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4 and 5 May Commemorations in the Netherlands


The Netherlands annually commemorates World War II and Liberation Day on the 4th and 5th of May.

Tradition in the Netherlands on 4 May

"During the national commemoration of Remembrance Day we remember all those - civilians and soldiers - who have been killed or murdered in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or anywhere else in the world in war situations or during peace-keeping operations since the outbreak of the Second World War."

This is the official text of the Memorandum for Remembrance Day on 4 May. Ever since the end of the Second World War, the Netherlands has commemorated its dead on 4 May.  Since 1961, the victims of the Second World War are remembered together with victims of other conflicts, wars, and peace-keeping missions that have taken place since the outbreak of the Second World War in the Netherlands.

The national commemoration of Remembrance Day in the Netherlands takes place on 4 May at 8 pm. At that moment, two minutes of silence are observed throughout the country to commemorate victims of war. A remembrance ceremony is held on the Dam in Amsterdam in the presence of the head of state and various representatives of both the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Parliament. This national commemoration of Remembrance Day is held simultaneously with local commemoration ceremonies in nearly every village and city in the Netherlands.

The national commemoration of Remembrance Day on 4 May is the only ceremony in the Netherlands in which victims of the Second World War are commemorated jointly with victims of wars and peace-keeping missions since then. During the national commemoration of Remembrance Day, the stories of all those victims come together. On 4 May, but also on other significant dates, commemorative ceremonies are held in specific places that are connected with the history of the Second World War, such as the concentration camps in Amersfoort, Vught and Westerbork, the 'Oranjehotel' prison in Scheveningen and the Hollandsche Schouwburg in Amsterdam, the former theatre that served as a deportation centre for Dutch Jews on their way to concentration and extermination camps.

National Commemoration of Remembrance Day on the Dam

The ceremonial commemoration on the Dam generally takes place along established lines. At 6 pm, the flag is hung at half-mast. Once those who participated in the silent march from Museumplein and the guests from the service in De Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church) have taken their places on Dam Square, the King walks across the Dam through a "corridor of honor" made up of soldiers and veterans to the foot of the National Monument, where he lays a wreath just before 8 pm. Directly afterwards, the two minutes of silence are announced by means of the Tattoo, the Dutch counterpart of the British bugle call known as Last Post, which is often played at military funerals and acts of remembrance.

For two minutes, beginning at 8 pm, one hears nothing but the flutter of flags and the cooing of doves throughout the entire country. Following the two minutes of silence, the first verse of the Dutch national anthem, Het Wilhelmus, is played. Then the winner of a poetry contest for young people (Dichter bij 4 mei) will recite his or her poem. A number of survivors then lay a total of five wreaths on the National Monument. Following a speech by a prominent Dutch person, four others wreaths are laid by the chairpersons of the Upper House and the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament, respectively, and the representatives of Council of Ministers, the armed forces and the city of Amsterdam. The choice to have the survivors lay their wreaths first is a deliberate one. Their experiences are key. The dignitaries follow them.

Before the commemoration ceremony takes place on the Dam on 4 May, there is a commemoration service in De Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam in Amsterdam. This service is broadcast live via radio and television and can be followed via screens by the general public standing on the Dam. The commemoration service in the church is attended by some 1700 invited guests. Those typically include members of the first generation of people who were affected by the Second World War, representatives of more than 80 organizations of such people and other survivors. During the commemoration service a literary author reads a text out loud that he or she has written especially for this occasion. And each year since 2001, the National Committee for 4 and 5 May also commissions the composition of a new piece of music especially for the commemoration service in De Nieuwe Kerk. The composition has its première on 4 May.

Regulations on 4 May

On 4 May, all shops are required by law to close by 7pm. The vast majority of the cafés, bars and restaurants, including casinos, also comply with the National Committee's request to honor the two minutes of silence. Football matches and large pop concerts are temporarily brought to a halt. Even numerous online social networks have made it a point to encourage users to honor the two minutes of silence on 4 May in recent years.

At 8 pm, public transportation and road traffic essentially come to a standstill throughout the whole country. Trains, trams, and buses stop running. The Dutch Automobile Association (ANWB) and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment remind drivers about the two minutes of silence and advise them to pull over safely to the edge of the road. No planes fly in the airspace above the Dam around 8 pm. On their flights elsewhere in the world, the Dutch airline companies also announce the two minutes of silence.

The National 4 and 5 May Committee:

The National 4 and 5 May Committee was established in 1987 by Royal Decree. The former Prime Minister Lubbers initiated the establishment of the Committee, thereby ensuring the future of the Dutch National Days of Remembrance and Liberation. Although a variety of activities connected to May 4 and 5 had taken place all through the country since 1946, coordination and structure on a national level were lacking.

Support and interest for May 4 and 5 have increased strongly over the last 20 years. Over three quarters of the Dutch population greatly value the annual Remembrance and Liberation Day ceremonies and festivities. The National Freedom Inquiry (which annually researches the values of the Dutch public on the subjects of May 4 and 5) proves that 80 percent of the Dutch population of all ages insists that remembering and celebrating May 4 and 5 needs to continue in the future.

The National 4 and 5 May Committee is responsible for the official national ceremonies in relation to May 4 and 5, which include the presents of His Majesty the King and the Prime Minister. Duties in the field of improving significance, information, education, communication, coordinating, and structuring nationwide activities are of equal importance.