Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day with an official holiday on the Fifth of May every fifth year. But the Dutch remember the war every year with two minutes of silence at 8 pm on the Fourth of May, known as Dodenherdenkening (Remembrance of the Dead). People gather at monuments across the country, with the biggest and most official taking place on the Dam in Amsterdam.
But I rode my bike to the Waalsdorpervlakte Memorial in the dunes in Scheveningen, The Hague. I arrived a few minutes early to find that there were hundreds if not thousands of people already quietly lined up waiting for the ceremony to begin at 7:25. Many of them carried flowers.
During the war the Germans incarcerated resisters in the nearby Scheveningen prison, which came to be known as the Oranje Hotel*. Because the prison faces the dunes, the Germans used them as execution places. They shot around 250 resisters at the depression known as the Waalsdorpervlakte and left them buried nearby.
In 2010 a bell began to toll at 7:25 and the line slowly moved forward, taking a few steps and stopping, starting and stopping as we made our way down a drive and into the dunes. The sun slanted into the trees in the golden light of evening and the birds sang. The crowd spoke in undertones. There were grandparents there, of course, men and women who may well have been children during the war. And there were children riding on their fathers’ shoulders. There were also young men in their twenties in their business suits there, and young couples and parents with their teen-aged children.
At 8 o’clock the bell stopped; all movement stopped. Only the birds sang. A trumpet played a call for the dead.
For two minutes everyone was silent.
Then a band played the Dutch national anthem. The bell recommenced its tolling, and we all shuffled forward.
I didn’t come into sight of the monument until 9:40, by which time there were torches burning on the hillside around the monument itself. It wasn’t my turn to walk in single file past the simple stone wall inscribed “1940-1945” and the four bronze crosses until almost 10:00. I could feel the bell sounding in my bones as I walked over the hill and past it.
It took 15 minutes to walk with a cold but still quiet crowd back to my bicycle. And I could still hear the bell tolling 20 minutes later when I reached my apartment.
Sixty-five years later, the Dutch have not forgotten.
*Oranje Hotel because the Dutch royal family is known as the House of Oranje.
I took the photos around 8 pm on May Fifth because it was too dark by the time I got there on the Fourth. There were still people coming to the monument a day after the ceremony.