My father's older brother was a bit different. As young children we already were aware he was not considered to be a normal person. He lived in an institute near the house of a sister of my father. Often he would visit and bring things from his allotment, like green beans. He would bring bicycle bags full of them or other vegetables and my aunt would be embarrassed. She would thank him, but after he would be gone, she would complain to us. She had no idea what to do with these vast amounts.
Once he came over to my family. It was not clear to me if he was invited or came spontaneously. He was chatting a bit with my parents, but often disappeared to the bathroom. He came back with wet hands and red eyes. He constantly had the need to clean his hands and his eyes, because they were dirty according to himself. When we were sitting together and had our evening meal, he hid his hands under the table and knocked.
"They are here already! They are coming for me!", he moaned full of fear. We whispered to another that it was himself who was knocking. My father went to the door, opened it wide.
"Nobody! You see!"
Uncle nodded, but the same scene was done again during the meal. My father showed again that there was nobody.
He started moaning that they were observing him through the windows. (The curtains were closed.)
My parents started talking about other things and distracted him from his fears.
The man went to bed even before I went and my parents talked about him.
"We can't do this with the children...", I heard my father say.
I was sent to bed, just like my oldest sister. Way before our normal time to go upstairs.
The next morning I woke up because of a van driving up to our house.
Two men in white nurse outfits came out and I ran downstairs, because I was curious.
The men came to collect my uncle; meekly he went along with them.
"I know, I know, I have to serve my life sentence. Will I ever be released?"
My father seemed to be on the brink of tears when uncle was put in the van.
Years later it became clear to me what was wrong with him.
During the Second World War the Germans wanted to build a defence line along the Belgian and French coast: the Atlantik Wall. From all over Europe people were put to work on it and my uncle had been one of them. Work was hard, food was bad, treatment was also bad. People died during the building and it was not even finished when the Germans lost the war. During the fighting workers were killed as the Allies attacked the defence line while the building and repairing went on.
When finally the fighting was over, the workers were allowed to go home.
Because there was no organised transportation my uncle had to walk most of the way between the North of France and the Netherlands. Maybe once in a while he got a ride from a farmer; how he got his food while on his way is not clear either.
He must have seen awful things and must have been forced to do awful things in the North of France. That is why he constantly wanted to clean his hands and his eyes. So sad that he never was able to talk about it.
I can still hear his words: "When will my sentence be done, when will I be released?"