Monday 15 August 2022

The Dutch will remember their war dead on a deserted Dam


The Netherlands will come to a standstill at 8pm on Monday as the Dutch remember those killed in war or during peacekeeping operations since the outbreak of the outbreak of World War II.

But this year there will be no massed crowds at Dam square in the centre of Amsterdam, where king Willem-Alexander, queen Maxima and other dignitaries usually lay wreaths at the war memorial.

Instead, the Dam will be deserted, and the king and queen will lay a wreath in the presence of prime minister Mark Rutte, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema plus a handful of others. The king will also make a televised speech to the nation.

‘The Dam will never have been so empty on Remembrance Day,’ Rutte said at his weekly press conference on Friday. ‘In that sense, coronavirus is making us very aware of how important our freedom is.’

Shops close

New arrivals to the Netherlands are often surprised by the solemnity of the May 4 tradition. All shops are required by law to close by 7pm. Public transport and road traffic comes to a standstill nationwide at 8pm and flags are hung at half-mast.

This year people are being urged to download a poster and hang it in their window to show that remembrance is something done together, even though people are at home because of coronavirus.

‘We do not remember only to look back, but to keep the memories alive and to pass on each story again,’ said Eddo Verdoner, chairman of Jewish organisation Centraal Joods Overleg and main driver of the poster initiative. The project is supported by the Dutch council of churches RvK and the Muslim organsation CMO.

You can also lay a virtual flower at one of the 3,900 war memorials in the Netherlands or donate a real bunch of flowers to one of 75 memorials.

The May 4 programme:

  • 19.14: a memorial service in the Nieuwe Kerk next to the Dam, during which author Arnon Grunberg will give the annual Remembrance Day reading.
  • 19.50: The king and queen will lay a wreath next to the war memorial.
  • 19.58: The Taptoe, similar to the Last Post, will sound. Musicians everywhere are being urged to play along at home and you can download the music here.
  • 20.00: Two minutes silence
  • 20.02: The Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, will sound. Again, people are being encouraged to join it at home.
  • School girl Eva Pronk will read out her prize-winning poem. Read it here
  • More wreaths will be laid on behalf on behalf of the war generation
  • 20.10: The king will give a short speech. You can follow his words via the Twitter feed.
  • 20.20: End of ceremony

Turn off the tv

Columnist , writing in the Volkskrant, suggests that this year, the Dutch take the opportunity to remember their dead in a different way.

‘Now we cannot visit a monument, even more people will watch the ceremony on the Dam on television or online,’ he wrote.

‘But I would call on you not to do this. Let us put out the television, close the laptop and take this moment not to watch but to be an active part. There is a danger that we remember the war on Monday evening in that pause between washing up and coffee, without really taking time to remember the stories of the victims.’


May 5, on which the Netherlands celebrates its freedom, will also be very different, with no festivals and other celebrations. However, the freedom flame will be lit in Wageningen as usual and there will be ceremonial flames in all 12 Dutch provinces.

In the evening, instead of the traditional floating concert on the Amstel river, there will be a more low key event in the foyer of the Carre theatre which will be broadcast live on NPO1.

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