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From remembrance to celebration: May 4 and 5 in the Netherlands –



Five years of occupation during WWII left an indelible imprint on the Netherlands, and the tangible memory of the war means National Remembrance Day is marked at a grand scale, with events and activities in villages, towns, cities and museums up and down the country.

In fact, it’s not just one day, but two. A day to remember the fallen on the May 4, and then a day to celebrate and cherish the freedom they fought to protect, on the May 5.

Every year at 8 pm on May 4, a formal Remembrance Day ceremony, headed by the king and queen, takes place in the Nieuwe Kerk followed by a wreath laying and two minutes of silence by the peace monument on the Dam.

This year, those who wanted to attend the ceremony had to get a ticket. Just 10,000 instead of the usual 20,000 people will be attending following mayor Femke Halsema’s decision to tighten safety around the ceremony because of “heightened tensions in society. ”

If you are not there in person, the ceremony is carried live on NPO 1, from 7.45 pm until 8.30 pm.

It’s a poignant spot for the service, being the site of one of the last shootings of WWII when German soldiers holed up in the Groote Club shot at Amsterdammers celebrating the German surrender. Over 30 people lost their lives.

The two-minute silence is strictly observed all over the country. Public transport stops, cars pull over to the side of the road and there are no take-offs or landings at Schiphol airport.

All over the country, smaller ceremonies take place. Among the most moving are those in isolated places commemorating members of the resistance executed by the German occupiers.

Then, on May 5, the Netherlands celebrates the end of the war with Liberal festivals and other events all over the country.

Freedom fire in Wageningen

The celebrations kick off in Wageningen, home to Hotel De Wereld, where the Germans signed the capitulation documents on May 5.  The Freedom Flame will be lit at midnight and from there 2,500 runners will carry torches to light fires all over the country,  marking the transition from remembrance to celebration.

Liberation festivals

The start of the traditional liberation celebrations moves to a different spot every year. In 2024, they kick off in Groningen. To support the perennially short of money festival, visitors can buy a ticket to a rubber duck race. The winner will be announced at 8 pm.

Around a million people each year visit one of the 14 Liberation Day Festivals across the country. Every year the organisers select a group of Ambassadors of Freedom, from the top performers of the moment. This year performing under the committee’s 2024 theme, Freedom stories: the road to 80 years of freedom, you can see Claude, Flemming, Son Mieux and Wende. 

Liberation Museum – Nijmegen

The Liberation Museum has put together a temporary exhibition about betrayals and desinformation called Double Agent, with tales of daring deeds and tragedy alike.  The stories include the cracking of the Enigma code (there is an Enigma machine on show) and the role of double agents in the Normandy landing. The exhibition wouldn’t be complete without a look at present-day disinformation and spying practices.

Artis  Amsterdam

At Amsterdam Artis zoo, which was off-limits to Jews as were all public places during the war, provided hiding places for some 150 to 300 resistance fighters, young men who were conscripted to work in Germany and Jews escaping deportation. The zoo is organising tours in English and Dutch to tell the story. Find more activities on May 4 and 5 here.

Amstel concert – Amsterdam

The traditional closing concert on the Amstel takes place on the evening of May 5 in the presence of the royals and local dignitaries and is open to the public. This year’s orchestra is the Royal Military Band Johan Willem Friso and the line up includes Guus Meeuwis, Flemming, April Darby and a score of others.

Boat passes for the concert were given out by lottery sometime ago; if you can’t get a decent view nearby then the performance will be sent out live by NOS on NPO 1, coverage starts at 8.30 pm.

More information about events up and down the country and the history of Remembrance and Liberation Day can be found on the 4 and 5 May website

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