We explain the history and significance of Remembrance Day and Liberation Day in the Netherlands, which fall each year on May 4 and 5.
May is a significant month in the Dutch calendar. Only a week after the nation celebrates King’s Day (Koningsdag), it turns its attention to the past; more specifically, the end of Nazi Germany’s occupation during World War II. This milestone in history is first marked by Remembrance Day on May 4 and then Liberation Day on May 5.
Due to the unfortunate situation regarding COVID-19, all major public events in the Netherlands have been canceled until September 1. However, you can still commemorate Remembrance Day through the 'Flowers for May 4' initiative. Read on to find out more about this.
Remembrance Day (May 4)
For the Netherlands, Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking) is an important date to acknowledge. Across the country, people pay homage to the fallen and those who fought and sacrificed their lives during WWII; as well as all other wars. This includes the 7,900 soldiers, 88,900 civilians, and 106,000 Jewish compatriots who perished during the five years of WWII.
Royal memorial meeting at Dam Square
Traditionally, on the evening of 4 May, King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima present at the memorial meeting in De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Afterward, the king and the queen lay the first memorial wreath on the National Monument at De Dam where crowds of people gather.
However, due to COVID-19 measures, there will be no crowds at Dam Square this year. Instead, the king and queen will lay a wreath in the presence of prime minister Mark Rutte and Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema. The king will then deliver a televised speech to an empty Dam.
Other commemoration ceremonies
Local commemoration ceremonies take place in nearly every town and city across the Netherlands. A special ceremony is also held on Dam Square in Amsterdam in the presence of the head of state and various representatives of both the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Dutch Parliament. Over 20,000 people attend this event and at 18:00, the flag is hung at half-mast. The King lays a wreath just before the nation falls silent for two minutes at 20:00.
A respected milestone in Dutch history
Remembrance Day remains an important and respected milestone in Dutch history. In fact, an annual survey on Dutch issues in 2017 revealed that around 80% of citizens take part in the two-minute silence and follow the Remembrance Day ceremony on television or radio. It is also a time for national Dutch pride, reflection, and feeling ‘a strong national bond’.
Special celebrations for 2020
This year it has been 75 years since the atrocities of WWII took place and the nation does not want to let the commemoration go unmarked. In order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the Netherlands, this year’s commemoration will, therefore, take place in an adapted form.
The ‘Flowers for May 4’ initiative
Together with Tikkie, the National Committee 4 and 5 May has made it possible to virtually lay a flower among the 3,900 monuments throughout the country. In this way, everyone can honor the memory of war victims in the area, without visiting a monument.
The ‘Flowers for May 4’ initiative allows you to buy a bunch of tulips for 4.50 EUR using the Tikkie app. All donated tulips will be placed at many war memorials across the country on May 4 and proceeds will go to the organic floriculture sector. You can also donate via the official website.
Virtual Remembrance Day at Ceramplein
As no physical meeting can take place at Ceramplein in Amsterdam on May 4, a virtual commemoration video will be published by Groot Oost TV on YouTube. It will also be distributed through various social media channels. The video will feature a short film called Being different, about the plight of the Jewish neighbors during the occupation. It will also include a piece of music by Zakery Beacher and Erik van de Langkruis; plus a film with messages of peace spoken by representatives of various local communities.
Special Na de Dam broadcast
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Theater Na de Dam, International Theater Amsterdam (ITA), and NOS have organized a special broadcast that will be televised on May 4 at 18.45, on NPO1. Singers, actors, poets, and comedians will be performing from an empty International Theater Amsterdam after the commemoration in Dam Square.
Among the lineup are Douwe Bob, Claudia de Breij, Michelle David, Herman van Veen, Wende Snijders, and actors from the ITA Ensemble. Some artists will even perform from their own living room – to yours.
Liberation Day (May 5)
On the following day, May 5, the whole country celebrates Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag). For the Dutch, this day signifies the end of World War II when German General Blaskowitz signed the surrender of the Nazi occupational forces in the Netherlands in Hotel De Wereld in Wageningen.
The nation was largely liberated by the First Canadian Army; this consisted of Canadian, British, Polish, American, Belgian, Dutch, and Czechoslovakian troops, and in some parts, the British Second Army.
The Liberation Flame
Liberation Day is a colorful fête where the Dutch celebrate freedom and democracy everywhere. The festivities traditionally start at midnight on May 4; when a torch is lit in Wageningen, where the capitulation documents were signed. A team of 1,300 runners then carry it in relay to other fires all over the country.
This Liberation Flame then travels to 200 different municipalities in the Netherlands. In the hours that follow, a colorful range of events takes place across the Netherlands. The Prime Minister traditionally launches these celebrations in a different province each year.
A highlight of the celebrations is the Liberation Festivals which take place all over the country. There were 14 locations in 2019; including Amsterdam, Brabant, Den Haag, Drenthe, Flevoland, Fryslân, Gelderland, Groningen, Haarlem, Limburg, Overijssel, Utrecht, Zeeland, and Zuid-Holland.
The festivals feature extensive musical programs and big-name acts that relate to the theme of freedom. Dutch bands, international musicians, and top DJs take to the stage to perform to hundreds of thousands of spectators. Some of the most popular festivals are the Liberation Pop Festival in Haarlem and the Liberation Day Festival in Wageningen. Many revelers also flock to Amsterdam’s Museumplein and Den Haag’s Malieveld to delight in the day’s music and festivities.
Parades and other local celebrations
Other than music festivals, each city has a slew of other Bevrijdingsdag events up their sleeves. These include military parades, debates, street theater performances, festival markets, guided tours, film screenings, and even speed dating events. In various areas of Amsterdam, locals also get together for street dinners. They bring tables outside and have dinner with their neighbors. Several festivals and parades of veterans also take place all over the Netherlands in honor of Liberation Day. These often give visitors the chance to speak to veterans about their stories and war experiences.
You can visit the official Liberation Day website for a complete program of events happening around the country.