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Letter: 'War is war and it marks you forever'

A West Vancouver senior who fled the Nazis has seen this story before
Thousands of supporters rallied outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery to show solidarity with Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2022.

An open letter to my extended family:

Today, the world is at war again, a war that nobody expected, nobody wanted.

I was five years old when the Second World War started in Europe. At age seven (80 years ago), our family was forced to flee the village that had been occupied by Nazi forces.

We escaped, took refuge in a farmhouse in the valley on the north side of the Sangro River. While there, I remember vividly the cannon shells screeching across the night sky, shelling our homes we left behind. One day, the chilling news of the slaughter of a hundred people in the next town reached us. The next day they would come for us.

It didn’t take long for a platoon of soldiers to show up at our farmhouse. They ordered the families outside in a field – ours was the largest [of the families], from Nonna Luisa to my youngest sister. Our village priest was with us. We were ordered to stand side by side to face a firing squad. Only our priest’s intervention prevented our demise, and we were spared from being shot.

While war raged on, we were displaced, became refugees in other regions almost foreign to us. After three years of isolation, we returned to our village but our home was no longer there. It had had been flattened in the conflict. After that, life would not be the same again.

War and displacement marked our lives and we were scattered over the globe, from the Americas to Australia. Few of our bones will be buried where we were born. Some of us have forgotten who we were, where we came from. Through marriage, some of our names have changed and our past is being erased from our lives. Some of you don’t know who you are. I do not forget. I can’t forget. My past is etched in my bones. War is war and it marks you forever.

Today, there is another war in progress.Today, in Europe, other families with children, some who are the age I was, are forced to flee their homes while they are being bombed by a madman. How can a man from a country that was ravaged by war make war on its neighbour of the same culture and language and religion? Has he not learned anything from the suffering of his people during the horrible Second World War?

Today, another country is suffering. It needs our help.

Here, in Vancouver, we are far away from the conflict, but my heart is not at ease. What we see on TV about the conflict in Ukraine are bombs streaking in the night sky and tanks scouring fields and roads of a peaceful country that aims to be free from tyranny, a country that bears no harm to its kin.

People are fleeing. They will be refugees, as I was. Those who do not die in the conflict will not forget. There will be heavy hearts to forgive later. But people must remember the horror of the past that is being repeated today.

Remember, my kin: Today, Europe is at war. Pray for the victims of tyranny. Pray for peace and may the Lord hear your prayers.

I love you all.

Osvaldo Zappa
West Vancouver

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