Waalsdorpervlakte – National Memorial in The Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

The simple memorial at Waalsdorpervlakte, in southern Holland, to Resistance fighters murdered by the Fascists during the Second World War, is a place for the people to remember and celebrate the sacrifices made to liberate their country.

Second World War memorial sites have a different meaning in Europe to those that commemorate the event in the UK – they’re more immediate. In Britain direct experience of war for the civilian population was limited to whatever might rain down on them from the air whereas huge parts of Europe were totally devastated in the conflict, most especially the Soviet Union, and invasion and its consequences were an everyday matter in all those countries occupied by Fascist forces.

Most of the western European countries capitulated within days and as a result physical damage to the major cities was minimal. For example, both Paris and Amsterdam suffered less destruction than London (and many other British cities) even though France and The Netherlands lost their independence through the German occupation. Quick capitulation, pro-Fascists internally and the attitude of the Nazis that the French and the Dutch were Aryans (unless you were a Communist, Jew, Gypsy or homosexual) meant that the local population were not unduly mistreated by the invaders – as long as they played along with the occupiers.

The situation was very different in the east. Just look at pictures of German officers walking around the Eiffel Tower with French women on their arms or boat loads of German soldiers playing at tourists – doing 70 years ago what thousands of tourist do today – looking at Amsterdam’s attractions from the canals. Compare that with the Soviet Union where the only pictures of Germans with Russian women is when they are standing beside a gibbet with a line of Soviet citizens hanging from a short rope, indicating a slow strangulation rather than an ‘efficient’ hanging.

In France and Holland most accepted the occupation and kept their heads down, not wishing to court trouble; some were out-and-out collaborators – and from that number some paid the price at the end of the war whilst others went on to positions of power and influence in the post-war reconstruction; others actively fought in the Resistance at various levels, from taking up arms to hiding those being sought by the Gestapo. But the price for being in the last group could mean death.

And for 250-280 Dutch Resistance fighters their last stand of defiance would be where they would be buried.

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

The Waalsdorpervlakte is an open place in the dune area “Meijendel” not far from The Hague (the government and administrative centre of Holland). This area, close to the sea, is relatively isolated today and would have been even more so in the 1940s. Prisoners were brought here, shot and then buried in unmarked graves. Not by chance this was also the execution site of the Anton Mussert, one of the founders of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) and its formal leader. On the defeat of the Nazis he was arrested, convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. Exactly a year after he was arrested he faced a similar firing squad to the Resistance fighters but was buried in a public cemetery, there being no desire to pollute the most recent of Holland’s memorial sites.

After the war May 4th was declared the day for the ‘Remembrance of the Dead’ and almost spontaneously, and without any official government input, survivors of the Resistance and relatives of those murdered there decided to congregate and commemorate their lives.

Although this has now turned into a ritual it still retains its common approach. There are no VIPs (except any remaining survivors and relatives of those assumed to be buried there), no speeches and it’s for anyone who wishes to turn up to take part.

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

On a slight rise overlooking the simple memorial there’s a huge Bourbon bell. From the time that the procession arrives from the entrance to the park, at about 19.40, groups of people slowly toll the bell by pulling on ropes attached to the four corners of the bell support. At 20.00 the bell is silenced, the ‘Last Post’ is sounded and this is followed by a two minutes silence. The national anthem signals the end of the two minutes and then the assembled people place their tributes. Whilst they are doing this the big bell sounds out its deep, bass tone and tradition holds that the bell will continue to toll as long as there are people still waiting to place their wreaths or flowers. The ceremony normally finishes between 22.00 and 23.00.

This is not a mass event the way that some of the national memorial services tend to be, with their so-called ‘dignitaries’ in attendance, but there were just a few short of 4,000 people at the event in 2013.

Although May 4th is a special event the site is accessible all year round.

Click here for a short video of the ‘Remembrance of the Dead’ day in 2013.

Practicalities

Public transport

From Station The Hague Central Station take bus 22 going in the direction of Duinzigt. Get off at stop ‘Waalsdorperweg’ (13 minutes) and then on foot (about 10 minutes), heading in a generally north-easterly direction. There are 4 buses an hour.

GPS coordinates:

International coordinate system WGS84
Monument: Lat N 52.11577 ° Long E 04.33624 °

 

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Exposure by Antony Gormley

Exposure - Antony Gormley, Lelystad, Holland

Exposure – Antony Gormley, Lelystad, Holland

Even if they haven’t seen it most people know of The Angel of the North sculpture by the road outside Gateshead. Exposure, close to the Dutch city of Lelystad is even bigger.

