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Stepping into Albert's shoes

When we hear the words “world war” most of us picture vintage vignettes or iconic black and white photos. In our minds, we see grainy images of soldiers and innocent civilians in distant lands through a long lens, a long time ago. Making those images akin to a piece of fiction.

Under the lights of the Canadian War Museum though, the history behind these iconic images comes to life. The stories become real, and the incredible impact the past has had on our present becomes fact that cannot be ignored.

And that’s where we met Albert, a Second World War survivor.

Walking up to greet him in the museum’s expansive lobby, first impressions of a dapper gentleman with nostalgic style, quickly take shape.

At 90 years young, he is quite the character with a well-seasoned sense of humour. Having emigrated here from Holland as a young man in 1951, Albert self-identifies as a “staunchly proud Canadian.”

A short walk deeper into the museum brings us to the Liberation of the Netherlands section within the Second World War gallery. Albert’s glowing grin falls to a solemn stare as he sees relics that remind him of his turbulent teenage years.

Albert was just 12 when Nazi Germany first invaded his homeland.

We take a seat, his seat, in the exhibit he frequents as a volunteer, sharing his experiences with visitors of all ages. Some may see him as a living artefact in that setting, but he is so much more. Albert is a human connection to our past, a past that deserves remembrance.

Albert starts to describe the initial moments of the invasion. 

The startling sound of machine gun fire overhead. The radio declaring that indeed their neighbour to the East had begun a full-scale invasion. His mother and father preparing for the worst. His small, peaceful town propelled into uncertainty.

The calmness in his tone is unnervingly intriguing as he narrates anecdotes of life under occupation. He tells of true suffering during those years. Stories of his best friend killed trying to escape, his family eating tulip bulbs and sugar beets to survive, and his own time spent in a resistance jail.

A feeling of relief comes over him as he closes in on his story of the liberation. The sight of Canadian soldiers disarming the German army was one of great joy, and one he will never forget. His decision to come to Canada and start a new life was very much influenced by the relationships he established with the Canadians who saved the manufacturing plant owned and founded by his grandfather.

Throughout his stories, Albert never once shows signs of anger. His words and tone are of acceptance and sorrow.

Before leaving the museum, Albert turns back and offers one final thought. 

“You can’t fully understand freedom until you live without it.”

A token of truth from a man who will always remember his past and always appreciate his present.

Albert’s story is an example of many stories that should never be forgotten. Stories that the we hope to highlight and bring to life with our Liberation Collection. These works of art were crafted as timeless reminders of the bonds that were forged 75 years ago, and the sacrifices that were made to ensure that we have the liberties we do today.

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