General character Remembrance Day is right for the times

‘The ‘general character’ of May 4 is as it should be, fits in with the times and would be difficult to change, but we must never allow the Holocaust to be forgotten’, writes Martijn Dekker


It is a pity the ‘general character’ of the May 4 National Remembrance Day is perceived as hurtful by the Jewish community. But this in itself does not justify changing it, as was suggested by Hans Vuijsje (director of the Jewish Social Work Foundation JMW, DN) in this paper.

Like Liberation Day, which is becoming less and less about World War II and more about celebrating our democratic freedom, Remembrance Day, too, is moving with the times and commemorates not only those who fell during the war but also those Dutch soldiers who lost their lives since.


This shouldn’t be seen as a sign of increasing discrimination or secularisation but as a mark of humanism.

Vuijsje’s argument that the Jewish community ‘feels’ that anti-semitism is on the rise in the Netherlands doesn’t apply. According to CIDI ( Centre for information and Documentation on Israel, DN) the number of anti-semitic incidents has fallen in the last few years. That is not to say one incident isn’t one incident too many. It just doesn’t justify a ‘feeling’.

Part of the problem probably lies with the increasingly vocal protests against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories which are simplistically branded as anti-semitic, for instance by writer Leon de Winter. Some may indeed cloak anti-semitism, but we must be careful not to mistake criticism of a country’s policy for discrimination of a religious group.

The criticism is more likely to come from other religious, particularly Islamic, groups than from the atheist fundamentalists in our country. Many people find Jewish customs, like circumcision, barbaric but this doesn’t equal discrimination of Jews. Likewise, many Jews will shudder at the godless lifestyle of those of us who are not religious. We all have the right to criticise.


Vuijsje’s statement that public interest for the persecution of the Jews is waning seems to me to be correct. He says the war generation has nearly died out and that other themes are gradually taking its place. Although I wonder if Vuijsje is right to say the Holocaust has become an abstract concept, I do agree with him that the memory of the horrors and the almost unimaginable scale of the suffering must never be forgotten, especially in this country – we all know why.

The feeling of ‘abandonment’ which the Jewish community in the Netherlands is experiencing, must be taken seriously. Fortunately there is a way to meet its needs and maintain the present, humanistic character of the National Remembrance Day. The annual Holocaust Remembrance Day on the last Sunday in January should be given more prominence and could even be turned into a national day of remembrance, with sufficient airtime from the public broadcasters.

The ‘general character’ of May 4 is as it should be. It fits in with the times and it would be difficult to change what it has become. But we must never allow the Holocaust to be forgotten. We must all do our utmost to make sure no one feels abandoned in our society. This too, is what humanism is about.

Martijn Dekker is a political anthropologist and teaches at the University of Amsterdam.

This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant




Thank you for donating to

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation