By Pieter Koeleman
This year we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands.
Every five years, the Dutch people take time to celebrate their freedom and to thank Canada for the contribution in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
In May 1940, Nazi German troops invaded the Netherlands despite neutrality. For four days, the Dutch army fought fierce and hard on several fronts but were not able to hold positions against the superior power of the Nazis. Queen Wilhelmina and her family left the country by warship to reside in London and government officials went into exile.
On May 15, after the bombing of Rotterdam, where 900 people died and 80,000 lost their homes, General Winkelman was forced to sign the capitulation. This was the start of five years of Nazi occupation, where people were displaced because their houses were destroyed or confiscated. People were restricted in travel and work. Every adult needed an identity card, people were forced to work for the Germans, people lost their jobs or didn’t have regular income. As time went on, there was a lack of food and coal, especially in the western part of the country, and this led to the implementation of a program of ration cards for essential food and items.
Freedom of the press was suspended and all the media information was censured. Some of the countrymen associated themselves with the Nazi movement. During the occupation many people didn’t know who to trust. There was always a danger and fear to deal with a person who could be a traitor or collaborator.
At the start of the war, The Netherlands had about 140,000 Jewish citizens with the majority living in Amsterdam. From the beginning, the Nazi regime made it difficult for the Jewish population. In cafes, restaurants, cinemas, and hotels, signs were posted that read “Jews not allowed.”
Many Jewish business owners were prohibited from continuing their businesses. In 1942, the Jewish district was fenced in and marked with a sign “Jewish District.”
The prelude to the Holocaust had started. From 1942 to 1944, Jewish citizens were rounded up and transported to the death and destruction camps in Germany and Poland.
One hundred and seven thousand Jews were deported from the Netherlands and at least 102,000 of them were murdered, or died due to diseases, hunger or exhaustion. The Dutch people suffered greatly during Nazi occupation.
In addition to the above-mentioned restrictions, the Dutch people suffered from fear, tension, insecurity, worries, anxiety, grief and terror. This had extreme consequences on daily life and this increased throughout the occupation.
Many Dutch people resisted the Nazi occupation from the outset and the resistance became more organized as time went on. Dutch men 18 years and older had to hide from the “razzias” (round-ups) which took place during the day but later also at night. When these men were picked up they were transported for forced labour, most of the time to Germany.
The winter of 1944-1945 is called the “Hongerwinter” (Famine Winter) where the western portion of the Netherlands was cut off from any food distribution. People were forced to make trips to the polders in search of food.
Mainly women or older boys had to go in search of food, because it was too dangerous for adult males – being detained meant forced labour.
The hunger situation made it necessary for the Dutch people to organize soup kitchens especially in the western region. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people died during the famine.
There was also no wood or coal available to heat homes and it was a very cold winter.
For fuel, people searched through coal waste, cut trees in the towns and villages, and even cut telephone poles.
In extreme situations, people looked for articles in their house which could be used to burn in a woodstove or cooking stove.
In the fall of 1944, the Allied Forces had liberated much of the southern part of the Netherlands. For the western part of the country, it took more time.
On May 5 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered, it was the Canadian Forces which liberated most of the Netherlands. Five long and challenging years filled with fear, despair, hunger, persecution, captivity, forced labour, imprisonment and death came to an end.
People realized and still do what a treasure it is to have FREEDOM. It was unimaginable the outburst of emotions that came from the Dutch people with the realization “We Are Free Again.”
In this 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands, we come together to commemorate all those who suffered, and especially those who gave their lives, to give back freedom to the Dutch people and we celebrate that moment of liberation.
Thank You to Canada.
[Note: Unfortunately, the Commemoration event which was organized with the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 137 had to be cancelled due the COVID-19 pandemic.]