The Giraffe and The Doctor

Main Piece: During World War II, food was pretty scarce for the Dutch. People sort of vaguely know this because they talk about the Dutch having to eat tulip bulbs during the war but that’s about the extent of it. In particular, the winter of 1944 was really bad. The Allies had tried to liberate the Dutch and end the war in 1944 with a military campaign known as Operation Market Garden. The plan was for the Allies to capture all the major bridges between where they were and Germany. If they could secure that line of bridges, then they could punch right through into Germany itself and end the war right then and there. They succeeded in capturing all those bridges except for the last one. It was in a town called Arnhem which is on the Rhine. The Brits and the Poles secured the bridge in Arnhem but help failed to arrive in time. They were left stranded and the bridge was lost. There was a great movie made called “A Bridge Too Far.” I once told my headmaster in high school that my grandparents were from Arnhem and he burst into tears and said “it really was a bridge too far.” If Operation Market Garden had succeeded, the war might have ended in 1944. It didn’t. My grandfather was from Arnhem and like every other person there he had been force evacuated.


The winter of 1944 was known as the Hongerwinter in Dutch because everyone starved and a lot of people died. Trapped behind German lines, they had no access to Allied food supplies and the Germans were rediverting food supplies to their own people. So, people were desperate for any food they could get. This is the story of how my grandfather got some for him and his family. At the time, everything non-essential to the NAZI war effort had been shut down including the zoo. At some point, the zoo got hit by a shell and a giraffe was injured. There were no vets around and so they called in my grandfather who was a human medical doctor. Now, there was nothing that could be done for the giraffe and so my grandfather got a friend to grab a baby pram and they took out the mattress. Then they hacked off the very best pieces of giraffe meat in order to exactly mirror the space taken up by the mattress so that they would not raise suspicion when they went through the German checkpoints. The result was tens of kilos of high quality red meat in the middle of the most desperate part of the war. At the time, he didn’t tell anyone the source of the meat. After the war though, it became one of his favorite stories and now my whole family tells it.

Background Information: This piece was performed by Hunter Maats who learned it from his father. He likes it because it is a piece of family folklore that reminds him of values of resourcefulness and grit.

Context of the Performance: The story was performed in person in the kitchen of my dad’s house.

My Thoughts on the Piece: I really like this piece. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people doing incredible things to survive in World War II from my own grandparents and also through history classes, museum visits and films. I always find these stories really inspiring because they remind me that humans are incredibly resourceful and can find ways to succeed in any environment.