Commemorating the Past: Liberation Day in the Netherlands

by Jennifer van Lent

Bevrijdingsdag (or Liberation Day) in the Netherlands is a unique experience, in part because so many Dutch citizens still remember that day on May 5, 1945, when the Allied Army liberated their country from German occupation. Gatherings are held across the Netherlands beginning May 4 (called Dodenherdenking, or Remembrance of the Dead), with the entire country dedicating two minutes of silence at 8 p.m. to commemorate the brave soldiers and citizens who died in WWII, as well as in other conflicts and U.N. peace-keeping missions. The memorials continue May 5 with parades and concerts across the country.

It is still possible to hear stories from those who suffered the hardships during the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45 and to listen to Dutch resistance fighters tell harrowing tales about sabotage and escape. My husband's Uncle Frans will never forget the Canadian soldiers who drove through their North Holland village that day, passing out to the children "the best chocolate I ever tasted." King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima honor Dutch veterans in Dam Square on May 4th, laying a wreath at the National Monument. Allied veterans from the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia still return to the Netherlands to take part as honored guests in parades, concerts and other memorials. 

As the WWII "Greatest Generation" passes on, it is more important than ever to remember our recent past and to honor those who fought and died in the many wars and conflicts of the past 100 years. Here are some suggestions for how and where to celebrate our hard-earned, precious freedom.

Dodenherdenking, May 4: 

Amsterdam, Dam Square: the commemoration typically starts around 7 p.m. (look at the local news for exact times), with a concert and speeches. The 2 minutes of silence begins at 8 p.m.

Opijnen American Cemetery, May 4: Eight American WWII airmen from the 91st Bomb Squad lie forever in the American cemetery in Opijnen, in the east of the Netherlands. For over 70 years, the local village has honored their memory by maintaining their graves and, on May 4, commemorating their sacrifice. The memorial typically begins around 6.30 p.m. (our club typically has members who attend the ceremony, so reach out if you are interested). 

Willem Braam of the Het Gooi Bevrijd Committee and his wife, Marianne

Bevrijdingsdag, May 5:

Het Bevrijd Gooi: This unique event brings WWII veterans to t'Gooi with a three-day remembrance and celebration to honor those who fought in the Netherlands for the Allied Army. The highlight is a parade of WWII-era jeeps, motorcycles and military trucks that wind their way through 11 towns in t' Gooi. One of this year's honorees is a 93-year-old veteran who will be traveling from California to take part in the celebration.

Oorlogsmusuem (War Museum), Overloon and Liberty Park: This is one of my favorite museums and a wonderful place to learn about the Dutch history before and during WWII. One of the oldest dedicated to WWII, this interactive museum has several parts, including the Dutch War Museum and George C. Marshall Museum ("a living museum”) housing a huge collection of military equipment, including planes, tanks and ships).

Concerts:

There are various concerts throughout the area, including:

Amsterdam: the Liberation Day Concert on the Amstel River in front of the Carré Theater is the highlight of the Amsterdam celebrations. If you have a boat, get to the site early and enjoy the fabulous music!

Haarlem: Bevrijdingspop. This is a FREE daylong concert in the Haarlem Hout: very fun, activities for families and adults, and great music! Best to take a train to Haarlem and walk 15 minutes to the event location. You can't miss it — just follow the crowds!

More resources: https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/festivals/overview-music-festivals/liberation-day-amsterdam