By Louise Lawrence-Israëls
May 5, 1945—the war in Holland is over. My parents and Selma, our friend, are so happy. My brother and I understand that the atmosphere in our attic is changing, but we do not understand the exact reason for the smiles on the faces of the three adults. My dad is running to the cupboard to get our last tin of cookies. Those cookies have helped us during the hunger winter, when we did not have much to eat. Dad opens the tin and puts it on the floor, and he tells us we can eat as many cookies as we like. That is fun. With a cookie in each hand we do not know where to start. After one cookie we are not hungry anymore and we put the other cookies back for next time. This must be the meaning of peace, eating cookies, we think.
It is about two days later and my mom says we are going outside. First, we have to go down four steep flights of stairs. It feels strange since I have never done it before. Then we arrive outside and there is the park. We have been living across from this park for three years. I am holding my brother’s hand very tightly, I am really scared. Where are the walls? Everything is open. My parents say, “Play, children, and breathe in the fresh air.” I am looking at my brother and I think I do not want this peace. I want to go home, I start crying. My brother must be thinking the same thing and he also starts crying. My parents are sad, but they take us back home. We forget our visit to the park and are happy again.
About two days later we are told that we will be going outside for a walk. There are so many people on the street, nobody is looking at us, but we still do not feel happy and are holding on to one another. We are used to the company of three adults. Who are all these people? Our parents talk to us and tell us that we are doing well and that we will be going out every day. Again we are happy to be home. Do we have to go out? All those people we do not know, they do not say a word to us.
About a week later, during our daily walk, we see other people. We see young men in uniform and they are smiling at us. They also talk to us, but we do not know what they are saying. They use words we have never heard before. They make us feel good, they are so friendly. We are still holding on to each other, but we smile back. Then these men in uniform reach into their pockets, their hands come out with Hershey bars, and they give one to each of us. We look at our mom—can we accept this? Mom nods her head and we try our first piece of chocolate. It tastes so good.
Our parents do not have trouble taking us outside after this. The friendly smiles and words, which we do not understand, make us trust people for the first time.
Note: The Canadian army liberated Amsterdam. I have never forgotten the friendliness of those soldiers and have always had a special place in my heart for them. I met one of our liberators a few months ago and was finally able to thank him for liberating us and the soldiers for letting a little girl trust people with their smiles.
©2011, Louise Lawrence-Israëls. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.