“They are the last of the real ‘Great Dames’….”  By

“They are the last of the real ‘Great Dames’….”

On set at Global TV’s program “16X9″, we are two prairie girls celebrating the stories of a trio of women you don’t normally get to see on prime time TV. Their faces are etched with wrinkles, each line telling a tale of extraordinary cunning, endurance, and humour. These dames are in their nineties.

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They’re sharp, expressive, and will hold you spellbound with just a hint of what they survived as young women during World War Two. (I include my mother, who joins them in spirit, with a story just as riveting,  in my upcoming film, “The Traitor’s Daughter.” You’ll see why I’ve included her, in a minute. Keep reading!)

Executive Producer Laurie Few (Saskatoon) and I  (Netherhill) share a love of great dames and great stories. The kind of story you can’t make up. The kind of story I am so proud to be able to bring to National TV on Canada’s fastest growing network, this Remembrance Day.

IMG_3526On November 9th, at 7:00 PM  (check your local listings)  you’re going to meet a couple unsung ‘heros’ of the Second World War: the women whose stories are typically overshadowed at Remembrance Day by the medals and pomp and ceremony around the exploits of men who write history.

At the height of the Nazi terror in Holland, Hetty Wear risked her life to hide Jews in their family attic. She is one of the last eye-witnesses to the Holocaust. She remembers the day the Gestapo came for the Jewish children in her own school, including two of her friends. Like so many, she never saw them again, as they disappeared into the concentration camps of World War Two.

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In an extraordinary story turn, we reunite her with the last surviving Jew of the seven Jews she and her parents saved during the War by hiding them in the attic during the Nazi occupation of Holland. From her home in Richmond, BC, 95-year Delia Van Dam (now Delia Van Haren) tells a parallel story of terror and the unquenchable  will to survive as she and her husband endured 1825 days of Nazi occupation.

Delia and I through Kirk's viewfinder

To create the mood and musical subtext for the documentary, I worked with Cheryl Duvall, an international concert pianist who volunteered her time and talent to provide this spontaneous sound track. (Thanks to Guy Few,) who put it all together for us!) Click on the black and white photograph below for a 2:30 musical voyage into the heart of Nazi-occupied Holland.

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Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 8.55.10 PMNow I promised you the story of “Six Degrees of Separation”. Against all odds, I mean you can’t make this stuff up, Hetty Wear actually met my mother in Holland when they were both war brides, awaiting passage to Canada. It was only for a couple hours one summer’s afternoon in July, 1946, but Hetty never forgot their conversation in the back of a Canadian army jeep ferrying them to their respective Dutch billets.

Mom and Jack wedding

“She told me, the Germans beat her. I wondered, why would anyone beat such a pretty, petite woman!” And then she went on. “Well, how many Russian war brides could there be? I don’t think very many..” her voice trails off. There was only one Russian war bride to come to Canada, and that was my mom. Agnes Spicer (Pfeil, at that time).

Agnes and Hetty 'reunited'

As you read this, my mother (pictured on the left) and Hetty (pictured on the right) are part of an amazing international travelling art exhibit created by Calgary’s own Bev Tosh. “One Way Passage to Love” is currently on display at the site of the biggest airdrop operation during the Second World War. In Nijmegan, Holland, my twin brother Victor and I decided to pay Mom and Hetty ‘a visit.’ at the Dutch International Liberation Museum. (Click the photograph below to see a fabulous 2:00 ‘tour’ with music of this moving exhibit celebrating 22 War Brides, including Mom and Hetty.

exhibit-play

14 Comments

  1. Kathy Bourne

    Spellbinding, Roxana!The blog is “spellbinding” this week, Rocky. Utterly fascinating that the two women met and talked for those two hours! Makes a person think there are other realms of time at work….getting too philosophical. Really fascinating…keep up the great work!

  2. The deeper I dive into the story of my mother, with occasional detours to other WW2 personal stories, the greater my need to know more! I’m glad you feel the same way…

  3. Karen Callsen

    I wait with bated breath for Fridays blog! Thank you Roxana for having the courage and the fortitude to pursue your Mom’s story. My dad passed away last summer. Oh how I wish he was here and I could share this with him! But maybe he and your Mom are sharing a rye and water together right now! I am sure it is always 5 o’clock in heaven! Bravo Roxana. Bravo.

  4. WOW!! You are accomplishing such spectacular things for SO many!,
    It would take too many words to express all the thoughts that go through my mind!

  5. Maxine Schmaltz

    WOW! Your quest and ambition has accomplished such spectacular things for SO many Roxana!

    1. I am humbled by the women I write about.

    2. Maxine Schmaltz

      Hi Roxana
      I went to do a google search on Delia Van Haren to see if I could find some history on her. The site above is one of the choices. I am pretty sure you have already come across this info, photos, etc but just incase you haven’t…
      Hope the page will open for you.
      I am so taken with your mission Roxana!! You are fantastic!!
      Maxine

  6. In southwestern Ukraine, I visited three grandsons (and their wives) of the brother of my great grandfather who emigrated to Manitoba in 1903. The father of these three had been the village headman of Vovkhivsti, during both the Soviet rule, and the German occupation. During the German occupation, his wife and her mother hid a Jewish woman (Sosia Flintenstein) and her fourteen year old son for over three hundred days in a tunnel that had once been a kerosene storage warehouse. After the war Sosia and her son moved to Lviv. I’m attempting to contact the Jewish community in Lviv to see if they have any information of this event.

    1. Larry, I am blown away by the number of untold stories of women’s heroism during the Second World War. Good luck with telling this one. It’s another amazing testament to the power of the human spirit to endure and transcend pure Evil…

  7. Sandra Tesolin

    Riveting!

    1. I am thrilled to be reaching a wider demographic with the story of my mother and the extraordinary backdrop of 5 years that changed the world forever. Imagine, what richness there is in mining these living memories. thanks for joining the growing legions who’ve visited this website. 62,000 to date! thank you….

  8. Tom Fergusson

    Roxanna, your story is getting more interesting all the time. I can’t wait for the next blog.

  9. Roxana,

    I simply can’t stop thinking about your project and am very excited to see 16×9 this weekend! Something about this just speaks to me and I am very glad we had the opportunity to speak today.

    Keep in touch!

  10. I find your blog’s very interesting. The Spicer family has always been of interest to me as I grew up knowing Harold and Marion Spicer and family and remember them talking of your Dad

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