History has a way of creating awkward situations for future generations. I can’t think how many times I asked my grandfather, who fought in the Second World War, how it was to attempt friendly conversation with our Japanese in-laws. He would smile, often with gestures of humour in his words, and would say: “well Sue, they are our family.” In reality, it is not weak, nor is it rare to show forgiveness and kindness toward those who wronged you, especially over the course of generations.
And here we are in 2020, in the heart of an unexpected epidemic and riots, and our world seems quite inconceivable right now. In 2015, after interviewing my dear friend Rudi Hoenson, another WWII veteran and ex-prisoner of war, everything changed for me. You’ll often hear me say “things happen for a reason” and with this we can learn life lessons. Rudi told me how he fought 75 years ago against the Japanese in the Indonesian jungle before he and 500 Dutch soldiers were caught and imprisoned for three-and-a-half years. “In Japanese culture surrender was not possible; in their eyes we were the lowest of the lowest and consequently treated that way. I do not blame the soldiers, mostly peasants, they were ordered to treat us like scum. I have no hard feelings against the Japanese.”
Rudi and I always talked together like old friends: I asked him about current wars and he closed his eyes, bowed his head and remained silent, as in disbelief about what was going on around the world. Why all this talk about war? Well, it’s not so much about the war, it’s more about what we can learn from those that have endured the trenches. Right now, we all need to pull ourselves together and work towards a better future for our children. After all, we are human beings first and foremost.
Even though Rudi and I only shared a few memories of his time in the war, it was just enough. He taught me that’s it’s not how to fight a war, but it’s how to live a life. It’s the kind of life I want to lead. It’s made up of forgiveness, kindness, compassion, appreciation and lots of love.
In memory of my dear friend Rudi Hoenson: On May 27, 2020 Rudi passed away peacefully at Veterans Memorial Lodge; he would have turned 97 on July 7.