Monday, 4 May 2015

Groningen's Liberation: 70 Years Commemoration

Re-enactment in the Grote Markt
The last few weeks have marked and commemorated some memorable anniversaries. In April, Groningen saw a re-enactment of the Battle of Groningen, which took place in 1945 from April 13 - 16. I continue to find it fascinating to live in a country that was once occupied and which takes the commemoration of liberation quite seriously. What also strikes me, as I've mentioned in previous posts, is the openness in regard to reconciliation. It is truly inspiring and encouraging.

May 4th and 5th are also important days: Dodenherdenking or the Remembrance of the dead, and Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day. What is particularly striking this year, however, is that it is 70 years since the end of the war in Europe. Seventy years. (And remember last year was 100 years since the start of the Great War!) That is really no time at all. People still remember the Second World War - members of my own family, for instance. In the span of time, it is not so long ago, and the memories, painful ones as well as others, can still be felt and recognised. This is why reconciliation is so important; we must continue to come together in remembering so that such things may never happen again.

Allied tanks
WWII Memorabilia
The the re-enactment on April 12 in the Grote Markt was both interesting and moving. There was a vetran there from Canada who had fought in the Battle of Groningen, and also an older lady who was just a child at the time and remembers the liberation of the city of Groningen. In addition to the re-enactment (rather exciting with tanks and "explosions"!) there was also real footage being played out on a screen. Unbelievable to both hear and see the play-by-play of what happened in 1945. There was also a map we could follow - "De Sporen van de bevrijding" (trail of liberation) which took us to different points of interest around the city: they included four on my very street, one being where the SS interrogated people, and another where the officers lived! There was also a display with memorabilia at the library which was quite interesting to see.

Following the footsteps...
And now, as we move into the month of May, countries all across Europe are commemorating the end of the war. Today, May 4th, saw services of remembrance all across the city of Groningen: at church yards, memorials, and along the streets themselves. At the Martinikerkhof (Martini churchyard) there was a remembrance service this evening with music, the chiming of the Martini clock bells, the placing of wreaths and flowers at the foot of the St. Joris monument, and, of course, a two minute silence at 8pm. The Last Post was played, which always make me rather emotional, then we were silent for two minutes before the band played the national anthem, Wilhelmus. A quite old man beside me pulled off his flat cap in such a reverent, old fashioned way; it occurred to me only then that he had probably been old enough to remember when his country had been liberated seventy years before. Around me there was a mere murmur of words of the anthem (myself included), but as the song went on the voices grew, and the crescendo seemed to reach a peak at the line, "Een Prinse van Oranje". I began to blub, as per usual when it comes to national anthems and such. It was an incredibly moving moment: an entire churchyard of the very young to the very old; veterans, government ministers, religious and community leaders, and everyone in between, all singing together and remembering those who died.

May 5th is the commemoration of Liberation Day; this year it is a national holiday, and there will be events all throughout the day, including a music festival. I think back to all the family stories about the liberation (which for my family on the island of Terschelling came quite a few days later than on the mainland) and marvel still at the hardships and sacrifices that were made. I find it fascinating, of course, as it is my own family history, but I also find it inspiring to think about the strength and determination shown by the allied troops within Holland, as well as the Dutch people. We live in a world that continues to see its fair share of horrors, and I only hope that we will still come together in these times to combat issues and show a similar determination to overcome things that are unacceptable.

Flag at half mast
In my travels around the world, I have yet to come across a place that has been untouched by either of the world wars, and for some, the conflicts that came after. The memories still linger in some of these places in an almost surprising way, and again I am overwhelmed by the fact that is is merely seventy years ago that the war ended in Europe. I am glad to have been a part of remembering, and am, as ever, hopeful about the reconciliation that continues.

Wreaths and flowers

Here is a link that has some details about the liberation in the Netherlands, including some interesting photos.