There are around 1.5m people under 45 in Ireland so the story of Dutch industrialist Tiede Herrema’s kidnapping by the IRA in 1975 may not be first-hand familiar to them. There are fewer people over 75 so Dr Herrema’s earlier ordeal may resonate with fewer people. A member of the Dutch resistance in WWII, he was sent to a Polish concentration and after liberation by Russians he walked 500km to American lines.
Dr Herrema died aged 99 on Friday, a day after his wife of 72 years, Elisabeth, was buried. In 1975, when the IRA
abducted him, he was managing director of the Limerick
factory Ferenka, one of the city’s biggest employers.
At this remove the details of the kidnapping are academic, they are certainly secondary. What is memorable was the publicly-stated determination of Elisabeth that no concessions be made to kidnappers. What is even more memorable is the forgiveness the Herremas expressed for the kidnappers. The couple objected to 20 and 15-year sentences
imposed, saying they were too severe.
That generosity, that early recognition of the leverage of forgiveness may seem insignificant but it was not. At a time of great bitterness, at a time when this state was under real threat from within, it showed there was an alternative to violence. By their grace and humanity the Herremas showed us how to be better people. That example lives today in the peace we all enjoy. May they rest in that peace.