100-year-old

Joe Knypstra, 100, shared his story of surviving a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing. Please read at your own discretion. 

One look at Joe Knypstra, and you wouldn’t believe he’s 100.

Although his birthday was Jan. 3, the Penticton resident was celebrated by staff and residents at the Concorde Retirement Residence Friday afternoon.

After 100 years, Knypstra’s 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.

But one thing he remembers very clearly is the Second World War, and the two years he spent in a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Holland after he was arrested for his involvement in the underground Dutch Resistance.

“It was nothing but torture,” Knypstra said, adding he was 23-years-old, weighing 68 kilograms when he was brought into the camp. When he left, he was 25 and only 31 kgs.

Knypstra recalled the sadistic and often-random beatings he and the other prisoners received at the hands of the guards, of people being shot if they cried or complained and of how the “Jews had it worse.”

“If we were lucky, we got a little bit of coffee – coffee, well water. 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,” recalled Knypstra.

He spoke of being awoken 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,” Knypstra said sadly. “You just took it one day at a time.”

He later spent two months in the hospital after being freed from the concentration camp, and later moved to Canada.

Knypstra’s first home town 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 brought him across the country, and when he finally settled in Kaleden, he married his wife Frances in 1967, who he said during their 50 years together, they rarely argued.

They raised five children together and later adopted two young Vietnamese children.

Although he survived the horrors of a concentration camp from 1943 to ’45, Knypstra has nothing but a positive outlook on life, and jokes about how he doesn’t look a day over 70 at his age.

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘by golly, you are looking so good. How come?’” he said. “I say, '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.'”

But the real secret, he said, is “everything in moderation.”

“Doesn’t matter what you do, if you overdo it, you won’t make it,” he said. “If you want to keep young, keep on smiling and don’t be grumpy.”

Knypstra has spent many years volunteering in the community, and can still be found helping out at the Salvation Army every Sunday.

Concorde marketing manager Sharon Lusch said although she’s only known Joe in the five months she’s been working at the Concorde, he’s been “such an inspiration” to her.

“The first thing he did was give me a big hug and said, ‘Welcome to the Concorde family,’” she recalled. “He’s such an outstanding person. There’s not a negative thing that comes out of his mouth … he extends a helping hand and he’s such a fun person to be around.”