The waiting room was full. I pulled a number – 135. I just knew it would be a long wait. Next to me sat a nondescript woman; everything about her was a brownish gray. I looked around and knew most of us were here to get our pension applications in. Everyone was around the same age, 65.
I took out my papers and gave them a quick glance over. Everything was there. The woman next to me said, “Excuse me, can you look at mine?”
I felt instant resentment boiling up. Why didn’t people make sure they had everything in order before they showed up? But I said, “OK, let’s look.” I saw her name, date of birth and her nationality, German. Thought nothing of it.
I started asking questions, while going through her papers and she noticed my Dutch accent.
“Forgive me!” she suddenly said. I looked up, surprised and asked, “What?”
“Forgive me for what we did during the war.”
“The war? You were just a child, just like me. You did nothing wrong.”
Then she told me.
She told me about the war and how they had to go to school and salute the hated flag. It was a Lutheran village and most of the kids did not salute the flag. Their parents told them it was wrong; she did not understand the why of it. She was only 8. Then one morning soldiers came in black uniforms. They told the kids that if they did not salute the flag they would be shot.
The little girl in front of her did not salute. She was shot!
She told me how scared she had been and that she SALUTED the flag. She was crying now. People were looking at us. Her sobs were loud.
Again she lifted her tear-streaked face to me and said: “Forgive me!”
“You were just a child,” I said again. We were standing now, facing each other, no longer aware of the others in the room.
“Please, please, for just one time in my life I want to hear some one say ‘I forgive you,’” she cried.
I did it – I said: “I forgive you!”
We stood there oblivious to all others. We hugged each other and both cried…cried for the sorrow and the abuse of war, the sorrow we both had gone through, the hunger, the pain and the fear.
“Calling number 135.”
This an excerpt from “Geertje: War Seen though the Eyes of a Child as an Adult” available for $20 + $3 shipping from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.