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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Hidden Heroes

Documentary / WWII 50 min /  1999 Rating: 8/10 Among the “hidden heroes” of World War II were the thousands of Dutchmen who opened their homes to Jews and others who were hiding from the Nazis. They did this at great personal risk, and yet they did this in huge numbers. They were ordinary Dutchmen, but they displayed extraordinary courage. Where did this courage come from? As this film chronicles, in many, many cases it came from their Christian convictions. This is truly an extraordinary documentary and it should be shown in all of our schools on Remembrance Day – it tells in short, compelling interviews and quick docudrama clips what our parents and grandparents lived through and what they did to oppose the evil of the Nazis. This is an inspiring movie for anyone, but for those of Dutch descent, it is a must-see. And you can watch it for free below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Nicky & Vera: a Quiet Hero of the Holocaust...

by Peter Sís 2021 / 64 pages Nicholas Winston never set out to be a hero but he also knew what needed to be done. When the Germans were taking over Czechoslovakia in chunks, before World War II has officially begun, Jews in the country were trying to get their children out. Winston knew how to get this done, pushing the paperwork, bribing the right people, and arranging for families in England where the children could stay. He ended up saving 669 children, most, or all of whom, were Jewish, and he didn't have to brave bullets to do it. That is the important lesson of this book: that there are quiet ways to do vital work. It was quiet work, but no less life-saving than what Allied soldiers did fighting to end the Nazi reign. And in its quiet manner, Winston's actions were more like the important work we are called to do today – our fights are not in the trenches, but writing our MPs, or making donations to the right organizations. We can, for example, save lives by donating to pregnancy crisis centers, and do so at no risk to ourselves. But we need to be persistent, seizing opportunities when they come, creating them when they don't, and working around obstacles as they appear. Winston was not Christian so far as I can tell (it doesn't come up in the book), but his example is still one we can benefit from. This would be a great picture book for a school library, to be pulled out and showcased around Remembrance Day each year....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Journey Through the Night

by Anne De Vries 372 pages / 1951 (English version reissued 2001) Christian writers these days, they just don’t know subtlety. They write miraculous stories where the miraculous occur with a regularity that robs it of all wonder. And instead of pitting the Christian character against worldly temptations, they have the hero wrestling actual demons, or even Satan himself. But back when I was a kid, authors like Piet Prins wrote stories that could have actually happened in the real world. Though no actual demons made an appearance in their books, the demonic presence was felt in a much more powerful way, through the actions of human underlings. In Anne De Vries' Journey Through the Night we meet John De Boer, a Dutch boy soon to become a man... if only he survives the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. When the Germans first took over, the De Boer family weren't actively trying to resist. However, as German persecution increases, John and his father are compelled by their conscience into helping Jews and others wanted by the authorities. Our heroes enter into their work for the Dutch underground in an almost grudging manner, but they do the work because they know it is what God wants them to do. When I first read this as a child I wondered why they weren’t eager to jump into the work, into the adventure! I read this part of the book quite differently as an adult, wondering whether I would have had the same courage. That is one of the strengths of this book, I think. It tells a story about the bravery of our fathers, and grandfathers, as they fought against an evil that we too might face one day. Of course, it won’t be the Nazis in our case, but it seems likely we will be similarly tested in one way or another. We can draw courage reading about how God was with his people in this war, whether they were caught by the Nazis, or survived until the Liberation. This story is particularly compelling for teenagers since it focuses on the life of sixteen-year-old John, and his adventures among older soldiers and underground members. But I also know a number of adults who have reread this story and enjoyed it immensely, so I would recommend it for anyone 10 years old and up. As C.S. Lewis said, if a children’s book isn’t worth rereading as an adult, it isn’t much of a book at all. Older folks might remember that Journey Through the Night was originally a four-book series. This new version includes all four books in one pretty sturdy soft-covered edition. Kids probably aren’t going to ask for these books themselves so maybe parents and grandparents out there should consider giving this one as a gift. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be asked to read it out loud to your little descendants. Journey Through the Night really is children's fiction at its very best. Canadians and Americans can buy a copy at Inheritance Publications....

Remembrance Day

Operation Manna

When two enemies collaborate for the common good, could it be anything less than a miracle? **** You can download or listen to the podcast version (6 minutes) here. It was a bad time to be Dutch. The winter of 1944-1945 was a particularly difficult one. Not only were there the usual difficulties of occupation that the Dutch had grown used to during the war, but food was in short supply. The northwestern Netherlands, especially the provinces of North and South Holland, were under siege by Allied forces. My grandmother told me that her family had nothing to eat for six months but turnips, morning, noon and night. After that experience, she didn’t eat another turnip for the next 60 years until the day of her death. My grandmother, however, was one of the lucky ones. Many were reduced to eating tulip bulbs, and 20,000 people died during the months that are known as the Hunger Winter. The situation became desperate enough that the German forces occupying the Netherlands went looking for help. Since they couldn’t supply the food, they needed someone who could. Operation Bad Penny The Dutch resistance sent a message to the Canadian army claiming that German commander, General Blaskowitz, wished to talk about the desperate situation. That’s the kind of message that seems like an obvious trap. The enemy wants to talk to us face to face? What could go wrong? But intelligence operatives Major Ken Cottam and Captain Farley Mowat decided it was worth the risk. On April 26, 1945, the two of them, along with Mowat’s aide, Sergeant “Doc” MacDonald headed off for the German-occupied region of the Netherlands in a risky and perhaps foolish mission. Somehow they got through. The men had a large white flag flying from their jeep, and along with that and the Major’s knowledge of German, a lot of bravado, and a very vague invitation to talk to the General about food supplies, they were allowed through and even escorted to the German headquarters. By the 27th, the men sent a message back to their own headquarters that they had negotiated a truce to allow the Allies to drop food to the Dutch civilians. By April 29, the first plane was loaded with food and ready to test the Germans’ goodwill. The Lancaster bomber took off with a crew of 7, five of them Canadians, and a lot of food where normally the plane would carry bombs. The Germans hadn’t officially agreed to a ceasefire at this point, so this mission was dubbed Operation Bad Penny. While a bad penny is an object that you don’t want, according to the saying it’s also one that keeps coming back. The plane flew very low to the ground, at about 50 feet, since the food was not parachuted but dropped in large gunnysacks. As the bomber climbed back into the air, the message “mission accomplished” was sent out.  Faust too... With this success behind them, the effort to drop food began in earnest. It was dubbed “Operation Manna” in reference to the Biblical story where God sends the Israelites food that literally falls from heaven. Flight after flight, in fact 3,298 of them, dropped food to the desperate Dutch.  Because the planes were insufficient, they were supplemented by convoys of military trucks that the Germans also let through in what was labeled Operation Faust. Faust is a character in literature who made a deal with the devil to get what he needed. The flights kept coming in very low in order to prevent damage to the food being dropped, so low in fact that one pilot described waving up to Dutch civilians on the balcony of a windmill. In total, Operation Manna dropped 6,680 Imperial tons of food. The related American Operation Chowhound dropped a further 4,000 tons. It was one of the most incredible operations in military history, for one military called on its enemy for assistance in helping the civilian population. Two mortal enemies laid aside weapons to feed the hungry population, dropping manna from heaven, as it were. Conclusion As for Captain Mowat, one of the intelligence agents who helped make Operation Manna possible, he went on to lead a remarkable and often exciting life. He became one of Canada’s best-known authors, with books like Never Cry Wolf, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, and Owls in the Family. But the fighting he’d seen in the Second World War seemed to have scarred him, and he spent much of his life tilting at windmills, “in search of something to give him hope in mankind.” He said of his experiences in the war that “It made me consider that perhaps we weren’t the greatest form of life on Earth, not the absolute work of God, but perhaps some kind of cosmic joke, and a rather devilish one at that.” And maybe he has a point. In this broken and fallen world, man’s inhumanity and his capacity to hurt his fellow humans can be staggering. But what Mowat didn’t see and we shouldn’t lose sight of, is that in that misery we aren’t alone. There is hope, there are miracles, and, sometimes, there’s even food falling from heaven. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, where history is never boring. You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. To dig deeper... History-April 27 1945: The crazy trio who helped a starving war-torn Holland" NewsHolland Operations Manna and Chowhound Operation Manna | Ina Farley Mowatt, OC, 12 May 1921–6 May 2014. Life of a warrior and death of an icon Canada’s Liberation of the Netherlands: The Hunger Winter! Article Stories of Remembrance: Farley Mowat Operation ‘Manna’...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Out of the depths

An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis 208 pages / 2016 by Edgar Harrel, USMC In 1944 Edgar Harrell served on board the USS Indianapolis until the “Indy” was sunk by a Japanese torpedo on July 30, 1945. Her last voyage was to the island of Tinian carrying the component parts for the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Because of the secrecy of the mission, no one missed them when they were sunk, and so no one started looking for them. The survivors ended up in the saltwater where they spent five harrowing days plagued by shark attacks, dehydration and saltwater poisoning, paddling in kapok-filled life jackets trying to keep their heads above water. It was only because of a miraculous sighting by a surveillance airplane (whose crew was not even aware of the sinking of the Indy) that the 316 survivors, out of the original crew of 1,195, were finally plucked from the waters. The theme throughout the book is the great faith of Harrell, who was able to spiritually encourage them while in the water. The Holy Spirit brought Scripture passages to his mind. His group of 17 were brought to the bare bones of their faith, and to the acknowledgment that they were completely dependent on God. This is a short memoir with a powerful message of faith, trust and dependence on our Creator and could be included in the biographical section of any church library....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Canada at War: a graphic history of World War II

by Paul Keery, illustrated by Michael Wyatt 176 pages, 2012 Halfway through Canada at War, I realized it was filling in an odd gap in my education. I had read about the Dutch experience of World War II in great kids’ books like Anne de Vries’ Journey through the Night and Piet Prins’ Scout series, and a love of classic war films like Casablanca and Twelve O’Clock High had given me a good sampling of the American perspective. But I don’t know if I've ever seen the war through Canadian eyes. Canada at War is a “graphic history” – otherwise known as a comic – but it would be a mistake to dismiss this as fluffy kids’ stuff. It is weighty and well-researched and would be best understood as an illustrated history textbook. It includes chapters on: Canada before the war Canada’s early defeats defending Hong Kong from the Japanese and attacking German-held Dieppe, France The creation and impact of Canada’s Air Force The Canadian Navy’s seemingly impossible task of protecting the Atlantic supply chain from U-boat attacks The costly lessons our Army learned in Sicily and Italy The joint invasion of Europe The Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands and the final defeat of Germany Author Paul Keery, and illustrator Michael Wyatt do a masterful job of explaining, in just 176 pages, how Canada went from having next to no military to, in the space of just five years, becoming the third most powerful fighting force in the world. And they give readers a good understanding of just how much we owe the 1 million men who served. Cumulatively the pictures are worth many thousands of words. Descriptions can’t quite convey the information available in a picture of a sailor waste deep in water on a leaky Corvette assigned to protect otherwise defenseless supply ships on their way to Britain. There is also a lot packed into a single frame, when we see a bomber pilot relaxing at his home base, happy to have survived another bombing run, but knowing that he has only a 1 in 4 chance of living through to the end of his tour. The style of the visuals is also striking: it’s a mix of quite realistic computer animation and solid simple lines. Illustrator Michael Wyatt shows us action and lots of it, including planes being blown apart and submarines being sunk. However, Wyatt uses great restraint, showing the results of war – the blood, death, and destruction – without dwelling on the gory detail. This bloody detail is most often muted, either by being obscured (oftentimes by making use of silhouette images) or by being skipped right over. For example, in one exchange we see a soldier with blood on his face, but only learn how it happened from the caption. But as should be expected in a “graphic history” of World War II, there are a few “graphic” frames. That said, Canada at War is intended for a young adult readership, and these pictures are unlikely to shock them. I've included a few of these frames immediately below this review so that parents can evaluate the visuals for themselves. This is an impactful book that will give this generation a far better understanding of what their grandparents and great-grandparents endured to give them the Canada they see today. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Chasing Shadows

432 pages / 2021 by Lynn Austin Chasing Shadows takes place in WWII Holland and is a novel about choices and consequences. Miriam, a Jewish girl and musician, and her professor father, flee Germany to the safety of Holland. Lena, a farmer’s wife, struggles with her faith when her husband Pieter and daughter Ans work for the underground and when her son is forced into a work camp. She learns that the enemy of faith is not doubt, but fear. Interestingly, the book dwells at some length on the time leading up to the Nazi invasion of Holland and how the Dutch were convinced that, because they declared themselves to be a neutral nation, they would be safe. After the invasion, life went on as normal for the most part, until Hitler started persecuting the Jews. Initially, Ans is not very serious about her faith and falls in love with an unbelieving police officer who starts to work for the Nazis and ends up joining the NSB – the Dutch Nazis. In contrast, Ans becomes involved with the Resistance movement, helping to find places for the Jews to hide who became known as the “Shadow People.” Ans' faith grows as she works in the Resistance movement and this brings conflict between her and her collaborating husband. So many of the Dutch people who helped the Jews were Christians. Their faith was often sorely tested and questions such as, “Are we allowed to lie?” are discussed. Ans' Opa is a minister. When the Nazis come to the village on a Sunday morning to execute someone in retaliation for the destruction of a train nearby, they walk into the church, interrupt the preaching, and demand someone volunteer to die.  Opa steps off the pulpit, takes off his stole and hands it to Lena his daughter and walks out with the Nazis – a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. This is one of the better Christian novels that I've read and would be an excellent choice for any church or school library. You can watch Lynn Austin talk about Chasing Shadows below and you can read the first chapter here. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

A Family Secret

by Eric Heuvel 2009 / 64 pages It’s Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, and the celebrations include nationwide rummage sales. So young Jeroen heads to his grandmother’s house to see if she might have anything she’s willing to give him to sell. And like grandmothers everywhere, she is quite obliging to her young grandson and sends him upstairs to the attic to let him see what he can find. In his searching Jeroen discovers his grandmother’s old scrapbook… and while paging through it uncovers a secret she has kept to herself for more than 60 years. His grandmother then tells him the story of how World War II divided her family. She was best friends with a Jewish girl named Esther, and along with her mother and one brother didn’t want anything to do with the Germans. But while this brother fought in the resistance - the Dutch Underground - her father chose to work with the Nazis, and her oldest brother decided to go fight for Germany on the Russian front. This is an amazing graphic novel, drawn in the style of Tintin, and published by the Ann Frank House and the Resistance Museum of Friesland. It’s gripping enough for adults, but for children, this is an absolutely amazing way to teach them about World War II, the Dutch Resistance, and the Holocaust. I'd particularly recommend this as a book for grandparents to give their grandchildren. Every year we set aside a day to remember the sacrifice of those that fought for our freedom. Giving this book to a grandson, and talking with them afterward about the war - about why some fought the Nazis, why some did nothing at all, and why some even joined them - is one very good way to ensure we never forget. There is a sequel of sorts called The Search in which we learn more about Esther. It is also very good, but if you are only going to buy one, should get A Family Secret.   I'd recommend it for 11 and up. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Remembrance Day

Prayer and comfort in Sachsenhausen

This is the story of my paternal grandfather's last year on earth. He was a man of unwavering faith despite suffering arrest, incarceration, indignity, illness, and death. He was active in the Dutch resistance movement against Nazism and encouraged fellow prisoners in the various jails and camps in which he was held. Here is the story of his resistance, arrest, incarceration, and death in the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen. This story is a reworking of a chapter (pp. 192-200) out of the book Velsen Bezet en Bevrijd (The Occupation and Liberation of Velsen) by Guus Hartendorf (used here with his permission) and published by Velserbroek, 2000, translated by the late Rienk Koat of Langley, B.C. in 2000. Editor's note: a version of this also appears as Chapter 3 in Man of the First Hour, the biography the author wrote about his father, Jules Van Popta, the first minister of the Canadian Reformed Churches. You can find out how to order it from RP Press here. ***** In 1912 Taeke van Popta, at the age of 30, became the principal of a Christian school in IJmuiden, a port city in the Dutch province of North Holland. He soon became engaged in all manner of other activities, such as youth groups, catechism, and consistory, and was the initiator of a Christian Society for Mariners. In the classroom and at the youth clubs he gave many young people in IJmuiden a sense of self-awareness and responsibility to the Lord and the neighbor. In the providence of God this laid the groundwork for subsequent resistance work against the Germans in World War II in which he, friends, and former students would be involved. ARRESTED By the time the Second World War broke out, my grandfather, Taeke, was retired, yet he remained active in the field of education. He did a great amount of work for the Society of Christian Teachers in the Netherlands and Overseas, the Protestant Christian Teachers’ Society, and he was on the Executive for the Reformed School Society. On January 9, 1942, the Nazis enacted a law in the Netherlands that prohibited the employment of Jewish personnel in all schools. Taeke had strong objections to this decree and did not hesitate to communicate this in letters to various school boards. This would be his undoing. He was arrested for the first time in the early hours of January 18, 1944. Several days later he was released and he soon after wrote about his experience: A few weeks ago Jan Fidder, formerly secretary of the Anti Revolutionary Party was apprehended in IJmuiden. About a week later Mr. Geert Visser, who works at the employment office, and I were taken from our homes. At twelve midnight the doorbell rang, with police in front and at the back of the house. The house was searched and I was then taken away by the Germans. In the police van I found Geert Visser. On the following Thursday Fidder as well as both Geert Visser, and a brother of his who had also been arrested, were released and allowed to go home. I was released on Friday. The problem was the issue of counterfeit permits to restricted areas along the coast. Jan Fidder was suspected to be involved in this business, and then it was thought that a small group was involved, which resulted in trying to find its members among the good acquaintances of Jan Fidder. Fortunately, I had nothing to do with this. But initially one didn't know what the meaning of all this was, and so I had expected that I would be a prisoner for quite awhile. After the hearing I thought that I would be in prison for at least half a year. So we felt we had received quite a break. During the search in the house, the deportment of the policemen was civil. At the farewell the children saw to it that I could take along a Bible and Psalter. Next morning I started to sing in my cell, and both Jan Fidder and Geert Visser, who were in an adjacent cell, were singing along. We sang quite a few psalms and hymns, and after the meals we took turns reading from the Bible and praying. Because of the little window in the door we could understand each other quite clearly. Others, too, started to sing along to the extent of their knowledge of psalms and Christian hymns. When Jan Fidder and Geert Visser were no longer there, the other prisoners asked me to continue reading and praying. They were prisoners who didn’t know a single psalm or hymn. I made an attempt, and it was only during “Ere zij God” that a few could join in. But our reading and praying were much appreciated, and were listened to silently and reverently. And so it was that we three had some blessed days there. Yet we were very glad that this affair so quickly took a turn for the better, and that we could go home again. Meanwhile I was enriched with some knowledge about life. The fact that faith had been a support for many prisoners became clear from other conversations and published writings. Geert Visser's brother Jur, arrested on March 1, 1945, wrote: You ask why there were so many Reformed people active in the resistance movement? This came about because of the outstanding education they had received in catechism classes and youth societies. Church, also as a body working in society, ranked first. The school was an extension of the family. You could rely on that community. They were, mostly, dutiful Dutchmen. “Old” Van Popta, as he was respectfully nicknamed, had trained us in the youth society. Likewise by means of his articles in the church bulletins he instructed us to resist the National Socialist Party . Taeke's daughter-in-law, Ida, wrote: My father-in-law was deeply involved in everything related to Christian education, but in doing so he could be rather careless. Correspondence with several school boards about the Nazi decree to lay off Jewish personnel were never properly disposed of. This was also the reason that we, my husband Wiepke and I, but also the other children, more or less forbade Father to engage in other resistance work as well. By virtue of his work he had established a huge number of acquaintances, and he well known since one half of IJmuiden had attended his school. He was, so to speak, part of the Reformed circuit. A few months later the Germans raided Taeke's house again. The police report of May 5, 1944, reads: By order of the captain, chief of the police force, arrest was made of Taeke van Popta, born January 7, 1882, principal of a Christian school. Incarcerated in cell J, Tuesday, May 9, 1944, at 14:30. The arrested Van Popta was transported to the Security Police in Amsterdam, under escort of H. A. de Jager. Apparently, the Nazis had uncovered certain written publications at a different location in the Netherlands. The documents were advisory letters and recommendations to various Christian school boards. When he was interrogated, Taeke assumed total responsibility for all the letters because otherwise the inevitable result would have been the rooting out of the entire resistance movement of the Protestant Christian Schools, and many more arrests would certainly follow. ARRESTED AGAIN We learned some of the details of this, his second arrest from a tribute written by a Mr. Dirk Bothof, a fellow prisoner at that time. Early 1944, during a house raid, some incriminating papers were found in colleague Van Popta’s handwriting. These papers contained what was considered to be illegal advice in the field of education. After having been interrogated several times, and then returned to his cell, he was confronted with the name of a person who might well have been the author of some of the incriminating material. As matters stood, however, Van Popta received the courage to protect all areas of Christian education from additional hazard by accepting the full responsibility for all the incriminating documents. It was my painful duty to witness this confrontation personally. I was the last one (before the cell door was definitively closed behind him) to give him a handshake and look him straight in the eye. And when I, deeply moved, wished him God’s strength and nearness, his eyes lit up and he was at that moment completely reconciled with his dire circumstances and he apologized for the troubles he had caused the Society and me personally. High-spirited and unbroken he entered his solitary confinement. His work will remain a blessed memory in the domain of Christian education. The letters that Taeke sent to his wife, Regina, permit us to follow the further developments after his arrest. He describes the situation he found himself in through rose-colored glasses, but since all letters were censored, this attitude comes as no surprise. On May 9 he was transported from IJmuiden to Amsterdam, where, as he reported, was interrogated in a “civil manner.” On May 19 he was transported again, to camp Vught, a Nazi prison and transit camp. On June 4 he wrote the following to his family: Dear Regina and all of you, Don’t expect me to return soon. Another destination is quite possible. Life is good. Food is good and sufficient, plenty of bread. Then there are the parcels as well. Would like to get some sugar, syrup, toothpaste and brush, my pocketknife, suspenders, and a woollen vest. Have done all kinds of work. Exercising, cleaning barracks and camp grounds, compressing rags, peeling potatoes, sorting potatoes and bagging them. Have a chance of landing a good job, thanks to some intervention. I’m able to cope well, am in good spirits and think that Regina will be too. Keep courage as you did in January. Hygiene, sleeping accommodation, and medical supervision are excellent, but there is uncertainty, lack of freedom, home life, personal work, almost no Sunday observance to speak of, yet continue to pray, read the Bible, and experience the communion of saints, also in this place. Jan Bruinsma was here, too, but is now in Venlo. Don’t change Aaf’s plans. Somehow we’ll manage to muddle through all this. We are safe in God’s keeping, Who ordains everything. This should bring forth the fruits of trial. I am longing to get a sign of life from you. Your loving T. In his second letter (of June 18) Taeke emphatically requests them not to send him food parcels each week, since the food rations of his family are smaller than what he gets in camp. He makes it sound as though everything is just fine there. But he would appreciate it if the writers would utilize the full allowable length of a letter, i.e. four full pages, his wife three pages and the children the remainder. About his stay in Amsterdam he wrote: It was rather congenial in Amsterdam. First with 2 Roman Catholics, later with 4 prisoners of which 3 Reformed. Nothing was struck out in your letter. Will let you know if this should happen. Best regards, your loving T. In his third letter, of July 2, Taeke thankfully acknowledged having received some tasty items and comments on the successes his children achieved in school. He asks for some toiletries and a pair of socks. He lets them know that he has gained twelve pounds. The mood is dampened in the middle of July, for he wrote on July 25 that he was no longer permitted to receive mail or parcels in retaliation for the escape of a number of prisoners from his barrack. After “Crazy Tuesday” – the landing of British Airborne troops near Arnhem in the eastern part of the Netherlands – camp Vught was evacuated. The prisoners were transported to an unknown destination in Germany. A parcel sent to Taeke did not reach him, and some of it was returned to the family. Prisoners who had been released were unable to give any information about Taeke to the Van Popta family. Rusting barbed wire at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany NEWS FROM SACHSENHAUSEN For several months the family lived in uncertainty, until the arrival of a letter in November of 1944 from a Mr. Pierre Hartendorf who had been a fellow prisoner of Taeke. Mr. Hartendorf had been arrested in July of 1944 because he had been hiding Jews. He met Taeke at the Vught prisoner camp. After “Crazy Tuesday” he and many fellow inmates were transported to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp, near Berlin. There Mr. Hartendorf met Taeke. After his release Hartendorf received hundreds of letters from all over the country, from people seeking information about their relatives who had also been prisoners in Vught or Sachsenhausen. Hartendorf was as helpful as he could be and wrote letters to families of prisoners known to him. He wrote the Van Popta family as well. Here follows a passage from his letter dated November 7, 1944: Dear Mrs. Van Popta, Quite unexpectedly, on Thursday morning Nov. 2, I was released from Concentration Camp “Sachsenhausen” and sent home. I frequently socialized with your husband and, although I was unable to say farewell to anyone during my last day there, I would like to tell you that spiritually and mentally he is doing well. I think that I would be acting in accordance with his wishes by forwarding to you his best regards. Yours truly, Pierre Hartendorf. Soon after he paid a visit to Mrs. Van Popta to speak with her and the children about the hardships the prisoners had to endure, for, felt he, one could not do this well by letter. Another fellow prisoner, Mr. A. Wittebol from Maastricht, wrote the family after the liberation of the Netherlands: The first time I saw your father was in Vught, but that was for only a few weeks. Thereafter we met again in Sachsenhausen, where life was difficult. But your Father was still in good health there and always full of life. This was most noticeable when he talked to us. The routine was that the available ministers would come together in the morning to decide on the Scripture text for the day, which would then be relayed by the pastors with a few devotional words to those who were interested. Your Father did this too, and although he was not a pastor he did this with so much fervor that quite soon every morning he was surrounded by a sizable crowd. This was not permitted, and he was, as I recall, warned twice by the guards, since the crowd had become so large that it couldn’t help but attract their attention. By virtue of his talks he encouraged and supported many in their difficulties. Since I left Sachsenhausen on November 17, I am unable to write about later events there. THE LAST LETTER It is in January of 1945, shortly before his death, that Taeke wrote his last letter to his family. So as to avoid any difficulties with the censors he wrote it in German. The envelope stated: “Geöffnet Oberkommando der Wehrmacht” . Taeke wrote the letter while facing death and in it said farewell to his loved ones: My dearest Regina and all of you, Trying to reach you by this letter; should it arrive, please write me. Still in good health and cheerful. The one who trusts will never be dismayed. Work is not heavy; sufficient clothing. But less food. Until now God has helped me. Pray that I may be permitted to return my love to you. You’ll be suffering hunger and cold. Hope and pray that you’ll get through it all. Winter has started, but it’s not too cold. Still sleeping well. Prayer and consolation: Ps 25 - “Forgive my transgressions for thy goodness sake.” Ps 73 - “Though in grievous suffering my heart and flesh may fail.” As in Romans, in all these we are more than conquerors. Longing for you and news. That is a strengthening bond. Greetings to family, friends, and dear grandchildren. I can see Jaapje before me. Am always praying for you. Our prayers join one another. May God protect you. I am in His school. All earthly things pass away. Life and love are everlasting. Greetings to all. Your loving T. On January 21, 1945, Taeke passed away in the concentration camp from dysentery. The family only learned about his death on June 3, 1945, after a fellow prisoner contacted Regina. Three years later she received word from an official at the municipal registry office that her late husband’s death had been officially recorded on December 5, 1947. The written notice ends with these words: For the sake of finalization, you are advised that application for transcripts of these records may be made at this office, to be accompanied by cogent reasons stating the objectives for their issuance, and by remitting any administrative charges incurred thereby. A more chilly and business-like tone is hardly conceivable. Any attempts by family to locate Taeke's grave remain unsuccessful. AN ACCOUNTING There is a short sequel to the Taeke van Popta episode. Tjeerd van der Weide, mayor of the municipality of Velsen, had been personally involved in the arrest of Taeke. After the war he was apprehended for his involvement and tried by the Special Court Assembly in Amsterdam, September 23, 1946. According to a news report on the session, Van der Weide had delivered Van Popta over to the Nazi Security Police. The newspaper account included this admission from Van der Weide: “Yes, I started the ball rolling, but I didn’t realize the consequences it would have.” During Van der Weide’s trial, Prosecutor Nicco Sikkel read a letter in which the former mayor had written that things had become boring in IJmuiden: “We, too, should start with raids.” He then went on to express the opinion that for each “pro” (German sympathizers) that were killed ten “anti” (anti-German) must die.” Mr. Sikkel went on to say that the name of Mayor Van der Weide was mentioned with fear and trembling in IJmuiden and throughout Velsen. The summons lists a large number of criminal offences. tThe prosecution demanded the death sentence. Finally, Van der Weide was called to the stand and a newspaper reported him as saying: For years I was convinced that I would eventually be shot. In what manner I did not know, but now it does not come unexpectedly. I would very much like to say, however, that I am terribly sorry that people have suffered because of me. I don’t consider the death penalty the worst thing that could happen to me; I think it is much more grievous that I have betrayed my country. Therefore I beg for clemency. There was to be no clemency. On June 6, 1947, Van der Weide was executed as one of the few collaborating Dutch mayors. Rev. George van Popta is the Minister Emeritus for the Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church, and he blogs at VanPopta.ca. This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Gutsy Girls Book Two: Sisters, Corrie & Betsie ten Boom

