Neither here nor there

Peter Pickersgill
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Igor and Buchenwald

When Igor struck with all its fury on the night of the autumnal equinox, it was a demonstration of the incredible force that nature can set loose, force such as few have ever seen.

The word awesome is so overused that it has become almost meaningless. Igor went a long way to restoring true meaning to that word.

It is humbling indeed to see ourselves face to face with a phenomenon such as Igor, and recognize, by contrast, how small and feeble are we card-carrying members of the organization we call humankind.

Where humans shone, in response to all that Igor had to dish out, was in kindness, that trait of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that we hear spoken of so often, and which was truly centre stage in the grand opera Igor performed Sept. 21.

There is something that restores confidence in the human race about the spirit of a people, huddled together, clinging for all their fingernails can withstand to this windswept rock in the north Atlantic. That spirit glows like the light from a series of pocket flashlights pointing skyward into the horizontal sheets of rain. Spreading outward from the tiny pockets of humankind in all the nooks and crannies, scattered almost at random around the shore, these pinpoints of light signal to the world the message, “ We are here, we are alive and we will survive, though we are scared, wet and cold.”

Thought truthfully in the case of Igor, it was not cold. In fact, it was eerily warm as we struggled to remain standing against the wind, making fast our worldly possessions while our faces were lashed with stinging rain. Warm because the source of the storm was that witch’s cauldron of the ocean where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet to stir into a frenzy winds that will migrate north to dish out as much harm as they can muster.

The first part “We are here, we are alive, we will survive” impresses me because of the message it sends of our people’s determination to survive, but it is what comes next that is truly inspirational: “How can we help you”?

“By then, Uncle Frank had already been in captivity for 355 brutal days, and was on his way to Buchenwald and his rendezvous with death.”

Humanity at its best.

As you read this, I will be returning from the other side of the Atlantic. I will have just finished paying a visit to a place where the absolute flipside of humanity is on display.

A place of pure evil.

I will have just visited the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, Germany. It was here on Sept. 10 1944 that my uncle, Frank Pickersgill, was brutally killed by the Nazis.

I was born 360 days later and, growing up, stories of the exploits of the uncle I never knew created a character in my mind who was every bit as real as if he was standing beside me. He was much loved in my parent’s circle of friends, for his energy, humour, intelligence and fun. These, along with strength, determination, and guts were the characteristics that helped him remain alive during the 446 days he remained in Nazi captivity following his capture five days after parachuting into occupied France the night of June 15/16 1943. He was dropped into the Loire Valley in central France with his colleague and fellow Canadian Ken Macalister to help co-ordinate resistance efforts. These would have included blowing up bridges and railway lines, frustrating Nazi efforts to resist the long awaited Allied invasion that ultimately came on the beaches of Normandy, D-Day, June 6 1944. By then, Uncle Frank had already been in captivity for 355 brutal days, and was on his way to Buchenwald and his rendezvous with death.

Geographic location: Buchenwald, Atlantic, Germany Caribbean Loire Valley Normandy Auschwitz Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Dennis Schoonbaert
    November 07, 2010 - 21:31

    I was touched by Peter's story about his Uncle Frank on the Sunday Edition today. I am so happy to have found the text of his piece parts of which I may refer to in my address to the local Remembrance Day ceremony.