07 May 2013

Remembrance Day - in the Netherlands

We are in the Netherlands for a couple of conferences. The day before we arrived this nation got a new king, Willem-Alexander. The entire nation was joyful - and decked out in orange! Then two national holidays followed, Remembrance Day and Liberation Day. On May 4, we were able to attend a commemoration of Remembrance Day in Neiuw Zuyland. Here is a description of the events.
Remembrance Day — 4 May: The official, nationally televised commemoration begins in the evening with a service at a church in central Amsterdam, after which veterans and victims’ relatives lay wreaths at the National War Memorial on nearby Dam square. Church bells ring for a quarter of an hour till 8 pm, when there is a nationwide two-minute silence. Dignitaries and other victims’ groups then lay more wreaths and a child reads out a self-written poem, selected by a local jury. A ceremonial procession past the National War Memorial marks the end of proceedings.
In the early years, Remembrance Day reflected a more sombre public mood. All over Holland there were silent processions in memory of fallen local Resistance members and fellow citizens shot by the Germans. Their slogan was “no celebration without commemoration”, so Remembrance Day always fell before Liberation Day. Their well-attended processions contrasted with the rather stuffy, official commemoration in the Hague. It took the Dutch government until the eighties to come up with a unified, national format for the proceedings which in some way emulated the atmosphere of those early local, silent processions.
Although the war continued in the Far East and the Netherlands was not fully liberated until August 1945, it was soon decided that Liberation Day should be held on 5 May, the date of the German army’s capitulation. It used to be the poor relative of Remembrance Day, only being celebrated once every five years from the sixties to the late seventies. Nowadays it is a popular, festive occasion whose stated aim is not just to celebrate Holland’s liberation from the German occupation between 1940-45 but also to cherish freedom and democracy worldwide.
It was, indeed, a moving event. Walking back to our friends’ house, Sandra asked me what I thought. My response: “It was somber, as it should be. They had it so much worse here in WW II than America did. We lost people, it’s true, but this land was occupied by the Nazis and many people were annihilated because of race or ethnicity or old age or handicaps.”
I was pleased to see young and old alike take part in the brief and dignified ceremonies. It was more than simply a day for barbecues.

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