by Amy L. Sullivan 2016 / 36 pages This is the true story of two Dutch sisters who knew that God could be trusted with their lives and that assurance gave them and their whole family the courage to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Our introduction to the sisters starts with the older Betsie ushering the daydreaming little Corrie out the door so she can go to school. Then we leap ahead to their adult life, with Betsie taking care of the household and Corrie helping her father in the family's watch shop. Then the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As you might expect from a picture book, it is a G-rated account. That's accomplished via cartoonish pictures, and by covering what the Nazis had planned for the Jews in only limited detail like this: "German soldiers planned evil things against people who were Jewish. In order to easily identify them and set those who were Jewish apart from other Dutch people, German soldiers forced Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their coats and ration cards around their necks. Before long German soldiers took many Jewish people away from their homes." But even so, the reader learns that the Nazis hated the Jews, and the ten Booms knew God wanted them to act. We are shown how they smuggled in bricks to create a false wall in their home that Jews and others could hide behind, should the Germans come looking. In one interesting note, the author shares that the width of that space – at just 23 inches (by 8 feet long) – was not even as wide as this book, when opened up! The ten Booms helped 800 people before they were caught. While readers are, again, spared from the worst details, we do follow the ten Boom sisters to a concentration camp, where Betsie dies. That isn't where the story ends, of course: in the final pages we see Corrie freed and, through God's grace, able to forgive the very Germans who so mistreated her and her sister. Caution There are no cautions for this book but it is the second of a series of 5, and the subject of Book 4 is Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who has had a big role in promoting theistic evolution. So the ten Boom book is well worth getting, but not so the series. Conclusion This is a very good first exposure to the ten Boom sisters for students in Kindergarten and First Grade. My hope, though, is that it wouldn't be the last exposure they get – for teens and adults there really is no more encouraging biography than Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Torchlighters: the Eric Liddell Story

Animated / Family 2007 / 31 minutes Rating: 6/10 Eric Liddell is best known for the stand he took to not compete in the 1924 Olympic 100-meter race. He was among the United Kingdom's best chances at a medal, but he didn't want to run because doing so would require him to run in a heat on Sunday. Despite enormous pressure to compromise for the sake of his country, he still refused, pointing to the 4th Commandment's call to "remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." His country was important to him, but it came a distant second to his God. Eventually, a different sort of compromise was struck, which had Liddell run in the 200 and 400-meter races instead, winning a bronze and a gold. His firm convictions, and his outstanding athletic performances, were the subject of the 1981 film (and Oscar winner for Best Picture) Chariots of Fire. However, Hollywood indulged in a bit of artistic license. They made it seem as if Liddell only found out about the Sunday heat on the boat ride to the Paris Olympics, but the truth, as shown much more accurately in this animated video, is that Liddell knew months before. While both film and video cover Eric-the-athlete, this video covers his later years too, as Eric-the-missionary. Liddell was born in China, to Scottish missionary parents, and while educated in Scotland, actually spent most of his life in China. He returned there after the Olympics, serving as a missionary from 1925, until 1943, which is when the Japanese invaded. He could have fled, and he did send his family away, but Liddell stayed to continue telling the Chinese about God. That cost him, as he ended up in a Japanese internment camp, but even there he remained a faithful witness until his death in 1945, likely due to a brain tumor. Cautions This would have gotten at least a 7/10 if not for the choice the creators made to have Chinese characters speak broken and stilted English – their inarticulate language skills make them look a little dumb. Liddell was raised in China, which means his Mandarin was likely excellent, and for important conversations, they likely would have all used the language they all knew well, and his Chinese friends could have been shown speaking clearly and articulately in their native language. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they were all trying to learn English, and so that's the language they all spoke all the time, some better, and many worse. But I doubt it, and that's why I knocked a star off what is otherwise a solid account of a faithful and fascinating man. Also, as noted earlier, Liddell does die in a Japanese camp, and while that is not depicted, if you have some sensitive younger souls, you might want to give them a heads up early on, so that ending doesn't come as a shock. Conclusion This is more educational than entertaining, but I think families could enjoy watching this together – that it is a true story does make it compelling. To say it another way, this might not be the sort of video your kids will ask mom and dad to put on, but if you start it going, and the whole family is watching together, I don't think there will be many complaints. So sit back and be inspired by a man who knew that God was worthy of all honor, and most certainly came before fame and before his own safety. You can watch The Eric Liddell Story for free below, with commercial interruptions. For an ad-free presentation, you can sign up, also for free, at RedeemTV.com. ...

