All you need to know about National Remembrance Day in the Netherlands (even in corona times)

What is National Remembrance Day in the Netherlands?  Dodenherdenking is held on May 4, every year. It’s a day when the Dutch can commemorate the soldiers and civilians who died in WWII and other conflicts. This takes place during a two-minute silence, at 8 PM on that day.

As you can imagine, National Remembrance Day looks a bit different this year. We are already used to doing May 4 slightly differently, after the usual memorials were cancelled last year. So, here is the complete guide on how to mark this day in a coronavirus safe way.

What does May 4 usually look like in the Netherlands?

Dutch-rememberance-day-in-the-Dam-square
Remembrance Day memorial in Amsterdam. Image: Nationaal Comité 4 en 5 mei, Jasper Juinen/Wikimedia Commons

A lot of Dutch people participate in the commemorations of National Remembrance Day. Many observe the two-minute silence and, believing it’s important to do so. However, young people, in particular, want more attention to be paid to current wars and victims, according to the NOS.

Apart from the silence, many people also hang the Dutch flag out of their window or from a flag pole. The Dutch fly their flags at half-mast from 6 PM until the sun sets. This signifies a mourning period, but the next morning they are flown as normal. On May 5, the Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day.

Official memorial in Amsterdam

The official service is held at the National Monument in Amsterdam (Dam Square). The King and Queen attend, speeches are given, people lay wreaths, and observe the two-minute silence.

Dam square is where the first-ever commemoration took place many years ago. During this two-minute silence, TV and radio stations broadcast the ceremony, public transport stops, and people stop what they are doing.

TIP: It’s good to know that Remembrance Day is not technically considered a public holiday.

Why are there two separate celebrations on May 4 and May 5?

Well, there is a good reason for that. The most important being that after WWII ended, some people deemed it inappropriate to be celebrating their liberation, and mourning victims on the same day.

They don’t really connect well and so it was decided that there should be a day dedicated to mourning and a separate day dedication to celebrations. The good news is Liberation Day is actually a public holiday.

National Remembrance Day in the Netherlands: how can I get involved?

Commemorations are held all over the Netherlands on May 4. The main one being on Dam Square – this is by far the busiest. Citizens also hold memorials at the war cemetery at Grebbeberg and Waalsdorpervlakte (located near The Hague) which is also broadcast. The latter is where a lot of the Dutch resistance fighters were executed during WWII.

In some large cities, commemorations take place in large squares or outside the city hall. People in small towns place flowers on gravestones and fly their flags at half-mast.

People don’t just attend commemorations to get involved in National Remembrance Day (so don’t worry if you can’t). Many people choose to pay their respects by holding their own two-minute silence and stopping what they are doing for a couple of minutes to pay their respects.

Sensitivity surrounding Remembrance Day

Remembrance day in Zwolle. Image: Onderwijsgek/Wikimedia Commons/CC2.5

Remembrance Day in the Netherlands hasn’t been without its controversies. Every year there’s usually some form of discussion over whether the Dutch are mourning the correct victims, whether we should be mourning more victims, and whether we should be mourning at all.

These discussions range from opinions such as young people being “disconnected” and why we aren’t remembering all victims of the historical and present-day wars. Should we have more remembrance days dedicated to different periods? The discussion goes on and on every year.

Some people argue that remembrance day is racist, as it focuses too much on the white victims and has little consideration for other victims of the war. However, the Netherlands does commemorate victims of the Dutch East Indies on August 15. It also has a separate day to remember victims of the Holocaust on the last Sunday of January.

May 4 in corona times

Of course, this year May 4 commemorations will be very different from usual. The Dutch government has forbidden public gatherings, so the usual memorial in Dam Square won’t be taking place this year. Instead, people are asked to keep the two-minute silence at home.

Usually, the two minutes begin with the sounding of a trumpet. This year, the National Committee is asking people who play a wind instrument to give the signal inside their homes at 7.58 PM. People can then observe the two-minute silence, followed by the National Anthem being broadcast (which people are also encouraged to sing from inside their homes).

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima will lay a wreath at the National Monument on Dam Square this year, but there won’t be an audience.

Although not everything in the following article applies this year, reading it to remind yourself of how the celebration usually looks is still a good idea – especially if it’s not something you are familiar with.

How will you be paying your respects this year on National Remembrance Day in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments. 

Feature Image: Onderwijsgek/Wikimedia Commons/CC2.5
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2020, and was fully updated in May 2021 for your reading pleasure.

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Emma Brown
A familiar face at DutchRevew. Emma arrived in Holland in 2016 for a few weeks, fell in love with the place and never left. Here she rekindled her love of writing and travelling. Now you'll find her eating stroopwafels in the DutchReview office since 2017.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, two minutes silence at three pm in Brazil, eight pm NL. I visited some of those WW2 burial places and I was always amazed how young they were. And thousands of them. In NL a lot of Canadians, my respect!

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