And a Giant slips away un-noticed

Kembudo-Kai Kempoka

Senior Master
Mar 9, 2004
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Dana Point, CA
My mother-in-law, Hendrika Jansma, passed in the small hours between Thursday night and Friday morning, from complications of kidney failure.

Her daughter -- my betrothed -- only knew the woman she battled with through her youth, and continued to fence with as the years passed by. Yet, with Hendrika ("Ria") gone, the phone has not stopped ringing, nor have the bits of unknown past stopped coming to light from well-wishers half a world away.

Ria was a child in Holland prior to World War II. Having seen her country ravaged by the Nazi's, she joined the Dutch resistance. Her underground name is mentioned in the Diary of Anne Frank, as she was one of the people who fed Anne Frank in the basement of her bosses house. She smuggled small munitions to resistance fighters in her bicycle frame, cycling past SS guards. Her sister and infant nephew were on one of these trips, when a Nazi soldier made a pass at Ria's sister. Affections unreturned, the soldier lost his temper, siezed the infant, and swung him like a ball bat, breaking his head open on a wall. Ria's sister reacted, and was summarily shot in the head; fragments of her sisters skull lodged in Ria's thick hair.

Only days after, an elderly & senile gentleman was walking in the park, and failed to respond appropriately to commands by soldiers to stop and drop to the ground. They commenced beating the old man, and Ria stepped in to intervene. For her moxy, they broke both her arms above the wrists with their rifle butts. To the day she died, both forearms bore the lightning-bolt shaped deformity of those injuries.

Despite the loss and abuse she experienced, she refused to let her compassion die. After the war, thousands upon thousands of German children were starving in the streets. She worked with the Red Cross to move many by train into areas that had food, where she would feed them for 6 weeks to bring them back from the brink of starvation, then ride back to Germany with them to fetch another train full.

Later, she went to Indonesia to provide care for people injured and starving from activities on the Pacific front. The passing of years found her starving out an existence as a "New Australian" immigrants, encountering the prejudices of a young and blooming nation going through financial ups and downs. She emigrated to the US in the later 1950's, where she and her husband finally found some breathing room from strife.

A fairly simple life ensued, fraught, however, with the echoes of post-traumatic stress and depression welling up from her past. She sought solace from her religion, but never really found the peace she wanted from the nightmares of her memories. She would frequently wake at night, petrified that the German soldiers would find her hiding in the grass, her family tasked with freeing her from the night terrors. She proved to be a demanding and unpleasant matriarch, ruling the family from the anger and control of full-blown narcissism. She demanded unreasonably, and hurt her nuclear family members often. As such, many who knew her here, did not know of the compassionate giant who fought in the war, then epitomized compassion by serving her tormenters.

She died nearly alone in her hospital room, with only the daughter she in turn tormented holding her hand and stroking her hair, saying in Dutch, "If I could take it away, I would". An ironic image of the compassion her mother had shown towards her own demons in the days of her youth. As stubborn to her sense of faith as to anything else in her life, she held on through morphine injections and pain patches until a Chaplain showed to offer a prayer. Within moments, she joined her siblings she could only dimly remember from the days before the war.

Rest well, Ria. You can dance the ballet again, as you so loved, with no one there to stop you.

When you drink at a well, remember to honor the man who dug it. As we debate the meaning of freedom, and the rightness or wrongness of activities we do in the supposed name of freedom, remember. There are those who dug the well so we could have the luxury of debate, and it cost them their lives...even if their lives extended beyond the days of war itself.


Senior Master
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Apr 16, 2004
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Now she will have peace from all the horror. She was a brave woman.
. TW