Below you will see my first proper "commissioned" blog post. It wa written for John Coster but I thought you might like to have a read of it as well.
Stronger Through Adversity – The Dutch Second World War Story
When English people think of the Second World War and The Netherlands they only seem to think about Arnhem, and the film “A Bridge Too Far”. After all, the Second World War was over 70 years ago.
The Dutch story goes a lot deeper than that – so do the scars - as well as the memories.
My Mum was born in Rotterdam during the Second World War (she was 2 and a half years old when it finished).
There are only three pre-Second World War buildings left standing in the Centre of Rotterdam – bombing took care of the rest of them.
However, you don't have to look very far to find monuments to it. You just have to look down at the ground in certain areas. A German artist has found records of all the people who were transported to the Concentration Camps and put little plaques in the pavement outside their former homes. These plaques have the names of the people – as well as the date they moved in and the date they were taken away.
I had known that one of my Mum's uncles had ended up in some sort of Camp in Bergen op Zoom (in the south west of The Netherlands). Apparently – when he was released (or escaped) he had some kind of tattoo on his arm.
Even my Dad and I both got caught up in the aftermath in a way many years later.
When my Mum told my Oma (her Mum) that she had met my Dad – the first question out of Oma's mouth apparently was “Is he German?”. (Apparently, Germans, Italians, and Turkish people were seen as undesirables.)
My first meeting with how much my Oma didn't like Germans came as a result of me actually trying to learn Dutch at school. Unfortunately for me – the nearest equivalent language which was taught in the secondary school I attended was German. You could say Oma was not best pleased when (after a term of me learning German) she detected a German accent when I spoke Dutch. (The fact my Dad used German words when he spoke to her was forgiven.)
However, it was only after my visit to Groningen (right in the north of The Netherlands) that I learned a couple of things about my Mum.
Every time she saw a British or American Second World War Veteran she thanked them. Oh – and she had an aversion to watching German goose-stepping in War films.
Groningen is the exact opposite of Rotterdam (as far as the scenery is concerned). The city centre is full of buildings dating from before the Second World War.
It was only when I went to a gallery that I learned the full story in black and white detail.
I went into this little room with a table. On that table there was a small folder stood like a flip chart. As I looked through the pages I saw photos with captions in Dutch which did not need translating into English. From looking at the photos, and reading the captions below them, I learned that – prior to the Second World War – Groningen had been the Capital of the Dutch Jews. During the Second World War most of the population had been sent to the Concentration Camps.
Last year I went to a place called Leeuwarden, in the province of Friesland. Whilst I was there I went to the Fryslan Museum – where I found yet more information on the Dutch experiences during the Second World War. This exhibition not only included almost life-sized photos of various people from that era – it also had some artefacts (including a motorbike).
The first part of the title I used for this blog post (“Stronger Through Adversity”) has a very strong connection with the Second World War. It is the English translation of “Sterker Door Strijd” which is the Motto Queen Wilhemina granted Rotterdam in 1948, in recognition of their experiences during the Second World War.
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