People we should know

Betsie, the watchmaker's daughter

“But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” – Matthew 5:44. ***** Extraordinary stories of extraordinary men and women make up the fabric of history books: men and women who by some incident in their lives have been able to capture the attention and imagination of those living today. They usually comprise those of outstanding intellect; those who have invented things; those who have led armies to victory; those of noble birth who have ruled well; or those who have explored unknown territories. We rarely delve into the lives, however, of the little folk, of those who merely accomplish the sometimes boring, day-by-day tasks that God has assigned to His people. Yet the days written in God’s book of those little people - the widow who dropped a seemingly worthless mite into the temple treasury, the man who provided a donkey for the Master’s use, and those who shared bread and fish in times of hunger – are endless. There is the story of Betsie – Betsie the watchmaker’s daughter – Betsie, an ordinary, little woman - who used her time well. Father’s arms - 1889 A 1950s picture of the ten Boom watch shop. She often sat on the single stone step leading down from the doorway of her father’s shop on the corner of Barteljorisstraat, watching the children of the neighborhood run by. The ragtag and bobtail of the city’s youngsters sprinted by her as they kicked a ball, skipped noisily with skipping ropes and ran helter-skelter in all directions playing hide-and-go-seek. Soft auburn hair framed her face and she smiled into the shouts as if she were participating in the games. Her feet in the high, laced-up shoes, tingled. They longed to gallop and rush about in wild abandonment as well. “Betsie, meisje (little girl).” A strong hand touched the small, hunched up back. “What are you doing sitting here on these cold steps? You’ll get sick again.” Betsie turned her head and looked up, smiling at the bearded man framed in the open door of his shop. Then she slowly stood up and father Ten Boom picked up the four-year-old, carrying her into his workshop. “So,” he whispered softly into her ear, “you are studying the other children running and playing and inside you there are some tears because God did not make Betsie strong and able-bodied and fit.” Betsie’s arms tightened around her father’s neck. His beard scratched her cheek and she nuzzled into it. “Yes,” she whispered back. All around them in the 1889 watchmaker’s workshop clocks ticked and chimed and spoke of time. Father Ten Boom sat down on his chair by the workbench and settled the child onto his lap. He rocked her back and forth. “God has a reason for making each one of us the way we are, Betsie. Perhaps you are often tired and ill in your body so that your spirit might grow strong.” The child sighed and thought of the wind on her cheeks and how she would love to run into it, stretching her arms wide to receive its blowing head-on. “You are very special, Betsie. God loves you very much and maybe you can show others His love also.” He kissed the top of her hair. “Now then, let’s go upstairs and see if mother has some tea and if your brother Willem is home from school yet.” He stood up and the child, light in his arms, was strangely solemn as she looked towards the street door – a door she passed with her father as they made their way up the stairs. ***** The years passed and the watchmaker was blessed with two more children, two more daughters, who were named Nollie and Corrie. There were also the three aunts, sisters of Mama ten Boom, who lived in their brother-in-law’s home until they died. The watchmaker’s house, though overflowing, was filled with happiness as he taught his children and his neighbors how to live faithfully before the face of God. 2 Peter 1:5-8 teaches a very important precept which is that certain qualities will produce a well-rounded, productive Christian life. The passage reads: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not everyone in the world is born with amazing talents, with awe-inspiring gifts. Although there are some who can sing as if they were Caruso, and others have the ability to draw in the manner of Michelangelo, and still others play the violin like Itzak Perlman, the truth is that most people are run-of-the mill, ordinary people; people who appear average and unremarkable. And yet it is good to remember that all mankind is made in the image of God and that all Christians have access to the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Betsie ten Boom was spoon-fed on 2 Peter 1’s promise and as a child, and later as a young woman she strove for godly qualities; as she labored, she increased in faith and in compassion. She developed a deep love for other people who experienced pain or trouble. The years passed, and God blessed the frail child in ways that may not have been obvious to others. Times changed in the ten Boom household after World War I. The children grew older. Nollie and Willem married. The aunts and mother ten Boom died. Betsie’s health, although fairly stable, was never quite up to scratch and she made a conscious decision not to marry but to stay home and take care of her aging father and her younger sister, Corrie. Initially, she helped her father in the watch shop downstairs, but Corrie took her place and Betsie was happy to take charge of the household side of things. There were scores of foster children who passed through the ten Boom household, all receiving Christian nurture, love and care. Together with Corrie, Betsie, a single mother in Israel, was effective and productive in God’s eyes. The radio address - May 1940 The year 1940, a year, which would celebrate Betsie’s fifty-fifth birthday, also hosted the onset of World War II for the Netherlands. Although the Dutch had hoped to remain neutral in the looming conflict which was already raging in Europe, this was not to be. The Third Reich, after invading and occupying Poland, Norway and Denmark, also invaded her little western neighbor. The evening prior to this invasion, on May 9, 1940, father Ten Boom, Betsie and Corrie stayed up to listen to their radio. After their usual prayers and Bible reading, they were getting sleepy. It was past their usual bedtime, but the Prime Minister of Holland, his Excellency Dirk Jan de Geer, was slated to speak and most of the people in Holland were eager to hear what he had to say. Flowers were blooming in the parks and in the ten Boom windowsills. Conflicting rumors flew around. Betsie heard them from the people next door; she heard them in the shops when she bought food; and she heard them on the steps of the St. Bavo church after she worshipped each Sunday. Holland would be drawn into the war, many said while others were convinced that the German Nazis, who had pledged goodwill to the people of the Netherlands, would not invade. But France and Britain were already in the war and shouldn’t those countries be supported? The radio crackled and both Betsie and Corrie sat up straight in their chairs. It was 9:30. They strained their ears towards the wireless. Prime Minister de Geer's voice was mild. There is nothing to worry about, he assured his radio audience. War will not happen. Had he not just spoken with influential government officials? Father Ten Boom, Betsie, and Corrie looked at one another skeptically. The Prime Minister’s words seemed to be full of air, unrealistic, carrying no weight. Father ten Boom turned off the radio. Then the family rose quietly from their high-backed, wooden chairs, kissed one another goodnight and trudged up the stairs to bed. Sleep was difficult to come by even though the blankets were tucked in tightly. There were too many thoughts running around in Betsie’s mind. She sighed, tossed and turned. The city of Amsterdam lay seventeen kilometers to the east. Betsie noted through her window that the sky was aglow with a strange color. It was an unearthly glow, and the house on Barteljorisstraat seemed to be shaking from time to time. Corrie, who was huddling next to Betsie, whispered: “I had a dream.” “What did you dream, Corrie?” “I dreamt that I saw a big wagon in the middle of Haarlem. Four huge, black horses pulled the wagon. I was in the wagon, Betsie… and you were too… and father was in it as well… and some of our friends.” She hesitated and Betsie waited for her to continue. “The horses began to pull the wagon and we couldn’t get off but we didn’t want to go where they were taking us.” Corrie stopped again and then leaned heavily into the curve of her sister’s back. The house shook again. “Oh, Betsie! I’m so afraid! Do you think the dream was some kind of vision?” Betsie answered softly, turning and putting her arm around her sister. “I don’t know. But if God has shown us the bad times that are coming, it’s enough to know that He knows about them. That’s why He sometimes shows us things – to tell us that He is in control.” Amsterdam was bombed on May 11, 1940. ***** The ten Booms became acutely aware, as the next few months passed, that life was being made extremely difficult for the Jews living in Holland. First posters, then signs, shot up reading “No Jews Allowed.” After this yellow stars became mandatory as part of the dress code for the children of Abraham. Finally, groups were seen being herded onto trucks and taken away. Father ten Boom said, “Those poor people,” but it was the soldiers perpetrating this ungodly work to whom he was referring. Betsie understood her father with her deepest spirit. Were not the Jewish people the apple of God’s eye? And were not those who hurt them to be pitied? A secret room was constructed in Corrie’s bedroom behind a false wall. It had a ventilation system and could hold six people. A buzzer was installed which could be heard throughout the house to warn refugees to retreat to the secret room as quickly as possible if a raid was imminent. Almost overnight the ten Boom home became part of the resistance movement - a sanctuary where Jews could turn up and hide from their oppressors, from those who sought to kill them. Eight hundred Jews were eventually helped as father ten Boom and his two daughters risked their lives in feeding and sheltering the persecuted. “Fear God and honor the queen” – February 1944 For four years things went well until a German raid on the ten Boom residence in February of 1944 seemingly brought Jewish aid to a grinding halt. The raid happened on a day when Corrie was not feeling well. Feeling miserable and running a high temperature, she was roughly pulled out of her bed by Nazi soldiers. Permitted to put on clothes over top of her pajamas, she was taken downstairs. Her father and Betsie were sitting on chairs pulled back against the living room wall. “Where are the Jews?” The Nazis barked out the question and when no answer was forthcoming, Corrie was struck twice, so hard that she almost fainted. “Lord Jesus,” she whispered, “Protect me.” “If you say that name again, I’ll kill you.” Betsie was led from the room and returned later with swollen lips and a bruised cheek. “Oh, Betsie,” Corrie moaned, “They hurt you.” “Yes,” Betsie answered thickly, “and I feel so sorry for them.” The German officer in command turned, yelling: “Prisoners will remain silent!” He then turned to father ten Boom. “You, old man, I see that you believe in the Bible. What does it say in your Bible about obeying the government?” “Fear God,” father ten Boom answered in a clear voice, “and honor the queen.” The German officer stared at him suspiciously. “The Bible doesn’t say that!” “No,” father ten Boom admitted, “It says ‘Fear God and honor the king,’ but in our case that is the queen.” ***** In this 1950s picture, a man points to the entrance to the secret room. The secret room was not found during the raid although it was not for lack of trying by the Nazis. They ransacked the house from top to bottom. The ten Booms, however, were not allowed to go free. Along with thirty-five other people they were herded to the police station where they were put in a room together. There were mats on the floor where they were told to sleep. Father ten Boom read to the entire room from the Bible: the Bible which was stored within his memory. “Thou art my hiding place and my shield…” The old man’s voice was firm and the others who had been arrested drank assurance from it. “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” They all slept soundly that night. ***** The next morning, after another period of questioning, they were all packed onto a bus. “The dream,” Corrie