4 and 5 May: the Dutch context

The fact that the Netherlands observes Remembrance Day and celebrates Liberation Day, the day on which the German army capitulated, on two separate days is primarily the result of the strong influence that former members of the resistance had in Dutch society directly after the Second World War. The Dutch resistance had already gained considerable authority during the war. After the country had been liberated, the former resistance was relatively well organised and prominently represented in government circles. The most important reason why the national commemoration of Remembrance Day takes place on 4 May and not on 5 May is that directly after the Second World War, both the survivors and the bereaved in the former resistance circles found it inappropriate to mourn the victims of war and to celebrate the liberation on the same day. In their view, the emotions that went along with both sets of memories were incompatible. As the Netherlands had not played an active role in the First World War, the country did not already have a tradition of commemoration in the mid 1940s. Whereas most other European countries had commemoration traditions of a military character stemming from the First World War, the Netherlands was free to commemorate and celebrate in its own distinct manner.

National commemoration on the Dam, Amsterdam

The Dutch tradition of remembrance and celebration that developed in response to the Second World War had a primarily local character. In all Dutch cities and villages, local committees, organisations, associations or municipal officials organise a remembrance ceremony on 4 May or on another day in connection with the local war history and on 5 May there is often a celebration in honour of the liberation and freedom. In addition to all the local groups, there are also numerous other organisations in the Netherlands founded by people who have been affected by wars. They often organise their own ceremonies of remembrance in connection with various different historical events. For example commemorations are organised in reference to (the liberation of) various extermination and concentration camps, such as those in Mauthausen, Auschwitz and Ravensbruck, where Dutch citizens were killed. While other gatherings commemorate specific events such as the bombardment of Rotterdam or the massive razzia in Putten, in the north-east of the Netherlands. The Netherlands also commemorates the war in its former colony the Dutch East Indies and the end of the Second World War on 15 August. And each year the Auschwitz Committee organises the Holocaust/Auschwitz commemoration on the last Sunday in January.

So besides 4 and 5 May, there are over 40 other occasions throughout the year when victims are remembered and survivors and people concerned get together to commemorate. All these different experiences and stories converge on 4 May. On that day, at 8pm, the entire country – including those who experienced the war first hand and everyone else who recognises the civic importance of remembering – commemorates the victims of wartime violence in two minutes of silence.

(source: http://www.4en5mei.nl/english/4_and_5_may)


8 thoughts on “4 and 5 May: the Dutch context

  1. I remember as kids we had to stay quiet two minutes after eight, and in some ways you give these traditions trough to the next generation.

    Now I tell the stories my father and mother told me about terror and hunger and desperation to my daughter. I hope she will pass them through as well.



  2. “The war” was a topic that came back many times a year, my father and mother almost starved to death in the Hunger Winter of 1944. Especially my dad had nasty memories.

    So remembrance day was as natural to us as Sinterklaas, or Easter, or any other important day of the year.



  3. Smile I looked back and saw to my surprise I paid attention to the remembrance day last year and the year before as well.

    It must be deeper in my system than I thought it was…

    Thank you for your lovely comment,


  4. Yes, it is so important ” remember”!!!
    And start with children .. To learn them, Peace is created in peacetime, not in a
    Let it never happen again, Nowhere in the world.
    Nice tradition.
    I like traditions, smile.

    Mona Lisa


  5. I really like the fact that the days are celebrated separately…I agree that the emotions are very different. Really like the set time in the evening when the family is home together.

    Hugs and blessings…Cat


  6. I love learning about the way the Dutch celebrate remembrance day….remembering and honoring is so important…
    hugs abby


  7. The time is well chosen because this year there were many children attending the ceremonies all over the country. To learn the privilege of living in peace, begins with the teaching of children.

    Thank you for your comment Julie,


  8. Thank you for that insight Han, it is interesting that 8pm is the time of remembrance, such a good time of the evening when people are home from work and can commemorate together. We seem always to commemorate at 11am in the UK, I expect due to the WW1 commemoration of 11th Nov at 11am.


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