Posted by Cathy Bisaillon on Jan 25, 2018
Philosopher George Santayana is famous for stating, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 
 
While this is only an opinion, this thought was forefront in my mind as Pete Metzelaar, a Holocaust survivor (pictured below), brought his harrowing memories to life.
 
Growing up in Amsterdam, Holland, during World War 2, Pete was only six years old when Nazi soldiers invaded his community and began harassing Jewish citizens. The efforts intensified, and in 1942 his father and other family members were seized, never to be seen again. Elli, Pete’s mother, protected him, and through the Dutch Underground, they were connected with a couple who sheltered them in a farmhouse which had no inside plumbing or electricity. “Klaas and Roelfina Post risked their lives to save us, nurturing us and taking extraordinary measures to keep us hidden,” Pete shared emotionally. He described the floorboards that Klaas cut through to devise a hiding place in the crawl space, and later the primitive 3x3x6 cellar that Klaas and Pete dug in the woods.
 
Taking on a hostile demeanor and speaking German, Pete loudly quoted the Nazi soldiers that barged through the Post’s home with their bayonets as Elli and Pete huddled in the dark, dank enclosures. “I was a little boy,” Pete kept reminding us. “I knew that 24/7 someone wanted to kill me, and my mind played tricks to try to make sense of the senseless.”
 
Although stuck inside at all times except to use the outhouse, Pete and his mother felt that they were on the battlefield. Allies ran B17 Bombers from England numbering up to 800 at a time. The planes buzzed over the farmhouse, shaking the structure with deafening reverberations.
 
In 1945, The Metzalaar’s knew that they could not continue to put Klaas and Roelfina at risk, and they were connected to two women in The Hague who housed them in an apartment. While it was shelter, it was vastly different from living with the Post family. The women ignored Pete and forced Elli to do all of the labor-intensive chores. Food was not readily shared, and hunger became a daily reality.
 
After hearing that the women were preparing to expose her and her son, Elli fashioned a nurse’s uniform and took Pete through the snow to the edge of the highway. “I kept saying, ‘Mom, we will be killed, this is crazy!’ and she kept saying, ‘Don’t talk, Peter'.” Elli miraculously convinced Nazi soldiers that she was returning the boy to an orphanage, and the soldiers trucked them to Amsterdam. Free at last!
 
Pete went on to talk about finding shrapnel and live munitions; his eventual visit to the farmhouse six years after Klaas and Roelfina’s death; and the viral propaganda that perpetuated the inhumane acts. He was drained after reliving his tale, and we were all shell-shocked from hearing it. As he turned off the projector and tried to smile, he left us with, “We do not have to love our neighbors, just tolerate them. Value independent thought, and know that change begins with you.”
 
Pete’s story and information regarding the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle can be found at https://www.holocaustcenterseattle.org/survivor-voices/peter-metzelaar.