Today, May 4th, is memorial day in The Netherlands. The date was chosen specifically as May 5th is Liberation Day ~ the day the Netherlands celebrates its freedom from the occupying Nazis in World War II (my mother-in-law insists I add that not everyone was liberated yet on May 5th and some were liberated much earlier). Memorial day is commemorated with two minutes of silence at 8 p.m. The national commemoration takes place on the Dam in Amsterdam, although there are hundreds of local commemorations planned as well.
I explained the Dutch memorial day and the following liberation day ceremony on my blog last year (read about it here). In that blog, I wrote about the national ceremony, but what about the local commemorations? I live in the Hague, which houses the national government of the Dutch. Surely, there are ceremonies here to rival the Dam (although we have allowed the King – whose palace is in The Hague – to travel to Amsterdam for the national ceremony).
I quickly stumbled upon a commencement ceremony at the monument for Forced Labor in the courtyard of the Province House of South Holland (I’m not sure about that translation, but the Province House houses the government for the province of South Holland. The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces.) During the Second World War, the Hague Zoo was located here. This was one of the locations where forced laborers from the Hague were assembled for transportation to Germany.
The monument was an initiative of P.M. Kool who was a forced laborer in Stuttgart. He felt that after the war there was little understanding for the experiences of the forced laborers. The idea is that the monument will change that. Huh. I live – literally – three blocks from the Province House and walk and/or cycle past it on nearly a daily basis. I didn’t even know the monument was there. And I am a total and complete history geek – especially about the Second World War. So, sorry Mr. Kool, but we need to do some work on raising awareness. So, here goes.
First, the monument. The monument consists of a tree surrounded by elevated bricks on which a stainless steel ring is attached. A row of human figures is depicted on the inside of the ring.
On the outside of the ring, you can read the following text:
“Because that’s the point: being a victim, being violated and having to fight for recognition of this …”
A plaque explains the forced labor situation during the war:
“During the Second World War, the occupying forces forced more than half a million Dutch to perform labor in Germany. Men from The Hague and surroundings were also deported. This happened on a large scale during a raid on November 21, 1944.
Around 15,000 residents of The Hague and the surrounding area were brought together several locations. One of those locations was the former zoo, which now houses the Province House. Most of them did not know what awaited them – deportation from the Laakhaven by barge. Their loved ones who stayed behind also faced difficult times full of uncertainty about the fate of the men.
Countless forced laborers lost their lives. May the memory of war and terror encourage peace among all.”
These victims, among others who have lost their lives due to war, are remembered at a ceremony today at the memorial. At 8 p.m. the Netherlands falls silent to remember those who have died for our freedom.