What do I remember of D-Day in Holland? I was 8 in 1944. My nanny came into my playroom and said, “Johnny, we’re going to be freed!” My piano teacher embraced me, hugged me and kissed me on my cheeks. Well, actually we were not there yet. The clandestine radio we listened to had been too optimistic. Strong Nazi resistance in France and Belgium (the “Battle of the Bulge” in the Ardennes, General Montgomery’s (“Monty”) failed assault on Arnhem close to where my grandparents – and Audrey Hepburn and her mother, my Aunt Ella – lived) delayed our liberation by one year, and introduced the worst hunger winter in Holland with heaps of snow and bitter cold during which thousands of people perished.
A mother – like mine – struggling to find food at farms.
Many brave young allied soldiers lost their life trying to break through the Nazi defenses and finally did.
For me D-Day came a year later, May 5, 1945. Hundreds and hundreds of horse-driven wagons with German soldiers, faces drawn, moving back to Germany over the roads. Among them poor-looking kids, forced to follow orders, many to their death, like so many of our brave liberators, the essential difference being that the Nazis came to conquer and torture, and the allies came to free us from them, surely a more purposeful mission.
Allied paratroopers coming to liberate Holland
Then hordes of Nazi sympathizers were rounded up and marched through the streets, their hair shaved off, shame and despair on their faces, imprisoned for many years.
Hundreds of low-flying planes dropping bags of food on empty meadows and tulip fields. Cans with sausages we hardly remembered eating before.
Trucks with American black drivers, whose faces we could not see through their windows, and allied forces moving up with German captives arms in the air.
Five years of horrible war gone by that started with bombs on Schiphol airport in May 1940, the explosions we heard and their clouds we saw rising into the sky from our backyard, years that never seemed to end. Having to walk to school, often on wooden shoes because our parents could not get proper shoes, sometimes through sticky snow that clogged underneath your soles so that you could not walk anymore. Soup kitchens in our school, where we hardly learned anything because of the constant fear for the occupier. Bombs falling left and right, chasing us into the cellar or bomb-shelters, huddling together in the cold. Dog fights in the sky with bombers and fighter planes getting shot to pieces and falling to earth, their men sometimes parachuting down to be shot death by cruel Nazi soldiers, laughing at the fun.
But their fun did not last. When the Nazis were gone, we celebrated in the streets. Eating pancakes at long wooden tables stretching out street-long along the sidewalks in bright sunshine. Everything was colored orange. Queen Wilhelmina, Princess Juliana and Prince Bernard and their children returning from their exile in Canada to Soestdijk. The Red Blue and White Dutch flag flying all over. Music, dancing, happy people.
Just one nasty psychopath, Adolph Hitler, who was able to inflict this unmeasurable misery on all of us and his own people as well. Cowardly dead by suicide.
It’s good to commemorate D-Day. The best speech to do so was by Ronald Reagan in Normandy on June 6, 1984, when referring to those brave men and women he said,” …let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.” Seventy years later, the younger generations do well to dig into this history. But history has a way to repeat itself: many wars followed, perhaps not on a worldly scale, but large enough to worry us all. People are still suffering from dictators and psychopaths and the new normal of intolerant Islam. Jews are still being persecuted. Our United Nations Assembly, established with so much hope and pomp in 1944 to prevent all this from reoccurring, has turned into a useless debating club.
Yes, D-Day is a day to remember, and to make good speeches for TV. But when will we stop fighting each other? It’s inherent to human kind. So don’t hold your breath.
PS: All pictures have been drawn from Dutch websites, archives and Wikipedia. Specific accreditation proved impossible.