4en5mei: Remembrance Day in Amsterdam


May 4th-5th, 2015

The city of Amsterdam was liberated from Nazi occupation on May 4th, 1945 and May 4th (Remembrance Day, Dodenherdenking) and May 5th (Liberation Day, Bevrijdingsdag) have been declared annual Dutch national holidays with various ceremonies and tributes planned to commemorate all civilians and members of the armed forces who have been killed or murdered in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or anywhere else in the world in war situations or peacekeeping missions since the outbreak of World War II. Dan and I were fortunate to be in Amsterdam for the 70th anniversary of Netherlands’ liberation and were looking forward to participating in the remembrance events scheduled at the Dam Square  in the evening.

As the clock neared the start of the May 4th Remembrance ceremonies, Dan and I made our way over to Dam Square to join the thousands of others gathered there to watch the national remembrance ceremony and observe the nationwide two minutes of silence at 8pm. Dan and I very much enjoyed getting to partake in that moving moment with the Dutch citizens and Dan expressed an interest in sharing his view of that unique experience with you.

“I would like to thank my lovely wife for allowing me to contribute to the blog as a ‘guest’ writer. I have been immensely impressed with her eloquent writing and the professionalism of her blog. It is a great treasure to have such a well-documented account of our travels. I asked her if I could contribute a piece after a deeply personal experience I had during our Amsterdam trip. The national remembrance ceremony and the observation of the moment of silence was a deeply moving and memorable moment in my life.

It started with us working our way through several blocks of crowds to find a spot amongst the large throng of people gathered in the immense square. We finally settled ourselves in a strategic corner of the square with our backs to the wall of a hotel, the erected stage just out of our sight, and the crushing crowds all around us. The ceremony of the Dutch Royalty proceeded through a partitioned walkway that bisected the long square. What images I saw were either the top of gray haired monarchs moving through the crowd or a glimpse of unnamed dignitaries on the jumbo-tron TVs set up in the square.

I took notice that at the end of the endless procession of diplomats, statesmen, and heads of state there was the men with wheel chairs, lacquer canes, or on their own steady pace walking through the partitioned crowd towards the stage. I could only imagine and summarize that these were the few surviving WWII veterans and citizens that experienced the occupation of the Nazi regime. Because we were fortunate enough to visit the Dutch Resistance Museum earlier and experience their stories through the interactive displays, I felt an emerging connection with these veterans of occupation. The museum created an incredible connection to this turmoiled period of time.

After the speeches and fanfare, there was an announcement of the upcoming two minutes of silence as the crowd of thousands begin to shift under their feet. In unison you could see the rhythmic movement of the crowds begin to settle. Thousands of individuals began to settle into a deep stillness. The announcement was made. I checked to verify my watch and it was indeed 8:00 pm. My first thought as the deafening silence hit me was, “Oh God, don’t drop my phone, don’t be that guy”. I settled, let my head hang heavy, slipped my phone in my pocket, and just listened. Among a crowd of thousands I heard the sound of the air conditioner of the nearby police van, the flock of birds several stories up flying over, and the sound of water splashing in a park fountain no less than two blocks away. Not one cough, one cell phone, or one children’s cry pierced the air. I have never experienced such a mass silence among such a large crowd.

The immense power of the collective unison was impressive and humbling. It forced your thoughts inward and for those infinite yet brief two minutes, forced you to reflect on the reason why you were gathered at that moment. The atrocities and hardship that were faced during the war should never be forgotten or lost. The remembrance was a fitting tribute to those who fought, died, and lived through those troubling times. I was extremely humbled and grateful to participate in the remembrance. I am especially grateful and humbled that I could share this experience with my best friend and wife.”

Amsterdam Remembrance Day

Amsterdam Remembrance Day

*Check out my handy printable travel guide here to plan your own long weekend Amsterdam getaway! 

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