Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Canadian Army/Liberation

Night time, dark, bombing, screeching, and you could hear something hard to identify sounds, but definitely dangerous. And then it would get very, very, very quiet for a long time, on one occasion, we actually went back to our cottage to sleep. It was so uncomfortable in there. Um, so after a couple of hours of silence we went back to the cottage, which was about a ten minute hike. Um, and, but then it started up again early in the morning, we went back into the shelter. Well, it was during this my father, during a quiet period, that my father said, I'm going back to make some food. And it was during that, that he got this chicken and this duck. He said I'm going back to cook this stuff and it got bad... we were all in the shelter waiting and he didn't come back... and it got more and more... it got later and later... and more and more airplanes and bombs and it got scarier and scarier, and Ed said, he's gotta come back. And I said, I'll go get him because I can run the fastest. I ran at full speed back to the cottage... and in my memory this is like, [laughs] like running through Armageddon or something, I was scared, it was already getting dark with bombs and stuff, just scary... I was just going as fast as I could. I got to the cabin, threw open the door, and there is my father, in his apron, cooking away... cooking chicken... and I said, pop you've got to come, you've got to come to the shelter... and he said, I'm almost done... be there in a minute. I said, you've got to come, you've got to come... And he finally came, with his chicken and duck and some corn that he had fried up and then we spent a long time in the shelter until we actually could hear the tanks outside yelling, people, turned out to be the Canadian Army. And the Canadian Army, my God, these guys they wouldn't stay on the roads, they just cut across these farmlands with their tanks, well, Holland is soft clay, and so when we finally came out of the shelter the next morning and realized we were probably liberated, we see them go by but we couldn't figure out what the hell we were looking at. There were, we saw all these heads going along the horizon, because their tanks had sunk so far into the clay, [he laughs] they were crazy, it's like, you could hardly see them, you know. [pause] Um, the liberation is quite simply... the feeling of it is quite simply impossible to describe. I don't think I will ever again in my life experience anything as... it's hard to even find the words for it... and it's a feeling, again, I was nine years old. But... the realization that it was over. Everything had depended... everything in our life for years... had involved phrases like... "when the war is over..." "if it ever ends..." "if we survive..." "when it ends..." but it's not real... cause it never ends, day after day after day... it doesn't end. The allies are coming... the invasion is coming... but it doesn't come... and then it finally came, but we are still not liberated. They have crossed the Rhine, but they haven't cross the Rhine. It goes on and on and on. When it finally happens and you're free, we were free, it... I remember it as a very awesome, totally silent time when we all just stood there and looked and then we went like sightseers to look at the Canadians riding by in their tanks... it's like an experience that is unconnected to anything else... You don't know what to do with it, you don't know what to make of it. What did it mean? What do you do now? [pause] What can you do now? What is there to do? What? It was followed, of course, by much jubilation in the next weeks, and a few weeks later Holland was liberated VE Day, the war in Europe was over, there was incredible jubilation, there were parades, there were no fireworks, but the Canadians, they were half crazy those guys, those Canadian soldiers, they brought... My brother and I were mascots in the Canadian army, they were so good to us, like in the movies, hey Joe, gimme gum. They gave us crackers, they gave us food, they were so wonderful to us and we just wandered around their camps and Holland was liberated, we went there and they were always gambling, these guys. Always drinking and gambling. And we said Holland is liberated! They said, oh yeah, well big deal. We said, no you got to celebrate, and this guy said alright, alright, and he got out of one of these gerry cans of gasoline and emptied it out and lit it, that was it! Whoom! A big fire, you know. Um, so it is very difficult, the only way I could replay that liberation would be in a poem, in music, in a slide show, in a drama, it's a feeling, incredible... it's just unbelievable that it could be over. That, that it actually ended, you know... it is so big, the fact that it ended is so big that I don't think anybody knew what to do with it. What happened in the Holocaust and it coming to an end is so big, and this is truly the war that Hitler and Goebel won that if it's big enough, if the lie is big enough, if the evil is big enough, then nobody can deal with it, nobody can understand it. And so when it was all over, nobody knew what the fuck to do except get back to normal... carry on as though it never happened, and that is sort of what we did. Eventually my mother came back. We went back to Delft, we went back to school, hey, it was over. I was in the fourth, fifth grade, sixth grade and then we immigrated to the United States, a whole new chapter in my life began... it was like it never happened. For the next 30 years it was just a few stories about long time ago, and it is not until very recently, as you well know... it seems to take survivors 40, 50 years before they begin to tell their stories and what really happened. And then we all just put it away. We all just went on as though it had never happened. That's all you could do. And yet, it's not right, not in some ultimate sense. The world should have changed. Everything should have changed. But, I suppose that's childlike, I don't care, that's why I'm here as a child survived. Life should have changed. And we know that because it is still going on today. It is all happening still and again. Children are again being murdered... notably in Bosnia, but it doesn't matter where, it never ends. And it should change, it should have all made a difference... whatever the hell that means. But that is how it feels to a kid, how can you let this go, how could you have ever let this happen to us. How could you betray little children this way. What kind of a world do you adults run? And how could you let it go back to that? Forgive me for speaking like a child, I am now an adult and I know that the answers to that... [voice quivers] is that there are no answers to that, that even I as an adult don't have answers to that, or not many... but everything should have changed when this finally ended.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn