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