spoke under her breath to her sister, “It’s the dream, Betsie.” After a lengthy drive of more than an hour, they were ordered off the bus and lined up against a yellow wall. The men were separated from the women at this point. As the sisters were being led away, Corrie turned her head to look back. “God be with you, father!” Father ten Boom turned his face away from the wall also and answered, calling back clearly, “And with you, my daughters!” These were the last words Betsie and Corrie heard their father speak on earth. Becoming ill in the Scheveningen prison to which they had been taken, he died in a hospital corridor only ten days after the arrest. Vught camp - June The next months in prison were difficult. For the first time in their lives, Betsie and Corrie were separated. Providentially, four months later, as women were being loaded onto a transport train to a different internment camp at Vught they were reunited. Vught was a political concentration camp. With barbed wire fencing surrounding it, the place appeared both dismal and terrifying. The women guards were cruel and made the inmates stand for hours on end. It was a somber, desperate and dirty place and it never had enough food for the people housed within its enclosure. Roll call each morning was five o’clock sharp and if only one prisoner was late, all the other prisoners were punished. ***** “Betsie,” wailed Corrie, one early morning, “How long do you think we shall be here?” “Perhaps a long, long time, Corrie,” Betsie answered slowly and thoughtfully, “Perhaps many years. But what better way could we spend our lives?” “What are you talking about, Betsie?” Corrie was frustrated at the answer. “These women here with us, Corrie, look at them. If people can be taught to hate, then they can be taught to love as well. And we must find a way to teach them.” ***** Betsie’s work assignment was sewing uniforms, whereas Corrie’s job was labor in a factory. They had been able to smuggle a Bible inside the camp and took turns carrying it about in a small cloth bag hanging from their neck. In the evening, prayer meetings were held and many women crowded around the bunks to hear the comforting words of the Bible. Ravensbruck – Sept In September of 1944, the sisters were transported once again. This time it was to Ravensbruck. Fifty miles north of Berlin, it was the largest concentration camp for women in the German Reich and housed political prisoners, gypsies, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others deemed dangerous by the Nazis. If conditions had been bad in Vught, conditions in Ravensbruck were far more brutal. The straw that covered the bunks in the eighteen barracks that made up the main camp was filthy. Women prisoners slept in three-tiered wooden bunks, and each barracks had but one washroom and toilet. Food rations were meager and sanitary conditions abominable. Many women were subjected to unethical medical experiments as SS doctors put chemical substances on wounds to ascertain what the results would be. These doctors also tested women on various methods of setting and transplanting bones and they cruelly amputated limbs to facilitate these tests. Countless prisoners died as a result of these horrific experiments. It was in such an environment that the ten Boom sisters arrived in the last winter of the war. ***** “We should cut our hair, Corrie.” Betsie’s advice was down-to-earth and practical. Everywhere around them women were cutting each other’s hair. Long hair was difficult to keep clean. “Oh, Betsie!!” Corrie sobbed as she snipped several inches off Betsie’s thick dark hair. Later, they buried their hair in the sand around their barracks. The three-tiered bunks were appallingly grimy. Rotting straw had been placed on top of broken wood and the women were so crowded that they were forced to lay three in a single bunk – making it very taxing to get any rest at all. “How can we live in such a place, Betsie?” “Show us how, Lord,” Betsie prayed in reply and then she opened her eyes and said, “Corrie, what did we read this morning?” “We read from Thessalonians.” “And what did our text say”? Reluctantly, Corrie answered her sister: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.” “That’s it. That’s God’s answer.” “What is His answer, Betsie?” “To give thanks … to give thanks in everything.” The sour smell of human sweat and dirt drifted around them. Lice moved the straw in the bunks. “In everything, Betsie? Must we give thanks in everything?” Corrie’s voice was small and resigned. “Yes, in everything. Listen, Corrie. We’re together. That’s a blessing, isn’t it? And then, well we have a Bible. Think of it!! A Bible!! And then, last of all, we’re really crowded and that means we’ll be able to tell more women about Jesus.” Corrie nodded, subdued. “So then,” Betsie closed her eyes again, “thank You, Lord, for the lice…” “Oh, Betsie,” wailed Corrie, “not the lice!” “It says ‘in everything,’ Corrie.” ***** Barracks 28, where Betsie and Corrie were housed, was an extensive melting-pot of nationalities. The women housed there came from a diverse number of countries – Germany, France, Poland, Holland, to name a few. Because the quarters were so cramped, there was much quarreling. In the dark of the night Betsie took Corrie’s hand. “Lord Jesus,” she prayed out loud, “send your peace into this room. There has been too little praying here. The very walls know it. But where You enter, Lord, the spirit of strife cannot exist.” Gradually things quieted down and the angry mutterings stopped. ***** Ravensbruck held no sewing detail for Betsie, nor a factory job for Corrie. Both sisters had to work outside, leveling rough ground. Lifting shovels full of heavy dirt was almost too much for Betsie. She staggered if the load was too massive and at one point a guard struck her. Corrie, seeing her sister hurt, lost her temper and wanted to fly at the guard with her shovel, but Betsie restrained her. A red stain became visible on Betsie’s shirt. “Oh, Betsie!” Corrie was overcome with sadness, but Betsie covered the bloodstain with her hand. “Don’t look at it, Corrie. Only look at Jesus.” ***** There were worship services. These services were not conducted in a chapel or in a church of any kind but were held at the back of the barracks under a dangling, pitiful little light bulb. These services were conducted, not just on Sunday night, but every night. More and more women attended these services. First they sang softly, the Polish women singing a Polish hymn or the French women singing a French hymn. Then either Betsie or Corrie would open the Bible, translating the words into German as they read. And one of the women would translate their words into Polish and another would translate into Russian and another into French. In this way, all the women would hear the Word of God in their own language. Sometimes Betsie and Corrie wondered why no one interrupted these services. Later they discovered that the lice – the thanked-for lice – kept the guards away from Barrack 28. ***** Betsie was not growing stronger. The frail child, who had sat on the front step of her father’s workshop watching other children play, had run with the best of them. But she was now visibly wasting away. There was a small vitamin bottle that Corrie had carefully saved. Whenever Betsie was especially weak, Corrie would insist that her sister take a vitamin drop. But there were other women who were also ill. Corrie tried to save the drops for those who needed it most. But there were so many ill women. First there were fifteen, then twenty, and then still more. Yet every time she tilted the small bottle, another drop petered out. “There was a woman in the Bible,” smiled Betsie, “whose oil jar was never empty.” One day one of the other women prisoners managed to obtain some more vitamins, several large bottles of vitamins. The prisoners felt rich but they decided together that before they use their new cache of nutrients, the small bottle should be finished off. But when Corrie tried, at this point in time, to shake another drop out of the faithful jar, nothing happened. No matter how hard she shook the bottle, nothing materialized. It was finally empty. ***** “Corrie!! Corrie!! Wake up!” “What is it, Betsie? It’s in the middle of the night. We need our sleep.” “I have to tell you something important, Corrie.” “Can’t you tell me tomorrow?” “No, it’s really important. It’s about what God wants us to do after this war and I’m afraid that I will forget it if I don’t tell you now.” “All right, Betsie, go ahead. I’m awake now.” Through the darkness of the barracks, Betsie’s hands found Corrie’s hands and squeezed them. “We must rent one of these camps after the war, Corrie. And we must clean it and make it comfortable so that the German people who will have no home left can begin a new life. And in Holland, Corrie, in Holland we must find a house where we will be able to take care of all those who will survive these concentration camps.” “Where would we live, Betsie, in Holland or in Germany?” “We would live in neither place, Corrie. For you will travel all over the world and tell everyone what we have learned here: that Jesus is very real and that He is stronger than any power of darkness.” Released - December The days passed. Betsie grew more tired each day and was barely able to fill her quota of work. One morning a fit of coughing seized her and when it was over a blood stain darkened the straw on which she lay. “Are you sure we’ll be together after the war, Betsie? You said that we would…” Corrie could not finish and helplessly watched as her sister coughed again and again. But afterward Betsie did answer. “Always, Corrie … you and I.” The morning dawned when Betsie could move neither arms nor legs. She was carried away on a stretcher to another building where the very sick were kept. Corrie managed to find out that Betsie had been put on a cot next to a window. She stood by that window, smiling at her sister until the camp police shouted at her and told her to move along. At noon Corrie tried again. Betsie looked tremendously thin and frail in the cot. Her lips were blue. But those blue lips smiled at Corrie and formed words. “So much work to do.” It was not until the next morning that Corrie was able to visit the window once more. But a nurse blocked her view. Corrie pressed her face against the pane. She tried to peer past the white form. Another nurse entered. When they both moved to the side, Corrie finally saw Betsie. That is, she saw what had been Betsie. There was only a body now – a thin, yellow skeleton whose soul had flown straight into the arms of a waiting and loving God. Corrie sobbed as the two nurses wrapped her sister’s body in a sheet, lifted her off the cot and carried her away. There was a room where the dead were kept. Bodies were piled on top of one another along the wall. Betsie’s body was put there alongside all the others who had died that night. But her face was no longer lined with sorrow, hunger and pain. She looked peaceful. She appeared to be sleeping. She seemed to be leaning on her father’s lap, as she was wont to do when she was a little girl. And so she was. Betsie ten Boom had reached her Shield and Hiding Place. Two days after Betsie’s death, Corrie’s name was called out during morning roll call and she was commanded to stand to the side before reporting to the administration barracks. When she came to the administration barracks, a clerk stamped papers on which was written “Certificate of Discharge.” Although it was later discovered that this was a human clerical error, it truly was God’s providence. After a brief hospital stint because of her swollen legs, Corrie was released from Ravensbruck at the end of December 1944. Reunited - 1985 After the war Betsie’s sister, Corrie, was able to open a camp in Germany for the many homeless people there. God also permitted her to begin a home in Holland for war victims. Later she traveled all over the world, carrying the message of Jesus until her death in 1985. “Are you sure we’ll be together, Betsie?” Corrie’s question echoes down the corridors of time. And always Betsie’s answer rings out firmly, rings out firmly to encourage all followers of Christ. “Always, Corrie … you and I.” And so they are, even as all Christians will be, together before God’s throne. The “Voor Joden Verboden” picture is adapted and used with permission under a CC BY-SA 3.0 NL license, from the original at the Museum Rotterdam....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Freiheit! The White Rose graphic novel

