The Maple Leaf Has Come To Symbolize Freedom From A Tyranny We Will Never Fully Understand

Dear Editor,

Today, a trip to the coffee shop yielded an unexpected treasure. As we sipped our coffee, a man shared his amazing story of his and his parents’ flight out of the Ukraine. He was 12 or 13 years old at the time. They left their home just as the watermelons lay ripening in the fields. Because they were forced to flee the watermelons rotted in the fields, as did every other crop that long ago autumn.

This man remembers his journey from the Ukraine to Germany as if it had happened only yesterday. At one point he became separated from his parents for two or three days. As luck or providence would have it, he found his parents and together, they continued their journey. At one point in their forced exodus, they were able to ride on a train, in box cars which were caked with frozen manure. Most of the trip was made on foot, in the winter. Sometimes when they were available the elderly and young children were able to ride on sleighs. Our friend shared that his job was to hold onto the horse’s halter in order to keep the sleighs from colliding. He believes that this is one of the things which saved him. If he dozed off, he would waken when the sleigh began to move again.

When they entered Germany, they bypassed Berlin which was being bombed. The city was lit up with the flashes of exploding bombs. Quite an experience for a young boy who left everything behind, surviving with only the clothes on his back.

March was the month that marked their arrival in Germany. The watermelons they had left behind, would continue rotting in fields in a country that would never again be home to our friend or his parents.

Whenever I have the privilege of hearing firsthand an adventure in adversity such as this one, I marvel that anyone survived and in this case, I marvel that our friend recounted his story without bitterness or self-pity or any other negative emotion. As he looked through a window that belongs solely to him and shared his story with us, I thought how precious life is and how desperately we cling to it, through even the most adverse circumstances.

A forced march in winter was the beginning of a journey which brought our friend to Canada. Again, I am reminded that Canada, with all its faults, was the beginning of a new chapter for many, many people who were forced to leave their homes and find new ones. As we anticipate another Canada Day, it might be wise to remember the land of the free, where the maple leaf has come to symbolize freedom from a tyranny we will never fully understand. “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

D. Ruth Jewell

Three Hills, AB