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Nov11WedConcentration camp survivor Joe Knypstra's faith helps him maintain a positive outlook on life. November 11, 2020 by Melanie Eskal
One look at Joe Knypstra and you wouldn’t believe he’s 100. Even after a century, his memory is still sharp. He remembers the day he immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1954, and even recalls all the names of people he first met when he arrived.
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One other thing he remembers very clearly is the Second World War and the two years he spent in a concentration camp in his home country after he was arrested for his involvement in the underground Dutch Resistance.
“It was nothing but torture,” Joe says.
He was 23 years old and a solid 150 pounds when he entered the concentration camp, but weighed just 70 pounds when he left.
Joe recalls the sadistic and often random beatings he and the other prisoners received at the hands of the guards, people being shot if they cried or complained.
“If we were lucky, we got a little bit of coffee—coffee, well water,” he says. “And a little piece of bread. It was black. They said it was made from beans. Tasted terrible, but anything was fine. If we were good, we got a little bit of soup—mostly water.”
He remembers being roused in the middle of the night by guards who would whip prisoners who did not get out of bed fast enough. If they didn’t bleed from the lashings, they would be dunked in a trough full of cold water and scrubbed with hard bristles. Sand would then be rubbed into the wounds.
“Most of them didn’t make it,” Joe says sadly. “You just took it one day at a time.”
He spent two months in the hospital after being liberated from the concentration camp.
Joe’s first home in Canada was Soda Creek, B.C., working as a farmhand before moving to Vancouver to begin selling dry goods. His time as a merchant took him across the country until he settled in Kaleden, B.C., where he ran a bakery, followed by a butcher’s business, until he retired to Penticton, B.C.
Although he saw the worst of humanity in a concentration camp, Joe maintains a positive outlook on life and jokes about how he doesn’t look a day over 70.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘By golly, you are looking so good. How come?’
“I reply, ‘You know, I was 25 years old and was 70 pounds—skin and bone—so all the flesh around me is all new. And my hair is new, so that’s why I look young,’ ” he says with a laugh.
But the real secret to longevity, according to Joe, is everything in moderation.
“Doesn’t matter what you do. If you overdo it, you won’t make it.”
(Reprinted from Penticton Herald, January 14, 2020)
A 15-Year Love Affair
Following the closure of their church in 2005, Joe and his wife, Frances, decided to visit a few local houses of worship in their area.
They first stepped through the door of the Penticton Salvation Army Community Church to attend a Valentine’s dinner at the invitation of friends, not knowing that this would lead to a love affair with The Salvation Army.
After familiarizing themselves with the Army’s doctrines and evangelistic method of conducting services, they soon decided that they would like to become full-time members and, following classes, were enrolled as senior soldiers.
Joe immediately became as active in the congregation as he was able and found his calling as an enthusiastic greeter at the front door of the church. He hopes to do this with once again when pandemic restrictions are lifted, and continue to hand out the service bulletins and arrange for individuals to take up the weekly offering alongside him. In addition, up until this past Christmas, Joe’s been a supportive and active bell-ringer on the kettles—dressed, when appropriate, as Santa Claus!
“His doctor has forecast that Joe will live to be over 110,” says John Pettifer, who with his wife, Barbara, has been a close friend. “He’s a most remarkable individual."