by Andrea Grosso Ciponte 110 pages / 2020 I grew up reading stories about the Dutch resistance during World War II, and it was only years later that I realized the Germans had their own committed dissenters. Freiheit! is the story of one such group, "The White Rose." These university students wrote and distributed pamphlets urging Germans to rise up and actively resist their government. The problem, they said, was not that everyone supported Hitler, but that too few opposed him – too many were being silent bystanders. "We are your guilty conscience" their pamphlets declared, as the group tried to prod their fellow Germans to oppose Hitler, not just in thought, but in deed. The White Rose story doesn't have the happy ending we'd want: within a year the group's leaders - all of them 25 or younger - were caught and executed by the Gestapo. But their bravery inspired others, and when the Allies got a hold of their pamphlets they ended up using quotes from the final one in a flyer, and dropped five million copies of it as leaflets over Germany. Today that willingness to stand up to wicked leaders, no matter the cost, continues to inspire. That's the appeal of this graphic novel – this is good food for our own young men and women. The White Rose's pamphlets, translated and printed in the back of this graphic novel, make it clear that there were some Christian underpinnings to what they were doing. Andrea Grosso Giponte's art style is effective, and unlike anything I've seen before, at times photo-like, but of the low-resolution newspaper sort, and with the sort of angles and shadows that made me feel like I was watching an artsy spy movie. Check out the book trailer below to see what I mean. The story is a bit jumpy, so this isn't a graphic novel for pre-teens. It requires some work from the reader because the author isn't holding our hand, explaining every last thing. He expects us to think through and fill in what must have happened between those jumps. It is worth the effort. I'd recommend this for 16 and up, not because of any content cautions, but only because of the effort it requires. If Freiheit! is of interest, you may also enjoy The Faithful Spy, about German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a plot to kill Hitler. ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Winston Churchill

by John Perry 158 pages / 2010 Though the man himself has been gone 50 + years now, the myth is enjoying a revival. Churchill has made recent appearance in the big screen productions Churchill and Darkest Hour, and has also shown up on the small screen in the British drama Crown. For a more accurate accounting we need to turn to print, and there can’t be a better reasonably-sized biography than John Perry’s Winston Churchill. Since it's part of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson's 16-book Christian Encounters biography series, I wondered if that meant Churchill himself was Christian. But, no, sadly it wasn't so. It turns out that while Churchill knew his Bible, and would sometimes speak of God – particularly in rousing speeches to the British public – he thought that, if there was a God, then God owed him heaven. As Perry makes clear, Churchill had a spiritual type of fatalism. Early on Churchill came to understand that no man is in charge of his own fate; the fact that one man lives through a battle and another dies has little to do with the men themselves. So when Churchill survived a number of dangerous encounters, he grew in his conviction that he had been destined for something great. Destined by Who? The answer to that question wasn't all that pressing for Churchill. Caution As a rule I don't recommend (or even review) books that take God's name in vain – why would I praise someone who is mocking God? This is especially true when it comes to fiction, however, a case can be made for exceptions when it comes to history. In detailing Churchill's agnostic attitude towards God (and his son Randolph's especially arrogant view) it would seem unavoidable that some of Churchill's blasphemous quips and comments would need to be shared. But while these quotes do seem necessary, this is an instance where less is more, so we can be grateful for the restraint with which Perry shares them. Conclusion Why, then, is Churchill being profiled in this Christian series of biographies? Because we can see God's hand on the man. He was destined – from birth God was preparing him to be the right man, for the right time. And He so arranged things that Churchill was in the right place too, as the war time prime minister. This was all beyond Churchill's arranging, but looking back, we can see how God laid out events, and how He can use whomever He will because, whether Christian or agnostic, all are a part of His plan. That's the real reason to read this biography – it is a treat to see how God has acted in history to preserve His Church. Churchill was a great man in ways, but he was also a petty one in others. He blew through taxpayer dollars to fund his own high living, and he was known to indulge in "alternative facts" in his writings. At a different time, he might have been run out of politics. That's the lesson here – the greatness of this great man can't be found in the man himself. Instead what's on display is God's gracious providence in providing for us the response we need to Hitler's Third Reich. Winston Churchill is a quick, eye-opening read that anyone, teens and up, would be interested in if they have the slightest interest in the subject. And while the paperback is running at $1,000 right now, the e-book can be had for just $5....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Auschwitz Escape

by Joel C. Rosenberg 2014 / 461 pages Joel Rosenberg is a fantastic writer, a New York Times best-seller, but his political thrillers are based in large part on premillennial views that I don't share, and that does take away from some of the fun. But in The Auschwitz Escape he's having a go at historical fiction, so his end-times eschatology doesn't factor in, even as his mad story-telling skills still do. Jacob Weisz is a seventeen-year-old Jew in Germany in 1938. His parents are passive, hoping that if they just stay the course, eventually it will turn out alright. His uncle is a member of a Jewish resistance group that knows things will only get worse unless people start fighting to make it better. Jacob isn't as naive as his parents, but he does respect them. But when the Nazis come for his family, Jacob escapes and begins to fight alongside his uncle...for a time. As the title indicates, soon enough he gets caught and sent to Auschwitz. There he meets a Protestant pastor, imprisoned for helping Jews, and Jacob can't understand why the man was willing to risk his life when he could have stayed out of it and stayed safe. Jacob has a hard time trusting a man whose Christian motivations are so hard for him to understand. Rosenberg makes clear that while the two principal characters are fiction, their experiences were not – he researched the actual escapes, as well as the escapees' attempts to let the world know what was going on in these death camps. That research, along with his impressive writing chops, give the book its authentic feel. And speaking of authenticity, Rosenberg has inserted a gospel presentation in the book, but his is more subtle and more natural than what most other Christian writers manage. I really enjoyed it and am keeping it on my bookshelf because I can imagine reading it again in a few years. I'd recommend it for older teens and up....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Reckoning: remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary 96 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well. But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.” The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved: “My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?” CAUTION While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children. CONCLUSION I would highly recommend this film to any who come from a Dutch background. This is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close. You can watch it for free below. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Desperate Journey

