I’d had the date marked on my calendar for weeks: 16 and 17 September, Market Garden weekend. On 17 September, 1944, many a Dutch citizen in the south of the country looked up to the sky to see ‘falling angels’, aka Allied paratroopers, taking part in the largest airborne operation of the entire war.
Lately, in the context of Remembrance Day here in the Netherlands, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the different ways in which World War II is being remembered today. For us, being occupied by Nazi Germany during the war has become a foundation myth of our identity, and most Dutch novels, films, and even musicals (Soldier of Orange, based on the book of the same name) about the war centre around the two main protagonists in that myth: the evil collaborators and the virtuous members of the resistance. You can even pretend to be a member of the underground press in an escape room in Nijmegen, racing against the clock to escape discovery by the Nazis.
A visit to Amsterdam is always a treat – whenever I’m down there for the day I seem to soak up the art, architecture, exhilaration, diversity and history of the city like a sponge. Here is a collection of snapshots I took during various visits in the past few months.
A few weeks ago my brother and I took a trip to Rotterdam. I’d never been in the city proper before, only to concert venues on the fringes, and I was surprised at how modernist and industrial it is. To get the Netherlands to surrender, the Germans bombed Rotterdam on May 14 1940, threatening to do the same to other cities, like Utrecht. Rotterdam used to resemble Amsterdam in its architecture, but is now full of interesting postwar and more recent buildings. For architecture and culture, Rotterdam is hard to beat.
Six self-portraits taken in our lovely capital.
Yesterday I spent a marvellous day with a friend in the vicinity of Arnhem, tracing the remnants of Operation Market Garden, which took place in September 1944. There are quite a few museums and memorials dotted around the area, showing that the people there haven’t forgotten the soldiers who tried to drive out the Germans at a great cost. Arnhem bore the brunt of some heavy fighting between the British 1st Airborne Division (with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade attached) and the German SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen”. British paratroopers were dropped around Arnhem and given orders to secure the bridge over the Rhine. My beloved Yankees from the US 101st Airborne Division landed further south near Eindhoven, and the US 82nd Airborne Division landed near Nijmegen. All sorts of activities are organised on Market Garden’s anniversary in September, but sadly this is the first year that I’m keen to go and I’m not even going to be in the Netherlands in September. Hmph. One day I’ll do a full tour of the whole area all the way down to Eindhoven.
Yesterday I went to the south of the Netherlands to visit Kamp Vught, the only genuine SS concentration camp located outside of the Third Reich. It wasn’t even finished when prisoners started to arrive, and they had to help finish building it. During WWII it was pretty large, but all that remains now are a few barracks, a visitors’ centre with a small museum, and a monument where the execution place once was, located a fifteen minute walk from the visitors’ centre.
Continue reading “Histourism: Kamp Vught & ‘s-Hertogenbosch”