Dutch Remembrance Day #ExpatLife #LivingInHolland #History #WWII

Freedom! That’s what we’re celebrating today in the Netherlands. Even if we’re not doing it with blue and white stripes painted on our faces or screaming Freedom! at the top of our lungs. I’ve obviously watched Braveheart one too many times. Before we can celebrate freedom, however, we need to spend a moment remembering the men and women who made that freedom possible.

Yesterday, May 4th, was the day in the Netherlands when all victims of wars and/or military actions from World War II onwards are remembered. The Germans capitulated in the Netherlands on May 5th and thus the previous evening is set aside as time of remembrance. Several remembrance ceremonies take place across the country. The King attends the ceremony at the Dam in Amsterdam.

rembrance 1The Dam is an oblong-shaped square in Amsterdam with Royal Palace of Amsterdam on one side and a memorial on the other. The Dam is called the ‘dam’ because it was actually a dam in the Amstel river built somewhere between 1204 and 1275. There was a lock in the dam to protect ships. The famous road leading from the train station to the Dam square – the Damrak – was actually a port that eventually became filled with sand from water being forced through the locks on the dam to the IJ river.

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People seeking cover during the shooting.

On May 7th, 1945, two days after the Germans capitulated in the Netherlands, a massacre occurred on the Dam. Thousands of Dutch gathered there to await the arrival of Canadian troops. In a club around the corner, members of the German forces watched as the crowd below their balcony grew. They placed a machinegun on the balcony and started shooting into the crowd. The shooting ended when a member of the resistance climbed into the tower of the palace and started shooting onto the balcony. At the same time, a German officer and Resistance commander forced their way into the club and convinced the men to surrender. Numbers vary but at least thirty-one died and more than one-hundred were wounded.


rembrance 2Eventually, a memorial was placed on the Dam to memorialize the dead from the Second World War. The memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade. There are eleven urns containing soil from World War II execution grounds from each of the Dutch provinces contained within the wall surrounding the colonnade. A twelfth urn was later added with soil from Indonesia – the former Dutch East Indies. Officially, the monument commemorates the dead from World War II, but on May 4th, all Dutch victims of war and/or military actions are commemorated here.

remembrance 8At 7:45 p.m. on May 4th, the King, Queen, Prime Minister, and military representatives walk out of the Royal Palace and cross the Dam to the monument. They place the first wreath at the monument before the entire nation falls silent for two minutes. We are silent for two minutes to remember those who have given their lives so that we may live in peace and silence.

After the two minutes, the ceremony continues with various persons laying wreaths at the memorial. There are always governmental representatives like the Prime Minister and the chairpersons of the houses of parliament. The interesting part is when survivors of various military actions are given the chance to lay wreaths. On huge screens behind the memorial, a short background is given of the survivor – usually by a close relative – before the wreath is laid. This brings history to life. Something that is ever so important in these times. There is also a poem read by a high school student. Every year, there is a national poetry competition to choose the student who will read the poem.

rembrance 4At midnight, the official national remembrance day turns into Liberation Day. The liberation fire is lit on May 5th Square in Wageningen. Runners light torches from this fire and bring the liberation fire to seventy places in the Netherlands. Over 2,000 runners are used. The liberation fire is brought to the capital where later on the 5th the official opening of Liberation Day takes place in the presence of the Prime Minister.

In contrast to the quiet reflection of Remembrance Day, Liberation Day is a day of festivals with podiums containing live music throughout the country. So, today we party to celebrate our freedom. And if that’s not a good reason for a party I don’t know what is.

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