In a Dutch retirement home owned by The Netherlands Retirement Village Association- an organisation of Nursing homes dedicated to caring for Dutch immigrants in surroundings that remind them of their home- Lijine de Bakker sits alertly in her chair. Her frail hands give an oddly sturdy handshake as she welcomes me to her home. A fresh coat of coral coloured nail varnish seems slightly out of place on her fingernails -102 years old-. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning but she sits alert, dressed like a true hipster; scarlet beads and canary yellow slacks. It dawns on me that Ms. de Bakker was my age in the 1920’s; however it is not just her fortune with good health that makes her remakable. It is the remakably inspiring story she has lived to tell.
|Ms. de Bakker, 1931 (aged 21|
Born on March 9th 1910, Ms de Bakker has literally seen the world change before her eyes. She has lived through two World Wars, the landing of man on the moon, feminist movements, Beatle-mania, the discovery of penicillin, campaigns for racial equality hundreds of inventions including; the bandaid, juke box, television and superglue and today witnesses’ society’s shift into the technological age. However, it is not merely the things that Ms de Bakker has seen during her long and healthy life time that make her remarkable, it is the inspiring life she has lead.
Ms. de Bakker was born in Netherlands, Strijen as one of seven children. She was brought up by her, “lovely and God-fearing parents”. She described her home as an “Open House”, a place where anyone was always welcome. The concept of an “Open House” appears to have stayed with Ms de Bakker her entire life. When World War Two broke out she and her late husband Corneilus de Bakker, opened up their home to Jewish Families, enemies of the Nazi Regime and downed allied airmen (they insured their return to their own countries).
Married in 1940, the de Bakkers resided in Hengelo. At the time Mr. de Bakker worked an interesting job with troubled youth and was later promoted as a Personal Manager. At the same time World War Two broke out and the German invasion commenced. As one can only imagine the de Bakkers’ life dramatically changed. The Germans issued regulations and slowly the de Bakkers became less committed to their day jobs and “heavily involved in other things.” Together they became invaluable members of the Dutch Resistance.
Among many who were saved by the de Bakkers were two Jewish girls whose families had been sent to concentration camps. They adopted one of them, a seven year old Seinna after the war. In 1943 the de Bakkers also had their own biological child, Mirijke.
The de Bakker’s work in the underground advertised their blatant disapproval of the Nazi Regime and earned them a place on the notorious hit list of Geheime Staatspolizei. Geheime Staatspolizei, commonly referred to as Gestapo. Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Early one morning as the couple enjoyed a cup of tea together; Mr. de Bakker spotted notices Gestapo at the front of their house. Realising the immense danger he was in, he sprinted out the back door with Gespato and their Stenguns hot at his heals.
|Ms. de Bakker remembering...|
Two soldiers returned to Ms. de Bakker, curtly stating that they had shot her husband. “I was trembling inside, but outwardly was calm, the Lord gave me strength for this, and I felt my husband was not dead”. The two soldiers then proceeded to smash around shouting and then loaded valuable and sentimental stolen items from the de Bakker’s house into their car.
At the end of this recollection Ms. de Bakker is overcome with emotion. She sits quietly and we must take a break. Even after almost six decades the pain of this incident appears to still be incredibly raw for her. After a few silent moments Ms. de Bakker is ready to continue.
Knowing she had to make her self scarce as the Nazis would be back, she left home. Mirijke in a pram and Sienna at her side. Together they arrived at a safe house, a farm belonging to Boer Sanderman, where she was relieved to discovere Mr. de Bakker very alive and well. Here they stayed until after the war ended.
Upon returning to their home (after the war had finished) the de Bakkers discovered their home had been ransacked. However, thankful for their lives they took the opportunity to start over.
Mr. de Bakker grew restless and went to work in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association where he assisted in relocating persons back to their country. Following this he left his small family while he worked in Indonesia (it was too dangerous to bring Ms. de Bakker and children due to the Japanese occupation). He then reunited his family in Palembang, South Sumatra where but left after one year due to a shifting political climate. It was then in 1951 they arrived and stayed in Brisbane, Australia. Mr. de Bakker received citations from both the Dutch and American governments for his work in resistance during the war. Sadly Mr. de Bakker passed away in 2001, aged ninety having lived a very fufilled life.
“What drove you to do what you did for all these strangers?” I inquire. She quickly replies smiling and shaking her head, “Well I couldn’t say no or leave it to someone else because my belief and faith told me otherwise.” And yet, she tells me not to put her on a pedestal…