One of the greatest things about my job on board ship is the interesting people I get to meet from around the world! Folks come from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds. I’m always amazed at the number of PhDs and educators on board, which is why our guests really, really appreciate my lectures and what I do to make their shore experience more meaningful and memorable.
Folks come to celebrate amazing achievements . . . for vacations . . . to fulfill a life-long dream of seeing the Canal . . . and of course some to just escape winter.
The Dutch are here . . . 10 days on board the ZUIDERDAM provides more warmth and sunshine than the “one day of summer” they have in Holland, or so they tell me!
This time of year the Canadians are here in force, escaping the ravages of winter.
We have the honeymooners . . . of all ages. A few cruises ago a couple got married on board, which happens on almost every cruise, except these folks were both in their eighties!
A few recent highlights . . .
One of the lecturers with a group of scientists on board . . . a noted evolutionist. Young guy . . . had an interesting tattoo encircling his upper arm that looked vaguely familiar. I asked, “That’s Greek isn’t it?” Yes, so I asked what it said. It was a very appropriate quotation from the book of John, “In the beginning was the Word”. And it was also a very neat looking tattoo. If I ever get a tattoo, that will be it.
Well sell the book on grief that my wife and I wrote onboard. Well, it’s tucked away under the counter in the gift shop. If you beg and plead they will find a copy and sell it to you in a brown paper wrapper. Don’t ask: there are many, many things on this ship that I can’t figure out. Anyway, a couple comes up to me after a lecture and they are holding the grief book. Turns out their son-in-law killed their daughter and three of their grandchildren before taking his own life . . . and they are struggling with their grief. Wow! I am always aware that although all of our guests look good and smell good, that many of them have deep hurts and struggles in their lives.
Another couple from Holland. They had been on Holland America three years ago and the gentleman started noticing his urine was brown so he went to the ship’s doctor on next to the last day on board. The ship’s doctor told him to go immediately to the hospital when he got home and have it checked out. It turned out he had cancer in his kidney and ended up having a kidney removed. He went through that process and then his wife had cancer . . . now, three years after going through all that, they were back on board.
One of the most interesting gentlemen I met the other night. Frequently at night, before the main show, I walk around the show lounge to “meet and greet” and chat with guests. These folks were sitting in the front row. I gave them my usual, “How are you tonight?” To which he replied, “Wonderful . . . considering the alternative.” I laughed, and ready to move on said, “Yes, I know!” Whereupon he said, “No, you don’t know.” Which, although a response I deserved, kind of set me back, and I looked at him and he repeated, “No, you don’t know.” So I stood there . . . waiting. Guests frequently like to give me little lectures . . . usually about the canals in their backyards or some vaguely (and I do mean vaguely) bit of history they’d like me to include in my hour-long talk on the Panama Canal . . .
Well it turned out that this guy was celebrating his 57th wedding anniversary! Congratulations . . . but that isn’t all that infrequent on Holland America. He went on to explain that he was a Holocaust survivor. His name is Sam Schrijver . . . correction, SIR Sam Schrijver . . . he was knighted by the Queen of Holland. He was 18 when the Germans invaded Holland and he joined the Dutch Resistance.
Schrijver saw his family carted away to the camps, never to be seen again. He brought food to hiding Jews in the night and forged papers for them.
When he was finally caught he was put in a boxcar with 90 other Jews for full days without food or water. He recalls that the car was so crowded that people on the edges could not reach the toilet barrel in the middle. He was sent to the Westerbrok camp. By the time he arrived the war was ending.
Jews were no longer being taken to the death camps because Hitler needed the trains to try and bring back his troops. Under cover of night Schrijver managed to escape Westerbrok only to feel the cold steel of a rifle barrel stabbing his neck. The guy holding the guy spoke English and was Canadian. Schrijver was brought to the General in command of the Canadian brigade and told the General that there were 900 Jews in the Westerbrok camp. At first they didn’t believe his story: their intelligence had told them that this camp was a German barrack and they were even then preparing to bomb the camp. Schrijver successfully pleaded with the Canadians to check out the camp. The then chief of the Canadian defense staff would later write, “Due to the intervention of Sam Schrijver the total annihilation of Camp Westerbrok and its approximate 1,000 inmates was averted and 1,000 Jews were saved at the 11th hour.”
After telling me his amazing story, Schrijver assured me that it really is a wonderful day because he’s been married to a wonderful gal for 57 years and they have 17 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren . . . Then he said, “So, as I see it, that makes the score Hitler 0 Sam 17”!! What a guy!!