Freedom at last-Liberation Day-May 5,1945

The Netherlands had been occupied by the Nazis between May 15th 1940,after the Dutch forces surrendered, and May 1945. Although many parts had already been liberated by autumn 1944.

The official liberation day was set on May 5,1945. The Netherlands had a population at the time of about 8.8 million. During the 5 years of occupation approximately 210,000 Dutch men and women had died of war-related causes. Of that number , 6,700 were military casualties. One number that stands out though is that of the Jews, who were either Dutch or were refugees. It is estimated that between 104,000 and 107,000 of the 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands were murdered during the Holocaust, which makes it about 75% of the Jewish population. It is the highest number per capita in Europe. This is one of the most shameful part of Dutch history. Many Dutch and especially the Dutch civil service and the administrative infrastructure, aided the Nazi occupiers. Eichmann was once quoted as saying “The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see.”

About 18,000 Dutch citizens died during the famine of 1944/45, caused by the hunger winter. Additionally to the deaths in the Netherlands there were another 30,000 deaths in the Dutch East Indies, now called Indonesia, either while fighting the Japanese or in camps as Japanese POWs. Dutch civilians were also held in these camps.

The Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe (2.36%).

At least 2 of my family died. My uncle, my mother’s brother, Johannes Jager died on December 6,1944. He did see the liberation of my hometown Geleen on September 18,1994, but the strain of the war and his ill health proved too much. My Father’s dad ,Jan de Klein died on May 12 1942, he was 47 at the time. He had been in the Dutch Army when the Nazis invaded, he was executed but the reasons why are still unknown to me. I have resigned myself to the fact that I probably will never find out.

The Netheralnds was liberated by Canadian forces, British infantry divisions, the British I Corps, the 1st Polish Armoured Division, American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops. Parts of the country, in particular the south-east, were liberated by the British Second Army which also included American and Polish airborne forces . On 5 May 1945, at Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen, Canadian Corps commander Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes and Oberbefehlshaber Niederlande commander-in-chief General oberst Johannes Blaskowitz reached an agreement on the capitulation of all German forces in the Netherlands.

The capitulation document was signed the next day (no typewriter had been available the previous day ) in the auditorium of Wageningen Agricultural University, located next door to the Hotel.

Initially liberation day was celebrated on August 31,1945 to coincide with Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday ,However in 1946 the Dutch government decided to celebrate the liberation on the 5th of May.

Initially Liberation Day was celebrated every five years. In 1990 the day was declared a national holiday when liberation would be remembered and celebrated every year. Festivals are held in most places in the Netherlands with parades of veterans and musical festivals throughout the whole country.

A friend of mine once said “Freedom isn’t free” not only did many Dutch pay the price for this freedom. There were many others who paid an equally high price. Many men and women who fought to liberate the country. They fought although they were strangers, they recognized that evil should never be tolerated.

Sources

https://web.archive.org/web/20100915150604/http://www.wageningen1940-1945.nl/Capitulatie/Wageningen%205%20mei%201945.htm

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