Every 5 May, the Netherlands marks the end of Nazi Germany occupation during World War II with a range of events and celebrations on this Dutch public holiday.
Bust out your Dutch flags and wave them high and proud because it’s that time of the year again: Liberation Day.
The Liberation Festivals taking place across the country are a highlight of Liberation Day. The festivals will have extensive musical programmes and big-name acts relating to the theme of freedom. At various spots throughout the country, Dutch bands and international musicians and DJs will perform live.
A brief history of Liberation Day
Every 5 May, the Netherlands celebrates the country’s freedom and the capitulation of Nazi Germany during the same day in 1945. For the Dutch, this signifies the end of World War II when Canadian General Charles Foulkes and German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Balskowitz signed an agreement for the German army’s surrender in Wageningen.
The nation was largely liberated by the First Canadian Army, which consisted of Canadian, British, Polish, American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops, and in some parts, the British Second Army.
The day before Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day), on 4 May, is Dodenherdenking or Remembrance Day, a sombre event when the Dutch pay homage to the fallen and those who fought and sacrificed their lives during WWII (and in all other wars). A two-minute of silence is observed throughout the country at 20.00.
In contrast, Liberation Day is a colourful fête where the Dutch celebrate freedom and democracy everywhere. In 2018 Bevrijdingsdag falls on a Saturday, when the 73nd anniversary of the momentous event will be feasted on a grand scale across all 12 Dutch provinces.
The 2017 annual survey on Dutch issues revealed that locals still overwhelmingly regarded 4 May (Remembrance Day) and May 5 (Liberation Day) as important dates in the national Dutch holiday calendar, with eight out of 10 Dutch people observing the two minutes’ silence on 4 May, while six in 10 people report following the Remembrance Day ceremony on television or radio. It is also a time for national Dutch pride, with eight in 10 reporting they feel ‘a strong national bond’ for the two days.
While Liberation Day is not a public Dutch national holiday, seven in 10 Dutch people believe it should be, with three in 10 people saying they would opt to exchange Good Friday for Liberation Day.
Liberation Day celebrations
Several festivals and parades of veterans are held all over the Netherlands in honour of Liberation Day.
The day’s events are traditionally launched by the Prime Minister in a different province each year and in 2018, it’s Fryslân’s turn.
On Friday 4 May, during the evening, His Majesty King William Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Maxima will be present at the memorial meeting in de Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Afterwards, the king and the queen lay the first memorial wreath on the National Monument at de Dam.
Every year, a team of 5,000 runners carry a torch lit at the Liberation Flame in Wageningen, where the capitulation documents were signed. Every year a team of 5,000 runnners carry the flame to 200 different municipalities in the Netherlands.
While every city hosts their own events, fourteen huge free Liberation Day festivals will be staged all over the country in: Zwolle, Leeuwarden, Groningen, Assen, Almere, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Wageningen, The Hague, Roermond and Vlissingen.
Some of the most popular festivals that draw hundreds of thousands of spectators are the Liberation Pop Festival in Haarlem, a free pop music festival with three stages in Haarlemmerhoutpark featuring local and international bands, and the Liberation Day Festival in Wageningen, which has 12 podia with top acts with the main podium located at the Duivendaal.
Many revellers also flock to Amsterdam’s Museum square and Den Haag’s Malieveld to delight in the day’s music and festivities. Other than music festivals, however, each city has a slew of other Bevrijdingsdag events up their sleeves like military parades, debates, street theatre performances, festival markets, guided tours, film screenings and even ‘speed dating’ events where people can speak to veterans about their stories and experiences from the war. Visit these official Liberation Day websites for a complete programme of the events happening in Amsterdam and The Hague.
Liberation Day events in Amsterdam
Open Jewish Homes – Resistance Homes
On both Remembrance Day and Liberation Day, there will be small-sized commemoration gatherings in the living rooms, attics or cafés of former Jewish residents and resistance fighters. At Open Jewish Homes – Resistance Homes, speakers will tell their stories about life before, during and after the war, persecution, resistance and liberation. These stories will be accompanied by films, music, poems, photos and personal diary fragments. Information about the programme can be found on the Open Jewish Homes website (in Dutch).
Celebrate freedom together, and join or help cook one of the Freedom Feast locations! Everyone is welcome this day to participate in the Freedom Feast, which is organised all around the city.
Of course, you’re still welcome to host your own Freedom Feast, be it for friends, family or soon-to-be friends.
In various Amsterdam neighbourhoods, Amsterdammers can also get together for Street Dinners. Bring the tables outside and have dinner with your neighbours! To buy a ticket or register for hosting your own, visit the Street Dinners website.
The War in My Neighbourhood
Prior to 5 May, primary school students throughout Amsterdam will interview senior citizens about their neighbourhoods during the war. The students will receive the title ‘new heritage bearer of a war story’ in the Amsterdam City Archives on Liberation Day. They’ll then head out to the neighbourhoods to tell the war stories to all willing listeners. The project ‘The War in My Neighbourhood’ aims to keep these stories alive, so that they can be passed on to a new generation.
Liberation Day for kids
Special events for kids are being organised to celebrate freedom, such as the Liberation Day festival for kids taking place in the Vondelpark’s Open Air Theatre. There’ll also be guided tours, historic tram rides and city walks relating to war, freedom and resistance on 4 and 5 May. For more information, see the website of the National Committee for 4 and 5 May.
Liberation Day will conclude with one of the biggest events of the day, the Amstel Concert. Starting at 21:00, artists from diverse musical genres will perform on an enormous floating podium, with the stately Royal Carré Theatre in the background. The concert will be attended by the King and Queen, as well as all volunteers for the 4 and 5 May festivities.
Liberation Day events in Rotterdam
One of the main events in Rotterdam on Liberation Day is the Liberation Festival with performances by famous artists – held at the park facing the Euromast from 13.00 till 23.00. Admission is free!
The Rotterdam Fun Fair is open on Liberation Day too.
Liberation Day activities for kids
The smaller stage offers a special kids program in the afternoon with lots of music, dancers, comedians. At Vrijheidsplein (Liberty Square) kids can join a tinker workshop and get to know real war veterans. Furthermore, a small pop-up creative lifestyle market takes place from 13.00 till 19.00.
Liberation Festival in The Hague
The Liberation Festival (Bevrijdingsfestival) in The Hague will offer numerous free activities during the day on Saturday 5 May from 12.00 till 23.00 on the Malieveld and in the Tweede Kamer. All activities are free of charge.
Local and international performers will provide a variety of fabulous entertainment on five stages. One of the stages can even be found in the Tweede Kamer (Lower House of Parliament), the heart of democracy in the Netherlands. However, The Hague’s Liberation Festival is decidedly much more than just a pop music festival – the 10th edition of the festival will again offer something for everyone: live music, theatre, lectures, cabaret and lots of other activities.
The Hague Freedom Weeks
In the run-up to the Liberation Day festivities, The Hague Freedom Weeks celebrate freedom, peace, democracy and justice with a variety of events between 13 April and 5 May, including debates, tours, exhibitions, films, lectures and concerts. Activities will be held in Humanity House, ProDemos and at other locations.
Plenty of activities for everyone
Alongside the live music programme there will be plenty of cultural activities to enjoy, including a huge festival market, a hip hop stage, a dance area, children’s activities and much more. In short, a fun festival for everyone of all ages.
Festival goers can also visit the Square of Freedom where vfonds, ProDemos, Amnesty International, Stichting Vluchteling, Humanity House, the Dutch Red Cross will present their work. You can also try speed dating with a veteran and take a look at army vehicles!