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Cornelia Rietkerk Snel

The miracle of the firewood.

Cornelia Rietkerk Snel

Cornelia knew that if she did not find a way to heat her home, they would not survive the winter.

It was the Dutch Hunger Winter (Hongerwinter). After four years of German occupation, the industrial towns in the Netherlands had no food and no fuel. Winter came early in 1944, and the German blockades and frozen canals cut off shipments and supplies. The freezing famine would cost the lives of over 20,000 people.

Cornelia Rietkerk Snel lived in Alkmaar, Holland with her family. Her husband was a musician who often travelled into the countryside to give music lessons to farmers’ children in exchange for food from their farms. Despite the occasional food he brought home, the cold was quickly becoming unbearable.

Gas, electricity and coal were no longer readily available. Some families burnt their furniture to stay warm. Collecting firewood from the forest was illegal and signs were posted by the German occupation forces threatening death.

At eight months pregnant, Cornelia was determined to find a way to keep her family warm. When it became desperate, she spent the night on her knees praying for guidance and heavenly help. The next morning, she left home in the early hours of the morning on her bicycle.

In the forest, she quickly worked to gather wood when she heard a man call out, “Halt!”

Afraid to move, she froze. “This is punishable by death,” shouted the man.

As she turned around, she saw two German soldiers. When they saw her pregnant stomach, their faces revealed both surprise and sympathy.

Taking courage from their response, she replied, “You can kill me now. I won’t survive the winter without wood to heat my home.”

After a long pause, they answered, “We will let you go this time, but don’t try this again.”

Cornelia quickly tied her firewood to her bicycle and cycled home in relief. The next day, Cornelia found a small bundle of wood on her back porch. There was wood every morning until spring came.

She often told this story to her children, finishing by reiterating an essential truth, “You can’t judge a person by their appearance,” she explained, “because these young men definitely looked frightening but they were touched by God.”
Personal Interview with daughter Helena Snel Walker August 9, 2021 Woodland, Utah.

Research: Sarah Smart
Writing: Sarah Smart
Editing: Amy Epps & Louise Paulsen
Photography: Courtesy of Helena Snel Walker
Sources: Personal Interview with daughter Helena Snel Walker August 9, 2021, Woodland, Utah.

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