But it took a long time to come to fruition.

It was in 2001 that the municipality of Lelystad decided to have a competition for a major work of art to be placed between the city and the sea. Antony Gormley won and in 2005 he was awarded the commission.

Having to deal with the technical issues involved with such a huge piece of art meant that the cost started to rise and it wasn’t until 2007 that this financial problem was resolved when a major sponsor came in to foot the bill.

The company Had Fab, based in Scotland and more used to putting up electricity pylons, had been involved with the project from the start and they then took 3 years to produce all the bits of this huge mecanno-like structure. It was first put together at their works in East Lothian and then it took about a month to erect it on the prepared site, on a dam beside the Markermeer, a couple of kilometres from the centre of Lelystad.

Map showing location of Exposure in Lelystad, The Netherlands

Gormley is known for basing his sculptures upon the human body, normally his own, and Exposure is no different. One of his other well-known works in the UK is the collection of a hundred life-sized cast iron figures called Another Place which is spaced out along a 3.5 kilometre stretch of Crosby beach, at the mouth of the River Mersey, close to Liverpool.

Another Place, Antony Gormley, Crosby beach, Liverpool

Another Place, Crosby beach, Liverpool

Exposure is a human figure, 25 metres high (5 metres taller than The Angel of the North) and weighing 60 tonnes, crouching and looking out to sea. There are more than 5,000 individual pieces, each of different length and size, and it’s all kept together with 14,000 or so bolts. It was officially inaugurated on the 17th September 2010.

One of the things that makes this sculpture interesting is its location. It is situated on a narrow strip of land and has water the side it is looking as well as at its back. The land is part of the system of dams and dykes which prevent The Netherlands from being under water so there is no other structure close by. In that way it’s easy to imagine someone just quietly looking out to sea, thinking. The only difference is that this figure is more than 80 feet high.

Not as easy to get to as some of the sites in Holland but not impossible and well worth the effort.

Practicalities

Public Transport

A train from Amsterdam Centraal takes under 40 minutes and there are 3 or 4 an hour during the day. On leaving Lelystad railway station head towards the bus station, the other side of the tracks, about a minute away. There catch the Stadbus No. 3, to Batavia Stad, a shopping complex. From there walk towards the coast and it crouches on the dam lying parallel to the shoreline. You can’t miss it, it’s big enough.

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Five Heroes of Vig – Skhodër

5 Heroes of Vig - Shkoder

5 Heroes of Vig – Shkoder

Celebrating solidarity and the willingness towards self-sacrifice in the common cause the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig once stood in one of the central squares of Skhodër, in northern Albania.

It commemorates events that took place in the small village of Vig in 1944, just before the victory of the Partisans over the Germany Fascists, their hangers-on, collaborators and lackeys.

On August 21, 1944, at Vig in the Mirdita highlands, 5 long time partisans went to talk to the peasants who were under the thumb of the feudal chief, Gjon Markagjoni, ‘a tool of the fascist occupiers’.

5 heroes of vig

5 heroes of vig

From left to right: Ndoc Dedo (Teli), Ndoc Mazi (Minuku), Naim Gjylbegu (Besniku), Hidajet Lezha (Hida), Ahmet Haxhia (Tigri).

Informers let the fascists know of their whereabouts and 200 troops were sent and the fight went on for 6 hours, the Communists fighting to the last bullet.

5 Heroes of Vig - Pandi Mele

5 Heroes of Vig – Pandi Mele

The incident was depicted in an Albanian film of 1982 called Besa e Kuqe (Red Faith), directed by Pirro Milkani.

The statue, whose name in Albanian is ‘Monumenti i Heronjve të Vigut’, is the work of Shaban Hadëri (28th March 1928 – 14th January 2010) who also created the statue of Isa Boletini – also in Shkodër – and collaborated on two of the most important and still existing monumental statues in Albania – Mother Albania, in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana, and the Independence Memorial in the city of Vlorë.

Hadëri joined the Partisan resistance to the Fascist invasion at the age of sixteen in 1944 and was able to follow his artistic education following the success of that war of liberation and the opportunities the Communists provided in terms of education.

This statue has gone through good times and bad. It originally started out as a concrete statue, of a little more than life-size, and was installed in the square beside the Rozafa Hotel in the centre of Shkodër in 1969.

