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Twenty Years After the End of World War II: Dutch Memories

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Posting this blog on the fifth of each May has become a tradition for me.

Today is Liberation Day (also known as Freedom Day) for Holland. It was 5 May 1945 that Canadian forces along with other Allied forces were able to obtain the surrender of German forces in the small Dutch town of Wageningen. This led to the complete surrender and liberation of the country.

NETHERLANDS AMERICAN CEMETERY (MARGRATEN)

American World War II Cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands. Photo by Kees Verburg (2014). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
American World War II Cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands. Photo by Kees Verburg (2014). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

There is a cemetery near Maastricht. It is the final resting spot for 8,301 American soldiers and a memorial for the 1,722 men missing in action. They were casualties of Operation Market Garden (17–25 September 1944) and other battles aimed at liberating Holland. Operation Market Garden was a failed Allied attempt to liberate Holland.  There are other military cemeteries nearby for the British and Canadian men who did not survive the battle.

John J. Lister killed in action on 7 April 1945 – 48 Infantry Batalion – 7th Armored Division – C Company. Photo by Erfgoed in Beeld (2006). PD-CCA-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
John J. Lister killed in action on 7 April 1945 – 48 Infantry Batalion – 7th Armored Division – C Company. Photo by Erfgoed in Beeld (2006). PD-CCA-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Individual Dutch families have adopted every man who perished in the battle. Each man’s grave is kept up and decorated by their adopted family. Even a portrait of their adopted soldier sits in their respective homes.

HONGERWINTER

The Dutch railway workers called a strike during the battle. They felt it would increase the chances of success by the Allied forces. The battle failed and Holland would have to wait another 7 months to be liberated. In the meantime, the Nazi regime under Arthur Seyss-Inquart retaliated by not allowing any food into the country. Holland was literally being starved to death during the Hongerwinter (winter of hunger). More than 20,000 people died that winter of starvation. If you read any biography of Audrey Hepburn, you will hear about her experience during that time.

Tribute to Dutch Women of the Winter of Hunger. Photo by Peter de Wit (2008). Tile made by ‘De Porceleyne Fles’ in Delft, Netherlands. PD-CCA 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Tribute to Dutch Women of the Winter of Hunger. Photo by Peter de Wit (2008). Tile made by ‘De Porceleyne Fles’ in Delft, Netherlands. PD-CCA 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

LIBERATION DAY

Every May on the fifth, Liberation Day is celebrated in Holland. For two minutes, everything and everybody stops while the church bells ring. At the end of the day, a concert is held. Beginning in 1965 (the 20th anniversary of the liberation), Nino Rossi’s taps called “Il Silenzio” is played as the final piece of the concert.

I will never forget as a 10-year old living in Wassenaar Holland beginning in 1965, stopping on the street wherever we were at the time, we stopped talking, and listened to the church bells ring for 2 minutes—every year on 5 May.

I invite you to click on the following link and listen to a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Melissa Venema, play “Il Silenzio” during the 2008 concert celebrating the liberation of Holland. The Royal Orchestra of the Netherlands backs her up. It is very moving—at least for the former 10-year old, now 60.

Grab a tissue before you listen to this. I do.

PRESIDENT’S SPEECH

“On this peaceful May morning we commemorate a great victory for liberty, and the thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David underscore the terrible price we pay for that victory. For the Americans who rest here, Dutch soil provides a fitting home. It was from a Dutch port that many of our pilgrim fathers first sailed to America. It was a Dutch port that gave the American flag its first gun salute. It was the Dutch who became one of the first foreign nations to recognize the independence of the new United States of America. And when American soldiers returned to this continent to fight for freedom, they were led by a President (Roosevelt) who owed his family name to this great land.”

George W. Bush
President of the United States
28 May 2005
Netherlands American Cemetery

Featured Image:  Unknown Soldier Cross. Photo by Visserp (2013). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

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