May 5, 2009

4th and 5th of May

On the 4th of May the Dutch commemorate all those that have suffered and died in wartime since World War II. Jews, soldiers defending the Dutch borders, communists, soldiers in the allied forces, civilians who died in air raids, people who tried to help others, people who resisted, people who died of hunger and cold, but also those who participated in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, in Africa…

It is tradition that at eight o’clock at night everyone is silent for two minutes. Everyone is. Public transport stops, cars halt at the side of the road, all TV stations are silent, streets are empty and flags are half mast. Everyone takes two minutes to pay tribute to all those lost. People gather at war monuments. The largest gathering is at the national monument at the Dam square in Amsterdam, which is also attended by the Royal family. After two minutes the flags are hoisted again to the national anthem.

(If you’re interested, watch the video in the link here. The guy giving the speech in the end is the Mayor of Amsterdam, he is thanking the Queen for being there this year especially, since there was an attack on her and the Royal Family only last Thursday, on Queensday (see link). Some maniac drove through the crowd, killing 6 people on the way, trying to ram the bus with the Royal family.)

When I was a little I would think of Anne Frank for two minutes. For me, she was the symbol of all that suffered in that time. My mom had taken me to the house where Anne Frank was hiding during the war when I was maybe only 10 and that together with reading her diary really had a huge impact on me.

Even now, being abroad, I take two minutes to think about the cruelties that happened then and to remember those whose fight and resistance make that I live in a free country now. I am grateful for that.

I think it is beautiful when people come together to do something good, the way I feel all Dutch come together on the 4th of May. I feel the same – although it is something completely different – when an ambulance with sirens on comes hurrying down the road and all cars make way. There is a silent code that that’s what you do in a situation like that, because that helps others, because it’s good, so we all do it. I think it’s so cool.

On the fifth of May the Dutch come together again. We come together to celebrate our liberation in 1945 by the Canadians, English and Americans and we celebrate our freedom today. And that’s done a little differently: no silence, but a lot of music. Festivals are organized all around the country and we celebrate, sing, dance and drink beer to celebrate our freedom.

(the banner reads "celebrate freedom", photo from

(I know this has been my second sort of war post on this blog, which is not something I specifically want for this blog (I really wanted to do something a lot more lighthearted), I guess I am just more aware of stuff like this being abroad and writing this blog... But I'll be more cheerful in my next posts.)


  1. I like blogs that have a variety of 'personalities' to them. I guess it reflects the person behind the blog :) As someone living away from their native country, I understand the importance of having that link to your country via your posts. And I can assure you, people enjoy reading about these national 'traditions' and festivities too :)

  2. thanks so much kle for your sweet comment!