Tuesday, 10 January 2012

On May 4th: From Roermond, Holland, May 6, 2010

A two-minute silence at 8 pm on May 4th to respect the dead was broken at its tail end by a man intentionally and unintelligibly screaming amongst thousands of people in Dam Square, Amsterdam. The screaming caused a domino effect of panic, some were trampled, many injured. Queen Beatrix and princess Maxima were quickly hustled out by security. Many feared a repeat of last year’s attempt to kill members of the royal family. The incident was relayed live on television across Holland. Dutch viewers bolted forward in their seats, and feared the worst. Did someone drop from a building? Was a bomb about to go off? The live feed continued, creating anxious suspense. Within minutes, to appreciative applause, Queen Beatrix and princess Maxima returned to the square and the ceremonies continued. The Dutch viewers relaxed, back in their couches.
The threat of violence and the quick display of resilience had associations to the historical events portrayed in many television documentaries and news items about the liberation of Holland by Canadian, British, American and Dutch troops. Days earlier, particular attention was given to the Anne Frank House and Anne’s story. The museum opened 50 years ago on May 3rd. 

65 years ago, Canadian troops lead the way in a four-month assault on the Nazis who occupied Holland. The Nazis were starving the Dutch to death and the Canadians became the heroes that fought from street to field to canal to street again. The Nazis, having already eradicated nearly all the Jews from Holland, had gone on a killing spree to murder tens of thousands of Dutch men from the ages of 17 to 40. The Dutch men were rounded up in stadiums and dispersed to “work” camps. 

In Roermond, a town close to the German border, what was once a synagogue hasn’t been used as a place of worship since the war. The man who owns the men’s clothing shop across the walk claims to be the only Jew in town. His wife passed away a few years ago, and he plans to move to Amsterdam.

There are about at hundred thousand Jews living in the Netherlands today.

The Germans of today don’t celebrate May 4th or 5th, obviously, but they are certainly aware of the date. Many Dutch and Germans live in one country, but work in another, so the Germans who work in Holland get a holiday on May 5th, but the Dutch who work in Germany, do not. Many speak each other’s language fluently. 

Germany is now a peaceful nation, open to immigration. A mix of races inhabits the streets, all speaking fluent German. The border is mentioned in a signpost somewhere along the autobahn, and you can travel by car or train through border countries in and out of Germany without having to show your passport.

Germans are very friendly, industrious, progressive (green technology is everywhere), and wealthy. Young people don’t ignore their history and are quick to make references to the wartime past when they encounter tourists. When asked for directions to the old section of Frankfurt, a young woman says, “Well, there’s not much left. It was bombed by the British.”
And she smiles to reveal that she holds no grudge.

At a “flashmob” night dance at the beautiful waterfront in Düsseldorf, hundreds of young strangers gather for a spontaneous 3-hour practice. They are video taped for a televised Eurovision song contest. References to the war appear on a few t-shirts and can be heard in youthful banter. If you don’t speak German, you can still get the gist that rougher kids use ‘Auschwitz’, ‘Nazi’, and ‘Hitler,’ in insults to each other, without animosity. The Nazi past has blended into a Goth-like popular subculture. Young Germans seem to be free from the worry that violence and hatred is some kind of genetic trait which it is most obviously not.

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