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'People didn't learn,' Nazi prison camp survivor living in Penticton says

Penticton centenarian Joe Knypstra learned the hard lessons of World War II after spending two years in a Nazi concentration camp, but he fears not enough others in the world have.
February 03, 2020 - 6:30 AM

Joe Knypstra spent two years behind barbed wire in a Dutch Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.

And this week, as the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, the Penticton man reflected on how far as a society we've come and how much further we have to go.

Knypstra, who turned 100 this week, was part of the Dutch underground, resistance forces in Holland during the German occupation during the Second World War.

The Germans were tipped off about what he'd been doing and he was rounded up and sent to Eureka concentration camp in the Netherlands.

“Torture was a daily routine,” he said of his two years there, recalling instances where prisoners were fed nothing more than cups of watery broth.

“The cups would be full, half full, quarter full, varying amounts. If a prisoner bypassed a half-filled cup, the guards would beat them, sometimes even shooting them."

Other times the prisoners would be awakened in the middle of the night and forced outside with little clothing, to pick up stones and bits of litter in the camp yards.

He remembers a bunker prisoners were forced into, which had been dug just deep enough their heads were above the ground. A board ‘roof’ full of nails was then dropped on them.

“The Jewish people in the camp were forced to live in tents. They received even worse treatment,” he said.

Knypstra spent from 1943 to 1945 in the camp before being liberated. After a stint in hospital, he joined the Dutch army as a cook after spending his first three weeks as a guard.

That’s when he had his own epiphany.

“I was full of hate the first three days.  I wanted those prisoners —who were Nazi prisoners of war — to pick up every stone in the camp and pound it into sand,” he said.

But after three days he realized that he had to do better.

“There were 40 of us guards. We had a meeting and I said ‘we’re all human beings. They’re human beings too. We have to forgive them or we’ll never have peace,’" Knypstra said.

“I forgave them. It was pretty hard but I’m happy I did, because I’ve had peace within myself.” 

Knypstra made his way to the Okanagan Valley in 1954, where he has since lived in Kaleden and Penticton, working as a baker and a butcher.

For years after the war Knypstra couldn’t eat anything but the blandest of foods due to stomach problems as a result of his time in the camp, but he received medical treatment that resolved his issues about 30 years ago.

Today is he a bright, mobile and healthy looking 100 year old, adored and respected by the staff and fellow residents at Concorde Retirement Residence in Penticton.

His wife died two years ago.

Asked if he sees the world as a different, more tolerant place today, he paused a moment.

“People didn’t learn,” he said.

“The way it goes, I think we could have another war ...  although I’m not likely to see it.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to tips@infonews.ca and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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