May 5, 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in the Netherlands. It had to be a commemoration and celebration like never before. Since the beginning of 2020, the media has been full of information about the Second World War and its consequences. It was extra emotional for many on Monday, May 4, 2020, when the Dutch flag was hoisted at half-mast for the 75th time. The next day, unfortunately, we did not celebrate our freedom throughout the country, with countless liberation festivals and freedom meals. That was the intention before enemy corona started restricting our freedom with a surprise attack. But 75 years of freedom were necessarily experienced mainly through TV.
The Second World War raged in our country from May 10, 1940 to May 5, 1945, and consisted of several separate military conflicts between two alliances worldwide. Namely between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allies (US, UK, Soviet Union, China, Canada). The atrocities were unprecedented, partly because they attacked each other’s citizens as valid targets. The cold-blooded factory extermination of millions of Jews and Gypsies still exceeds any human imagination. Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were dictatorships that also cruelly oppressed parts of their own population.
Millions of victims
During this horrific war, an estimated total of 55 million people died worldwide. The majority of all victims were civilians. WW2 was also the first (and so far only) war in which atomic bombs were dropped. The total number of Dutch people who
died as a result of war, occupation and persecution from 1940 to 1945 is between 225,000 and 250,000. Many compatriots died in concentration camps, during the bombing of Rotterdam, and in the western cities during the hunger winter of 1944/45.
The south of the Netherlands was already liberated in 1944
The earlier liberation, below the major rivers, was the reason that many activities in the context of 75 years of freedom started on August 1, 2019. Because August 31, 2019 was 75 years ago after the Battle of the Scheldt in Zeeland and West Brabant.
Liberation in 1945
The liberation celebrations of May 1945 are still unprecedented. In all villages and towns there were cheerful adults who, together with their children, took part in spontaneously organized scooter races and other street parties. Because those ,rotten bastards, had finally been driven out, by Canadian and Polish soldiers, among others.
But the liberation also had its downside, for example because it only then became clear that your Jewish parents or sister would never return, because they had been gassed in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. And the Dutch girls who had an innocent friendship with an ordinary German boy during the occupation suffered trauma in May 1945 because of public humiliations such as having their heads shaved in public.
Commemoration and Liberation Day from 1946
From now on, the commemoration of all the fallen would take place every year on May 4. Two minutes of silence was observed at 8 p.m. not only at Dam Square in Amsterdam and other official memorial sites in the country, but throughout the Netherlands. Because traffic came to a standstill everywhere, and no walker or cyclist walked through. Forgetting the commemoration on May 4 was impossible because the church bells demanded attention and the street lights were turned on everywhere for those two minutes. The situation where everyone, both young and old, got off their bikes in all cities and villages and solemnly kept quiet for 2 minutes, lasted until around 1958.
And May 5 was now called Liberation Day, a national holiday where everyone was basically free from work and school. For years, that holiday was celebrated much like Queen’s Day, with dance and music. And the little children were given cheap party hats, blow horns and balls on a rubber band. The many fairs, already set up on the occasion of Queen’s Day on April 30, increased the festive spirit.
Liberation Day since 1960
The government decided in 1958 that May 5 would be celebrated annually only with flags and a program for schoolchildren. Only in anniversary years does May 5 count as National Liberation Day and civil servants have a day off. The national celebration of the liberation has taken place every five years since 1960.
Program 75 years of freedom in 2020
In addition to the existing commemorations and celebrations, the National Committee 4 and 5 May, in collaboration with the 75 Years of Freedom Coordination Foundation, organized the following one-off events:
- August 31, 2019, celebration of 75 years of freedom starts: The liberation of the South of the Netherlands was celebrated in Terneuzen and near the Western Scheldt.
- Around January 27, 2020: Attention to Holocaust victims: In all places, remember the Holocaust victims from that municipality.
If the corona virus had not struck, the program would have been as follows
- May 4 and 5, 2020: National Commemoration and celebration of the liberation; the local programs are larger, more exceptional and more innovative than before.
- May 5, 2020 freedom meals: The National Committee wanted to introduce Freedom Meals nationally as a new May 5 tradition.
- August 15, 2020 end of WWII in the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands: The committee organized a meeting together with partners after the Indies commemoration in The Hague.