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Remembering… What Exactly?

May 4, 2015

May 4th, is our national Remembrance Day. It’s officially the day, we in the Netherlands remember those who heroically gave their lives during World War Two. A good and honourable thing to do; you would think.


Commemorating those who died during World War Two.

Commemorating all those who died during World War Two in the Netherlands. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Yet it seems that as the decades are widening the memory gap between the now and the first half of the twentieth century, we care less and less about what this day really stands for. There are those who attribute this growing indifference to the multicultural society we now live in. Of course. As only the ‘authentic’ Caucasian Dutch knows what ‘The War of all wars’ was like. Of course. But, seriously, whether you choose to believe this to be true or not, what are we actually remembering on this day?

As with many Dutch celebrations, this day has its own commitee: The National Commitee May 4 and 5. And, of course, they advocate us remembering this day as the day many Dutch lost their lives, suffered hunger, humiliation, and struggled to get by. It’s their bread & butter; and I would expect nothing less from a designated organisation like this one. But, in less than a decade or so, the last survivors of the second World War will no longer be with us. What then? What will we then choose to commemorate? Or, will we simply choose to forget?

War, Peace & Freedom

Back to back, we’re remembering and celebrating Liberation Day tomorrow, May 5. David Grossman, an Israeli author, playwright and songwriter, has been invited to deliver the now traditional Freedom Lecture. In an interview on Dutch television (Buitenhof – interview David Grossman; 28:41 minutes into the program), Grossman subtly hints at the discrepancy between how we Dutch portray our ‘mass resistance’ during the war and the harsh reality. The harsh reality being that the Netherlands deported nearly twice as many Jews to concentration camps, than Belgium and France; there wasn’t much resistance to speak off until nearly the end of the war.

When asked about his thoughts on war, peace and freedom; he deliberates on how small and detached a war victim feels. He also deliberates on present war victims and refugees; those who cross land and seas, attempting to flee death and persecution. Those same boat refugees who are drowning along the Italian coast; those same refugees a Dutch columnist recently referred to as ‘dobbernegers’ (this roughly translates to: ‘negro buoy’).

An African Problem

Our Prime Minister Mark Rutte honoured his father and grandparents this evening at the Remembrance ceremony in Amsterdam. He told their story, their horrors of war; with the intention that we never forget. Mind you, this is the same Rutte, who shrugged off desperate refugees fleeing from war horrors, and as a consequence drowning, before ever reaching the European coast; as an “African problem”.

The issue of ‘war, peace and freedom’, is not something to take lightly. Or something to disrespectfully poke ‘fun’ at. For, war starts, where peace and freedom end. War starts, when we stop seeing the other person as a human being like ourselves. War starts, when we ourselves begin to act like non-humans. War starts, when we loose all empathy, compassion, conscience and thinking abilities. War starts, when we are not able to learn from the past. War starts, when we begin to act like blind and apocalyptic destruction-machines.

What’s the point

What’s the point in remembering the atrocities of war, when the main reason why it was all possible, still is part of our core? And, when we never truly address it? There’s no point in having a memorial day, other than a commercial perspective, when we time and time again refuse to learn from our past. Dehumanising your neighbour because he’s a Jew or Muslim; dehumanising your neighbour on account of the colour of their skin—whether black, brown, white or olive toned; dehumanising a person on account of their opinion; in fact, dehumanising anyone for whatever reason you can think of and I can’t; is simply wrong. It leads to exclusion. Excluding groups of people from society; from their basic human rights; in the end only leads to violence. And violence, based on segregation, in the end leads to war. And war, always, always leads to atrocities.

Eyes, Minds & Hearts

So, if we as a people, living in a divers, multiracial and multicultural society, are not willing to open our eyes, minds and hearts, and accept our differences and show the other person some respect, then there’s no point in commemorating those who died heroically in World War Two. Then there’s no point in commemorating those who were themselves victims; or those who died only because they believed dehumanising a social, cultural and religious group, was totally wrong. If we can’t practise what we preach; then Remembrance Day as well as Liberation Day, will only be a national delusion, a commercial sham and a human shame.


World War Two. Dancing in the streets of Rotterdam. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

World War Two. Dancing in the streets of Rotterdam. Source: Wikimedia Commons.



Tonight, at exactly 20:00 hours CET, I honoured the two-minutes silence. And, I remembered not only those who fought and died for a humane recognition of the other; I also thought of all those who are fleeing their countries because of war atrocities; and are crossing the Mediterranean Sea as refugees; in an ultimate and desperate attempt to survive.

And on May 5, Liberation Day, I will cherish the idea of Freedom. And I will renew my personal vow, that my freedom should never ever be one at your expense.


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