After World War II, the people in the Netherlands faced the difficult challenge of rebuilding their lives. German occupation had damaged infrastructure, and food was scarce in some regions. Many communities were deeply divided, as some had resisted but others had cooperated with the German occupation. Feelings of anger and distrust were rampant. In 1947 Cornelius Zappey and other local church leaders organized a welfare project to address food shortages and to restore goodwill among residents.
The Dutch acquired seed potatoes and planted them in patches of dormant land. Praying for the Lord’s blessing, they cultivated the crop, and by the end of summer they were anticipating an ample harvest.
While the crop matured, Walter Stover, a church leader from East Germany, visited Zappey and told him of the plight of the people in Germany. The war had been devastating on all Germans, who now faced the approaching winter without sufficient food supplies. Zappey resolved to donate the potatoes to the German church members but was unsure if the Dutch church members could be persuaded to give their crop to their former enemies.
Initially, church members were shocked. “We couldn’t believe it,” recalled Truus Allert. “How can they tell us that we had planted potatoes for them [the Germans]?” Zappey and Pieter Vlam visited the congregations of the church and urged them to remember that the German church members were their brothers and sisters. Though many were reluctant at first, the Dutch people prepared the harvested potatoes for shipment to Germany.
At the border, an official tried to prevent Zappey from leaving the country with such a large shipment of food. After Zappey told him the story of the church members’ sacrifice, the official relented, and the potatoes were delivered to the people in Germany. “We were shown so much kindness and so much love,” remembered Ruth Wittwer, a recipient. “It gave me hope for a better future.” That shipment of potatoes meant the difference between life and death for so many people.
In 1948, as reconstruction continued in both countries, the Dutch people offered a second potato harvest to their German brothers and sisters and added a large shipment of pickled herring, a Dutch staple. These acts of kindness helped the people in both the Netherlands and Germany to recover from the effects of war and to restore unity and trust.