"We can do it, we are doing it together. In freedom": Dutch King on Remembrance Day
"It feels strange on an almost empty Dam, but I know that you are experiencing this National Remembrance and that we are here together," said King Willem-Alexander in his speech commemorating the Dutch people who have died in wars from World War II through present day. The annual event takes place at the National Monument on Dam Square, and is normally attended by thousands of people.
This year, Netherlands residents had to watch the commemoration and King's speech on television today, due to the restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. "In these exceptional months, we have all had to give up some of our freedom. Our country has not known anything like it since the War," he said.
While Dutch people are making the choice to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of public health, the choice was made for them in World War II, the king said. He remembered a speech given six years ago by Jules Schelvis, who told of his and his wife's deportation via an Amsterdam-Oost train station to the Sobibor extermination camp in 1943.
"After a raid, he and his wife and many hundreds of others were taken to Muiderpoort station. I still hear his words: 'Hundreds of bystanders watched without protest as the crowded trams passed under strict surveillance.'"
It did not start there, the king said, but rather in Amsterdam. "Sobibor started in the Vondelpark. With a sign: 'Forbidden for Jews'." It led to Jews being banned from the swimming pools, from performing in orchestras, from bicycling, from studying, and ultimately banishment from their homes, the king said. "War spans generations. Now, 75 years after our liberation, the war is still in us."
"Jules Schelvis endured hell and managed to make something of life as a free person. Much more than that. 'I have maintained faith in humanity,' he said. If he could do it, so can we. We can do it, we are doing it together. In freedom," the king concluded.
In addition to King Willem-Alexander, the only attendees actually present on Dam Square were Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema, Gerdi Verbeet of the National Committee 4 and 5 May, 16-year-old Eva Pronk whose poem was selected in preparation for the event, and a handful of musicians including trumpeter John Bessems.
The National Committee for 4 and 5 May called on everyone in the Netherlands to hang the Dutch flag at half-mast throughout Remembrance Day, instead of only in the evening. The committee also asked citizens to play in the two minutes of silence with their own instruments at home, and to sing the first verse of the Wilhelmus afterwards at 8:02 p.m.