Monday, 4 May 2009

Remembrance Day - National event

At 8pm, two minutes' silence was observed across the Netherlands to remember those people from this country who had died in the Second World War, and in war and peacekeeping operations since. As per usual, Queen Beatrix attended together with the Prince of Orange, Willem Alexander, and his wife, Princess Maxima. Not as per usual, her presence was specially acknowledged by the Mayor of Amsterdam, and certainly most unusual, the 15,000 strong crowd on the Dam responded with a prolongued round of applause.

For the past 20 years and more, I have made a point of observing both the Dutch and the UK Remembrance Days. I feel that the sacrifices made by British armed forces and people alike in the Second World War contributed in no small measure to the liberation of Holland and other countries in Western Europe that were under Nazi German occupation and all the horrors that that entailed.

The Acts of Remembrance in Holland and Britain are quite different. The focus in the UK is strongly on the servicemen that made the ultimate sacrifice, or endured great suffering. In Holland, military sacrifices are also remembered, but there is a different angle as well, because the country was occupied.

During the Nazi occupation, many people were summarily executed, and two of the other commemorations in my area, earlier in the afternoon, focused on two locations where people had been shot by the Nazis. One of the national events, also at 8pm, takes place near The Hague, where many hundreds fell by the occupier's bullet. About 102,000 people were taken to concentration camps, like Amersfoort, Vught and Westerbork, thence to be deported to places like Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Dachau, whose names are now tinged with the infamy of the horrors that took place there. The name of Anne Frank epitomises what happened there - those who have visited Auschwitz get a faint glimpse. I have personally not visited Auschwitz. I don't think I could handle it, if I'm honest.

Tomorrow is Liberation Day, when the Nazi yoke was finally lifted off the Netherlands. VE Day, with the final surrender of Nazi Germany, occurs on Friday, 8 May.

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