5 Heroes of Vig in concrete

5 Heroes of Vig in concrete

This original was replaced by a much larger, 5 metres high, statue of bronze. This new statue was similar, with the same idea as the original, but with a few differences. This was mainly in the form of dress and the way they carried their armaments. It remained there until 31st January 2009. On that date it was transported to a site beside the Martyrs’ Cemetery on the banks of the River Kir.

5 Heroes of Vig - Shkoder

5 Heroes of Vig – Shkoder

When this cemetery was established the location would have been enviable – outside of the city, close to a river and with the mountains of the Dukagjin highlands behind it. However, since the arrival of ‘democracy’ in the 1990s many things have changed. The river, which only has significant water just after the snow melts in the spring, is now a tragic site.

The town’s rubbish dump has been created beside the river, very close to the Martyrs’ Cemetery. One of the results of the greater availability of consumer goods has been a massive explosion in the number of plastic bags. Once they are just dumped in the open air (there’s no attempt at a landfill in Shkodër) all it takes is a light breeze and the bags are everywhere. OK if you like your river beds multicoloured but generally disastrous for the environment.

Rubbish in Kir River

Rubbish in Kir River

One of the legacies of the re-introduction of capitalism is the job of sifting through rubbish dumps, a trade that now spans the globe where, on some of the huge dumps, people both live and work on the detritus of others. At the Shkodër dump there are small groups bagging up whatever there might be of value and now they are really the only ones who visit the area in any frequency.

I’m assuming that it must be someone amongst this group that decided, at the end of last year (2012) that there was monetary value in the bronze statue of the 5 heroes and have been helping themselves to bits of it. There are certain amongst the politicians of Shkodër city council who, I’m sure, are glad of this news, that being part of their plan in the first place. In the centre of town any vandalism would be obvious but outside in a totally unpopulated area anything could, and has, happened.

This is what you would expect from a council that has changed the name of the road to the railway station to ‘Hungarian Anti-Communist Revolution Road’ as well as pandering to the US with celebrating nationals of that country who have had nothing to do with Albania apart from try to make it a vassal to a greater imperialist power either in the distant or recent past. It’s in such a fundamentalist Catholic environment that Mother Teresa appears everywhere and the anti-Communist paintings have been commissioned in the Franciscan Church.

The present day so-called Socialist Party has made noises about the destruction of national heritage and that this shows a total disrespect for those who fought for the country’s liberation from Fascism. However, their silence in the past when such desecration has occurred and their almost non-existent opposition to the return of Ahmed Zogu’s remains to Tirana in November of last year doesn’t bode well for the statue. With such friends who needs enemies?

The future doesn’t look too good for the 5 heroes if bits of them disappear when no-one is looking so if you want to see this particular example of Socialist Realist sculpture you better move quick and take the trip out to the riverside.

2014 Update

Being in such an isolated position and being passed everyday by people whose way of making money was sifting through rubbish it wasn’t a surprise that this valuable piece of bronze would be tempting for scrap metal thieves. This has meant that the monument has been damaged (how severely I’m not sure) and with the change in national government the last I heard was that the whole monument will be taken back into the city, not in the same prominent position as before but on one of the roundabout on one of the entrances to Shkodër. The practicalities will be updated when I know exactly what has happened.)

2015 Update

This is becoming the most peripatetic of the Albanian monuments. At some time following my visit in 2011 it was moved on to the platform that is the cemetery. At that time it was also joined by another statue that comes from I do not know where. Whether this mess will be eventually sorted out remains to be seen.

GPS:

N42.05393001

E19.53229699

DMS:

42° 3′ 14.1480” N

19° 31′ 56.2692” E

Altitude: 24.7m

Practicalities

As always in these situations you can always get a taxi to take you there but it’s not that far from the centre of Shkodër and is walkable.

5 Heroes of Vig - Shkoder

5 Heroes of Vig – Shkoder

From the centre of town take Bulevardi Skënderbeu until it narrows (just by the road that turns off to the railway station). Continue along this road as it heads south and east, passing under the railway line that heads towards Montenegro and then continue along the road that takes you towards Vau i Dejës (and the route to Lake Komani) on the road that would eventually lead to Tirana. As the road bridge crosses the river – running parallel with the railway line – you’ll see the Martyrs’ Cemetery, and whatever might be left of the 5 Heroes, over on the left amongst an ever-increasing smattering of colourful plastic bags. Perhaps a walk of not much more than 30 minutes.

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