Just ten days after the yearly Dutch commemoration that is Dodenherdenking (Remembrance Day) and Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day), the inhabitants of Rotterdam have another infamous date to remember — May 14.
It was on this day, back in 1940, that a Nazi bombardment utterly destroyed the centre of Rotterdam. Known internationally as the Rotterdam Blitz, the Dutch simply call it het Bombardement (the bombardment).
The bombing of Rotterdam, aka Rotterdam Blitz
Call it the Dutch equivalent of Pearl Harbor, if you will — the effect of the bombing of Rotterdam was as decisive as it was horrible.
After several days of fierce fighting, the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands had come to a stalemate in Rotterdam. Taken by surprise by the fierce resistance of the Dutch army, Hitler knew he had to break the spirit of the Dutch people as a whole.
So it was that Nazi bombers dropped incendiary bombs over Rotterdam, quickly starting a fire that destroyed approximately 85,000 homes and ended the lives of nearly 900 people.
The Dutch were, at last, no match for the Nazi war machine.
Yielding to threats that the same fate would await Utrecht and Amsterdam, the Dutch surrendered unconditionally after the bombing of Rotterdam, marking the beginning of five years of Nazi occupation.
The bombing of Rotterdam: the legacy
How can we best keep this part of history preserved for future generations? The most confrontational to the bombing of Rotterdam is, without a doubt, Ossip Zadkine’s statue De Verwoeste Stad (The Destroyed City).
Located at a square named after the year 1940, the statue leaves the viewer with a haunting image of a soul in anguish that had its heart torn out.
The Forgotten Bombardment of 1943
Though the Netherlands and Germany are basically BFFs today, het Bombardement has been an important reason why Dutch resentment against Germans lingered for a long time after World War II.
In this respect, it’s quite telling that there’s another bombardment of Rotterdam which took place during the war which has remained unknown for a long time.
READ MORE | Photo report: the Netherlands at war, 1940-1945
On March 31, 1943, a tragic mistake caused several dozen American B-17 bombers to drop their deadly load on Rotterdam residential areas, rather than at the Nazi military installations.
More than three hundred people lost their lives. Fittingly named “The Forgotten Bombardment,” this historical event has been shrouded in silence for decades, until the unspoken ban was lifted in the 90s.
Rotterdam literally rose from the ashes to become a beacon of Dutch culture once again. Priding itself with its no-nonsense mentality, Rotterdam is a city teeming with life and innovation.
Home to some of the most well-known Dutch pieces of architecture, such as the Euromast and the Kubuswoningen, the skyline of Rotterdam is no less than iconic.
Today, as a bustling international city, Rotterdam is a magnet for expats and young talent from the world over.
Feature Image: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2018, and was fully updated in May 2023 for your reading pleasure.