That radiant smile amidst the pain


"In prison I had to supply the prisoners two times a week with a razorblade. So I saw Titus Brandsma regularly. Always the guard who opened the door of the cell would yell and shout at Titus. But Titus always greeted him and me with a radiant smile as if he was meeting his best friend. I admired very much the cheerful way in which he would bear the pain and humiliations, especially because, as a priest, he was more bullied and humiliated than others, and always he would get the most rusted razorblades.

The cell of Titus was like a small chapel. As far as he was allowed he wrote and read a lot. He turned his small table into a little altar. I remember a book with a picture of Mary against the wall. In a glance one would recognise: here lives a priest. I am sure when the door was closed again, Titus would remain alone in his cell with the same radiant smile."

This was the testimony of police officer A.S. Fogteloo on Titus Brandsma. Fogteloo was head of the northern part of the Netherlands. He was imprisoned in Scheveningen from May 1941, was brought to Amersfoort in the same transport as Titus.

How could Titus afford to have a radiant smile despite the suffering that he had to go through?

Reflecting on Amersfoort, the sufferings that the prisoners had to endure simply because they were Jews, gays, political oppositions, physically disabled, or petty criminals, were just so cruel that even the Germans thought that it was just so cruel.

We could even assume that some of the prisoners there were there for no valid reason and for the wrong reasons.

Take Br. Raphael Tijhuis, for example. In 1942, the secret German police came to the Carmelite convent in Mainz to arrest him on the grounds that he mentioned several things in his letters to his family and friends like that material for the trousers have become so expensive or that he was having a hard time purchasing stamps for his collection or that they would no longer be able to ring the bell in church.

In 1935, Titus have been warning the Dutch people on the evil of Nazism, but basing on their experience during the first world war, wherein the Germans just passed through, sparing the country, they thought an occupation would not happen. But in 1939, the Germans did invade the country, and the preparations of the Dutch government was not enough. Well, it was too late. The Dutch government built Camp Amersfoort to house soldiers who would protect its borders, but in 1940 they had to hand it over to the Germans who converted it into a prison facility.

When the Dutch resistance movement became strong in 1939, more and more prisoners were brought in and the prison guards became so cruel to the prisoners that the Germans themselves think that it was too much.
From entering the gate they were beaten, made to undress, and then made to stand under the heat of the sun for hours, and depending on the whim of the guards, they could stay in that holding area they call Rose Garden for the whole day, to the point that the prisoners would start seeing roses on the barb wires that surround the area.

One time, the prisoners were used as target practice for German officers. They had to run a path that is around 350 meters in distance while the officers shoot at them. This path they dug themselves and along this path several prisoners were buried.

This was what Titus had to endure when he entered Camp Amersfoort after he was transferred from Scheveningen.

Despite the difficulties he was still able to afford to smile most especially to those who hurt him. Such strength in spirit he could only have gotten from his deep relationship with the source of all strength and love – God.


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