work we do at Hugo and Company, the legacies of our clients - the joys and challenges of their lives, deeply impact what we do. Today, I share one of my family’s stories, written by my sister, based on an actual account of my grandfather’s escape from a German work camp.
A journey that will never be forgotten...
The old train had seen better days, but at least this one was operating. Within one of her cars, a young man is lounging. His lean, long frame fills the seat. His simple shirt and trousers are worn and threadbare. At first glance, he appears quite relaxed, yawns and goes back to sleep. Upon closer examination, there appears to be something clenched in his calloused hand, almost hidden from view, but ready to be presented at a moment's notice.
Clankety-clank, .....clankety, clank.
The iron horse is slowing down and comes to a halt. Up and down the cars, the instructions are yelled out in German and Dutch. “Border check ...everybody out.”
People exit the train under the direction of uniformed men. The young man eyes the guard with the gun, as he comes out into the daylight. He knows this charade has to be perfect. A quick prayer is muttered under his breath, as he joins the line of people being checked by the border officials. “ID, ID” the official asks the man in front of him. When it is the young man's turn, he is waved through by the guard, without so much as a glance. Relief floods his body, as he hurries to join the others, for he has no suitable document.
At the second check, the young man is instructed by his friend to grab Number 17 off the board. The owner of that number was not at work today, and so this is written into the charade. Grabbing the number, he realizes the stakes in this game are very high.
The young man follows his friends example and places the number over his picture
on his passport and awaits his turn in line. Once again, he is waved through by the official.
Back on the train, the young man closed his eyes and turned his thoughts toward home. It had been many months since his arrest. The last time he had last seen his father was when he was still being held in the village jail. It was a tiny cell made for four that housed twelve of them. He remembered the humiliation of the day the Germans paraded the group of men in handcuffs. They were led through the village past the houses with the curtains drawn, and then they were put on a train for Germany. Their destination? A work camp. All the young German men were off fighting in the army. Their factories needed workers, so they plucked the young men from wherever they could find them, including the street of a small Dutch village. His time in the work camp was something he wanted to erase from his memory; it was his family he wanted so desperately to see. Today he was thankful for his friendship with a Dutch border worker, who purchased his ticket and was his companion, a link to his home.
The train was slowing down and came to a stop. As he emerged out of the train and onto the platform, a contained but joyous reunion occurred between father and son. It was one that involved a handshake, whispered instructions and the presentation of a bicycle. As they parted ways in the midst of watchful eyes, the young man pushed the bicycle off the platform and onto the street. The smile on his face grew with every free step he took, and yet still crumpled in his hand, almost obscured from view, lay… the ticket.
As we too mark Remembrance Day, we are reminded of the importance of honouring stories. Lest one forgets, let us remember together.