Last year, on May 4th, I rode my bicycle to the Waalsdorpervlakte, a place where more than 250 Dutch Resistance were executed by the Germans during the World War II. It is one of the main locations for mourning during the Dutch Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdenking).
People of all ages started lining up a kilometer away. I stood there by myself in line amongst the crowd of thousands, and was surprised at how quiet it was. Living in the Netherlands this was one moment, in a year's time, where there was almost complete silence in a crowded public place. I could tell that this ceremony is taken very seriously by those in attendance. I felt honoured to witness the commemoration.
As I slowly walked along in silence with thousands of locals, a loud bell rang out in the distance. Just before 8 p.m. it paused for a trumpeter's "signal" to be played, followed by two minutes of silence and the Dutch National Anthem. When the ominous bell resumed, we began walking again towards the monument.
At the monument, coloured acorns in the shape of the Dutch flag lay in front of torches, wreaths and crosses. It gave me a familiar, yet different, feel than Remembrance Day back in Canada. We were at the exact place where people were killed during the war, and the people around me could be their decendants. It was literally "close to home."
After passing the main monument, I walked up a sand dune where the massive bell rang out. It shakes your soul, it's so loud. This was one of many experiences in The Netherlands that I won't soon forget.
Tomorrow will be Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag), a massive party and sharp contrast to the mourning and atmosphere of this day. I am happy to witness the freedom of the Dutch people daily, and proud that Canadians played an important role here 71 years ago in their liberation from suffering and oppression.