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​Lest We Forget - Forget what?

November 10, 2023

Each Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, we hear the familiar words, “Lest We Forget.” It’s been said that we’re at risk of forgetting what’s most important. I ask then, what exactly must we never forget?

Indisputably, we can’t forget the devastation of war, fallen soldiers, and costly sacrifices. I can’t forget my family’s courageous leadership in the Dutch Resistance efforts to protect Jewish people from extermination. I can’t forget their motive expressed by my grandfather, Bouwe Zylstra, in his memoir.

Opa wrote, “We could not keep our hearts and homes closed to these persecuted people. We were aware of the danger; but we were also assured that the Lord had given us the task, namely to love our neighbour. And He who called us, was with us.”

I can’t forget the family stories, such as my aunt’s. Tante Tini was head nurse in a Dutch hospital which supported the resistance. She distributed ration coupons and operated secret radio communications. The hospital director, Dr. van der Velde, forged health records to protect citizens from Nazi work camps, and so forth.

One day, this underground operation was betrayed. When the authorities arrived, Tini was not wearing her head nurse uniform, so she wasn’t taken. She attempted to warn Dr. van der Velde, but was too late. The doctor was shot to death.

One of the patients, Herman, had been a commander in a resistance group. During a raid, his brother was killed, and Herman was seriously injured. Six bullets tore open his intestines, and the surgeon gave little hope. Knowing that the enemy would be hunting for him, Tini smuggled him to a nearby house and cared for him. He recovered and eventually they were married. After the war, they immigrated to Canada, along with the rest of Opa’s and Oma’s family.

I appreciate my family heritage, along with the medals, monuments, and the memorials at Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Israel. Yet I can’t forget Opa’s lament over countless lives lost through betrayals by collaborators.

Post-war revenge against those considered to have betrayed their country, was often cruel, involving unrestrained humiliation and lynch mob behaviours. The cry for justice lingered like undiffused bombs in the soul, a toxic pent-up energy to be dissipated on fellow citizens.

History reveals just how evil humans can become, even in trying to eradicate evil. Surely then, we must never forget the following truths:

“To do evil, a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good. … The line between good and evil passes, not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart.” - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of “The Gulag Archipelago”

“Although some of the horrors of war and the uncertainties of life have gone from the family scene, the root cause is still the same: the sin and rebellion against God which is part of our human nature.” - Opa Bouwe Zylstra

“There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22b-23 NASB)

“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 NLT)

May we never forget the lingering wounds of conflict and war which descendants silently carry within, such as shame, guilt, and bitterness. May we never forget God’s gift of grace which can bring healing through forgiveness, reconciliation, and new hope.

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