Proverbs 16:7 – When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him. (NKJV)
On May 5th, the people in the Netherlands will remember that 71 years ago, the Second World War, or at least the five-year occupation, ended. There will be flags out everywhere. There will be a number of veterans from Canada present as well, although as time goes by, there are fewer and fewer who can make the trip. But for all present, the end of the Second World War is a great event to be remembered, and it is therefore still celebrated every year—a great celebration which is now being passed on from generation to generation.
On June 6th, there will be great gatherings in and around Normandy in France. Dignitaries and authorities will come from miles around and from many countries to remember the invasion of that part of Europe on that day in 1944: D-Day, as we call it. A number of old veterans will return who were there seventy years ago. That will be a great event, too. I have heard of some people from this area who are planning to go.
All these events accentuate the terrible price paid by the people at the time, the liberators as well as the liberated. But so little is ever said about the occupiers and the hardships that they went through.
From 1967 until 1970, we lived in Vienna, Austria, and for four years, I went to a local barber to get my hair cut. As we got to know each other, I found out that during the war years, he was stationed in the Netherlands as one of the occupiers. He told me how much the Dutch people hated him and would have nothing to do with him. They did not even like it when he went to the local church to celebrate mass. He was an Austrian and was conscripted into the German army after the annexation in March of 1938. He did not want to be a German soldier. His wife and child were in Vienna, and by the end of 1944, he had not heard from them for months. He had heard rumours that Vienna was bombed, and he did not know if his family was still alive.
When the war ended in May, 1945, he ended up in a prisoner of war camp in the north of Germany, and upon the release of the prisoners, he and his companions walked back to Vienna, some 1300 kilometres, through devastated Germany. They lived off the land; they begged, stole, pilfered, and slept under bridges and in abandoned sheds, and after three months, he arrived back in Vienna to find that his house was gone, but his wife and child were still alive.
I got to know him really well during my bi-weekly haircut visits for four years, and he told me so many stories about the hardships that he endured, from being shunned by the locals to the unknown situation at home. Sometimes, he broke down and cried as he related his stories to me. He was such a fine fellow, and we became good friends, even though he had been the enemy.
In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (NKJV)
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, so often we remember the “enemies” in our lives. We pray that we, too, will make efforts to love and care for those who may have done us wrong at some time in our lives. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Meaford, Ontario, Canada