Memories of war passed down among generations

Marinus Van Prattenburg's family harboured Jews in the Netherlands in home across from castle where exiled Kaiser once took refuge.

Marinus Van Prattenburg holds a painting of the castle across from his childhood home

Marinus Van Prattenburg holds a painting of the castle across from his childhood home

War has not touched Canadian soil for more than 100 years but it continues to leave its mark on millions of Canadians.

While a decreasing percentage of citizens have experienced combat, and seen colleagues and friends killed and wounded, many have supported war efforts, both in the Second World War and in more recent operations in Cyprus, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

And in this nation of immigrants, even many of those who have not been directly connected to the military effort often bear family histories intertwined with the conflicts that dominated the first half of the 20th century.

Marinus Van Prattenburg has such a story.

For Van Prattenburg, the wars were never far from conversation at his family home in a tiny village in the middle of the Netherlands. When Van Prattenburg was born in February of 1944, a company of German soldiers had already been making their home in his parents’ home and furniture shop for a couple of years. The Van Prattenburgs, whose shop was located on the edge of the town square – which provided room for the Germans to repair their equipment and cover from aerial bombardment – were not particularly happy with this development. Not only were the Van Prattenburgs sympathizers and facilitators with the Dutch underground, but when the Germans commandeered their home and decided to set up shop, the soldiers and officers downstairs unwittingly began sharing a building with a pair of Jews hiding in the building’s attic.

The Van Prattenburgs had months earlier opened their home to a pair of goldsmiths seeking protection. The arrival of 20 Germans in their own home then, was worrying for all involved.

The perilous situation was aggravated by next-door neighbours who collaborated with the Germans.

For some time – Marinus can’t quite say how long or the dates involved – the awkward living arrangement continued.

“My dad told them, no one would expect that you are here,” Marinus said. But the Jewish houseguests became more and more nervous, and were also growing restless, having been confined to the same rooms for months on end. They were eventually spirited out of the home, the German troops none the wiser. The Van Prattenburgs never heard from the two men again, and Marinus doesn’t know whether they were able to escape the horror being levelled on the Jews by the Nazis.

“It was better not to know.”

A few months after Marinus was born, the allies invaded Normandy and, as the occupying Germans began to lose ground, the living conditions for residents in the Netherlands deteriorated.

“In the end, there was no food,” he said. “There was absolutely nothing.”

One day, all the soldiers took off on a second’s notice. With the Germans gone – the Van Prattenburgs would later learn the Battle of the Bulge had begun – Marinus’s father got his own little piece of revenge: a telephone connected to the downstairs wall.

Later, when another set of Germans arrived at the village, they were told that the group that had just departed had left with their phone. All that remained was a wire sticking out of the plaster.

“Stealing from the Germans was perfectly all right,” Marinus said. “They didn’t call it stealing; they called it organizing.”

Someone would ask: “How did you get that?” and the inevitable response would be, “Oh, I organized it.”

Memories were long in that part of the world. Growing up, Marinus would hear much about another German who had taken up residence in the town. In 1918, as the First World War came to a close, a train rolled into town carrying the exiled Kaiser of Germany. He would live for two years in a castle opposite the home where Marinus would later be born. It was in that castle that the Kaiser would sign the act abdicating his throne.

Years later, Marinus would hear tales of the local barber making the long walk up to the castle to meticulously trim the beard of the former monarch.

Eventually, Marinus decided to move to Germany in the late 1960s, a decision that garnered him some flak from his family.

“Some of my folks were not too happy about that.”

There, he would hear from many who still felt a sense of responsibility about Europe’s deadliest cataclysm. Later, he would move to Canada, where he married and sold electronics. He would later move to Abbotsford, and build built a name for himself as a meticulous rebuilder of fine pianos.

Still, like many, those stories of the wars remain embedded in his family lore. Years later, he sits in his living room, where a painting of that castle hangs prominently. It reminds him both of the drama of war and its injustice.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld has called for the resignation of B.C.’s Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside. He made the call during a speech in Vancouver on April 10, 2021, in a rally for a parent embroiled in legal battles surrounding his child’s transition.
Chilliwack school trustee calls for B.C.’s minister of education to resign

Barry Neufeld spoke at rally for jailed father in Vancouver, calling SOGI 123 a ‘dangerous experiment’

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

Photo courtesy of Abbotsford Police Department.
‘Vehicle Maintenance 101 for Teens’ to be hosted by Abbotsford Police traffic officers

Virtual meetups with Q&A period held on April 23, May 11, May 25

Stock photo from
Free online workshops on ‘advance care planning’ hosted in Abbotsford

3 sessions hosted by Abbotsford Hospice Society and Association for Healthy Aging

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read