Black and White / War / Drama 107 minutes / 1942 RATING: 7/10 Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn are two members of an Allied bombing crew assigned a near-impossible mission over Nazi Germany. When their plane is shot down, they set out to make it home again....and to do as much damage to the Nazis as they can along the way. Their desperate journey has plenty of explosions, fisticuffs, arial shootouts, guns blazing, and, at one point, Errol Flynn diving through a window to tackle two Nazi guards at once. There are laughs too, especially when the crew has the chutzpah to steal a ride on Nazi leader Hermann Göring's private train car. Desperate Journey is jingoistic, and at times not so realistic (ie. the real Nazis were smarter than movie Nazis) but it has an authenticity to it that comes of being made during World War II. This film was part of the war effort, made to encourage those back home that not only were we in the right, but that Australians, Brits, Americans and more could come together as a team to outsmart and beat back the Nazis. CAUTION As the crew is chased across Germany it isn't surprising that there are casualties along the way. And while there is no real gore, those losses make this a film that children could find too dramatic and emotional for them to deal with. So this might be best for 12 and up. CONCLUSION I watched this with a group ranging in age from 40 to just shy of 80, and all eight of us enjoyed it. If you have any sort of appreciation for World War II films made during World War II, this is one of the especially fun ones. Only downside? It only seems to be available on DVD right now, with no streaming options. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Hunger Winter

by Rob Currie 2020 / 236 pages Author Rob Currie drops his readers right into the action in the opening scene, with an anxious neighbor furiously banging on the front door to tell 13-year-old Dirk Ingelse that the Nazis have his older sister. And they'll be coming for him next! It's November 11, 1944, and while the Allies have started liberating the Netherlands, the Ingelse farmstead near Oosterbeek, is still under German control. What makes it even more difficult for Dirk is that he has no one to turn to. His mother had suddenly passed away not too long before, and his father is in hiding, working for the Resistance.  That's left just him and his older sister Els to take care of their six-year-old sister Anna. Now Els has been arrested, and Dirk has to run. But where to? That's when he remembers his Tante Cora less than a half day's walking away. The book is, in a sense, one big chase with Dirk doing his best to keep his sister safe, finding brief moments of calm, and then having to run again. Dirk shows himself to be a clever boy, and daring even despite his fears, as he finds hidings spots, and escape opportunities, and even figures out how best to fight the Nazis who are after them. As we follow along with Dirk and Anna, we also get occasional peaks into how Els is doing, facing her Gestapo interrogators. In another way, this is all about Dirk trying to live up to the example his father set for him. He has a good dad who invested in him by spending time with him, so even though Dirk doesn't have his dad around right when he most needs him, the teen is constantly hearing his dad's advice come back to him whenever he needs to make another decision. CAUTION There are no cautions to list, but maybe I'll note one disappointment: for a book by a Christian author, and put out by a Christian publisher, I would have expected God to be more than a minor character. Even as the importance of prayer is mentioned with some regularity, God Himself is not. Maybe the author is trying to portray a journey in Dirk's relationship with God, going from nominally Christian at the beginning – he doesn't pray, except at his little sister's insistence – to something at least a little deeper at the end. But God's near-absence is odd, especially considering this is a book about people in life and death circumstances. CONCLUSION That said, this is an intriguing, entertaining, and fast-paced story, with the whole book taking place over just three weeks. And while there are some tense moments, it all gets tied up nice and neatly, making this a great book for ages 10 to maybe 14. The Netherlands setting will appeal to the many RP readers who have a Dutch background, and the time period – the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45, when Allies hadn't yet liberated all the Dutch, and the Germans weren't bothering to feed them – is one that teens may not have read too much about before. So there's a lot of reasons this is a very interesting read....

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Silver Fleet

Drama/ Black and White / War 1943 / 88 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is well-done, almost unknown World War II film told from the Dutch perspective. As the occupation begins the Nazis ask Dutchman Jaap van Leyden whether he would like to continue on in his job as shipyard manager. They want him to complete work on two half-built submarines that were originally intended for the Dutch navy. When he decides to accept the position both his workers and his wife question his patriotism – why was he willing to be a collaborator? But while van Leyden may not have the courage to stand up to the Nazis, someone else does. The workmen have started receiving anonymous messages outlining a daring sabotage plan. The notes are all signed "Piet Hein," a historical Dutch hero from the 17th century, and stirred by the memory of Hein's great deeds done long ago, and their own strong love of country, the workmen are happy to help this mysterious figure. Cautions Silver Fleet doesn't fully explore why these men were willing to risk their lives. Their love of country is the expressed motivation, but for Christian viewers, who know that our country can do nothing for us after death, patriotism should strike us as a wholly insufficient reason to risk one's life. But while God is not mentioned in the film, we know that it was their love of God that prompted our Dutch grandparents and great grandparents to take the risks that they did. So, with that in mind, Silver Fleet can be enjoyed as a secular tribute to the bravery of Dutch men who, whether the directors cared to acknowledge it or not, were willing to risk their lives for love of God and country... in that order. Conclusion The Nazis are at times more buffoonish than threatening, but overall the acting is quite good. The Silver Fleet is a solid World War film that I would recommend to any 1940s film enthusiast, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the War from the Dutch perspective. There seem to be no trailers available for The Silver Fleet, but the 3-minute clip below gives a feel for the film. While it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere online, cheap copies on DVD are readily available. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Bataan

Drama / Black and White / War 1943 / 114 minutes RATING: 8/10 This is a movie unlike any other you will ever see. In the early months of 1942, Japan launched an attack on the Philippines and, over the course of three months, they drove General Douglas MacArthur and his American forces right off of the islands. Bataan is set during that retreat. A group of 13 men are assigned the task of blowing up a key bridge after the Allies cross it, and before the Japanese reach it. The 13 are castoffs and strangers to one another. In all the fighting they'd become separated from their original units. But now they'd been asked to come together and delay the Japanese advance for as long as they could. The motley nature of this crew makes for some solid character-driven action but what makes this film so very unusual and exceptional is when it was shot. America had been forced out of the Philippine Islands, and those wounds still stung. This was not the seemingly invincible America that we know today, but was instead America the bloodied. It would still be a year's time before the US returned to the Philippines, and for Bataan's audience it was far from clear what the outcome of the war would be. The typical war film is about men facing incredible odds and eventually winning. They couldn't do that in Bataan, because it was about a battle the US lost. So, instead, Bataan was made as a pledge to honor the courage and sacrifice of men who died never knowing if victory would even happen. The result is an emotional rollercoaster that keeps your attention right to the very end. CAUTIONS There is a lot of fighting in Bataan. And right from the opening – with the Japanese dropping bombs on the retreating columns of soldiers, Filipino families, and the wounded – there are a lot of people being killed. However there is very little blood. In the 1940s directors didn't feel the need to make things hyper-realistic, or depict killing blows in slow motion, so, compared to today's gore-fests Bataan isn't going to disturb adults. But the sheer volume of killing makes this a film unsuitable for the very young. CONCLUSION This is one of the most memorable, and certainly the most unique World War II film I've ever seen. I'd recommend this for guys who have the patience to appreciate black and white films and who have an interest in learning about World War II from the films of the time. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Flying Tigers

Drama / War / Black and White 104 minutes / 1942 RATING: 7/10 On January 3, 1942, just one month after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a group of three American fliers staged a daring attack on a Japanese base in Thailand. The three were not members of the US military, but were, instead, part of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) – they were civilians hired by the US government. The AVG was going to be an unofficial group that could help the Chinese fight the Japanese, even as the US remained officially neutral. But delays in the group's initial organization meant they only saw action after war had been declared. Flying Tigers is about the 1st AVG, the group that led America's first daring response to the Japanese attack. But as movies do, there are some liberties taken with the facts. In the film version Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne) and the 1st AVG have been conducting attacks on the Japanese long before his country's official entry into the war. What isn't a liberty is how successful the Flying Tigers are shown to be. On film and in real life the 1st AVG was constantly and often massively outnumbered, and yet never lost an air battle (they are credited with at least 296 kills, while only 14 of their own pilots were killed). Still, as the fighting continues, the casualties do come, and Capt. Gordon has to take whatever pilots he can find, even if some of them are troublemakers. And the biggest troublemaker of them all is Capt. Gordon's independent and down-right self-absorbed buddy Woody Jason. This film has a message and it's the same one that Woody Jason has to learn: to win this war that independent streak that's so much a part of the American make-up will need to be restrained. Yes, individual ambition helped make America prosperous, but ambition unrestrained is simply selfishness. What Woody learns can be summed up in biblical terms: we need to govern our ambition with the Second Greatest Commandment. Selfish ambition makes Woody despised; ambition and a love for his neighbor makes him remarkable. Cautions There is very little blood shown – a Japanese pilot will get hit, throw his hands up to his face, and then, for a moment, we will see blood seeping between his fingers before the scene cuts away. That happens a half dozen or so times. The only other warning would concern the portrayal of the Chinese and Japanese.  They only make brief appearances, but when they do they come off as a little bit silly or simple. That can be credited in part to the language barrier - anyone speaking a language they only partially know is going to sound a little simple. But there's also likely an element of racism here, which parents might want to point out to their kids. Conclusion A modern audience might find the pacing in the first 30 minutes slow, up until Woody Jason shows up. So some patience is required, but this is a fascinating look at the earliest of America's action against Japan. It would be a good one for John Wayne fans, and for a family with kids who are 10 and up who have an interest in World War II...and who haven't had their attention span ruined by constant video and TV watching. ...

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