Remembering and Commemorating on May 4 and 5
For the last 75 years, the Dutch have honored a cherished tradition on May 4, Dodenherdenking (Memorial Day), where they remember and commemorate those who lost their lives during WW II. The following day, on May 5, the Dutch recognize Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) with a celebration to mark the day their countrymen were freed from oppression. These two days are observed across the entire country with every citizen and resident alike given the chance to partake in an event that is deeply rooted in Dutch culture. Celebrations and commemorations will look different this year, as we all observe the government’s advice to socially distance and self-isolate, but here is our reflection on previous ceremonies and our ASH community’s involvement.
Whether you have lived in the Netherlands for years, months or just weeks, it is evident how important Memorial Day is to the Dutch. On the eve of May 4, Dutch communities across the country walk to local war monuments and place flowers in memory of those who perished, uniting in a message of solidarity in processing together to remember those who have fallen. At 20:00 sharp, there is a 2 minute period of silence across the country; cars stop and pull off to the side of the road; cyclists dismount from their bicycles; telephone conversations cease; TV shows are paused; and the church bells toll out in the silence, echoing the reminder to keep still during the 2 minutes of silence in respect of the nationwide moment of commemoration.
In Wassenaar, our local community members gather for a short silent walk ("stille tocht") to the Wassenaar World War II monument. As per tradition, the Mayor leads the walk, with community members and civil service people falling in silent procession with him. Upon arriving at the monument, the Mayor lays the first wreath, which is then followed by the local police, fire brigade and other local services, including ASH. A commemorative ceremony follows with words of reflection by the Mayor, musical accompaniment from the Wassenaar Excelsior Band, and other members of the community coming forward to speak and lay wreaths in honor of the fallen. This year, the laying of the wreath and the Mayor's speech, both without public, will be filmed and posted here.
For over two decades, ASH has participated in this tradition by laying a wreath on behalf of our school community. Faculty alumna Roberta Enschede initiated this idea shortly after the construction of our Peace Tree monument on the ASH campus. “I always felt very strongly that ASH should be a part of such commemorations. I remember talking about how meaningful it would be if ASH participated on May 4. Initially the kids who participated were two of my students (in high school)," she offered.
Since then, our participation has grown to include our grade 8 students, who first joined in the memorial service in 2008. ASH Teacher Librarian Ms. Christopher reflects: "In 2008, our grade 8 students, as part of their World War II and Anne Frank studies, first participated in the local Dodenherdenking wreath laying ceremony. Just before 20:00, those in attendance silently walked to the war memorial, Traces of War, which was established in memory of all victims of war and in particular the 14 citizens and 44 Dutch soldiers who died during May 1940 in Wassenaar . . . (and) the two citizens who fell during the war in the former Dutch East Indies. Just behind the monument rest the ashes of Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, author of the autobiographical Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange). On behalf of our school, ASH students lay a wreath at the foot of the monument.” Our students' participation in this evening helps unite the past with the present, the youth with the elderly, and individuals of all nationalities together as one in homage to the fallen.
During the 2018-2019 school year, our middle school Peace Coalition students decided to join the May 4 and 5 national service adopt-a-monument project. They adopted a monument very close to the ASH campus, the bevrijdingsmonument (a liberation monument for peace), located on the tiny square in the intersection of De Lus and Van Zuylen van Nijeveltstraat. As it is a monument to celebrate the end of WW II, students tended the monument area in spring and laid a school wreath on 5 May in a heartfelt ceremony. They decided that this new action was a fitting next step to ASH’s yearly Dodenherdenking participation and made plans to launch this as a new ASH tradition.
Other members of the ASH community partake as well, such as Music Teacher Mr. Yarnell, who plays with the community band Excelsior. He shares that, "The Dodenherdenking is a very special day for me personally. The Dutch have done a remarkable job of separating May 4, a day of remembrance, with May 5, a day of celebration. The commemoration of the dodenherdenking is a time when, regardless of culture or political affiliation, we honor those who gave their lives so we can live in a free society."
During this evening of remembrance, from the smallest village to the largest city, the feeling of solidarity pulses through each person as they stop to reflect on what was given and taken away for the freedoms of today to be enjoyed as they are. This moment of silence connects us all and on this May 4, when the bells ring at 20:00, be sure to stand still for the minutes of silence to lift your hearts in honor of those who lost their lives in the face of oppression.