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Coldbrook man recounts childhood in Holland during Second World War

Gerrit and Barbara Faber of Coldbrook share some laughs while looking through his old photo albums, which he describes as “antiques.”
Gerrit and Barbara Faber of Coldbrook share some laughs while looking through his old photo albums, which he describes as “antiques.”

'You could see bullets just flying'


Gerrit Faber can still picture planes flying so close over Holland in the Second World War that the pilots were nearly visible before the bullets cut through the air near his hometown. 
He was just a young boy then, but vividly remembers the sights and smells from the days his small village was hit the hardest.
“One time there was three big trucks that had coffee beans inside and this big airplane flew over them, and then (the pilot) turned around and came back so the drivers knew what he was planning on doing. He turned around and you could see bullets just flying through the air,” the 78-year-old Coldbrook resident recalls. 
The coffee factory was about 10 kilometres from Faber's home. The truck drivers managed to escape serious injury by diving into the ditch after the plane was spotted.
“That night in the whole village, wherever you walked you could smell coffee,” he said. 
Faber was too young to fully comprehend the implications of living in a world at war. He doesn't recall living in fear but knows there were a number of close calls, like the day a boat in nearby waters was hit  with a bomb. 
“You could see the mud flying all over!”
Faber, the youngest of nine children, spent his early years with his uncle. His mother died three days after he was born. The family tended to a farm and would barter with locals to get the bare necessities during the war. 
Life went on for the living, but their family would never be the same following the war. 
His oldest brother, Catharinus Faber, was killed when a camp he was stationed at near The Hague was bombed at the start of the war. 
“That's one of the first things the Germans bombed,” he said. 
“They knew where it was.”
In late 1944, the Germans rounded up all of the men they could find in Faber's community and had them line up on his neighbour's property.
“They picked up every man they could find in the village... and they had all those people standing in a driveway. There must have been 400,” he said.
“They were supposed to go to a concentration camp, but one way or another they got out.”
Living on a small island made it easier to tell when people were coming and going. Faber said he learned later in life that his family provided a safe haven for Jewish people hiding from the Germans.
“When we saw a boat coming we would go to the kitchen and knock on cupboards and when they were gone, we would knock back on the cupboards,” he recalled.
“I didn't know where they were hiding, but afterwards they said they were under a haystack. They had a tunnel to get under the haystack.”
They even offered shelter to two pilots that were shot down, something Faber learned when he chose to ignore his uncle's wishes and go into the family's cow barn.  
“I went in the cow barn and as I went in the cow barn it was two boys and they just went between the cows. That's all I remember from that, but then after the war my uncle got a letter signed by President Eisenhower,” he said. 
“We always had to make sure at night that every window was covered, that no lights would shine out. It was mostly (because of) airplanes – a total blackout.”
Faber witnessed the successful liberation movements headed by Canadian troops in April 1945 firsthand after the Germans blew up a bridge about eight kilometres from their home. 
“The Canadians were on the other side and everybody in the village went to that bridge and somehow or another they got a tank across,” he said, noting that rail ties were bound together to make a ramp for the tank. 
“I think that's the most memorable thing.”
Faber was eager to visit Canada as an adult, and first came on a nine-month work term when he turned 21. He returned to Holland for a short time after having the work term extended to 18 months, but remained committed to returning to Canada to farm. 
He met his wife, Barbara Faber, shortly after moving to Canard, Kings County to farm. The pair ended up relocating to the Middleton area, raising a family and working for Den Haan Entreprises. 
“I think he had a pretty hard childhood – no mother and the war didn't end until he was six,” said Barbara Faber, who spent 47 years at Den Haan's, including the 40 years her husband worked there. 
 “He's always worked hard because probably they had very little.

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