National Remembrance Day is commemorated every May 4 in the Netherlands. Every year since 1945, the Dutch have observed this day. At 8 pm, citizens hold a two-minute vigil ― a moment of silence ― to commemorate civilians and soldiers who died within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and worldwide since the advent of World War II. During the day, before the moment of silence, there is a commemorative service held at Dam Square, in Amsterdam, at the National Monument built to honor the fallen. People deliver plenty of speeches, and a wreath-laying ceremony takes place.
History of National Remembrance Day in Netherlands
On September 1, 1939, World War II began, and active military engagement between almost all world powers led to a bloody and destructive war that lasted six years and consumed the lives of 50 million people. The Netherlands sought to remain neutral during the war, hoping that its strategic location — at the borders of the German and British lines ― would mean that it could remain neutral and rely on its neutrality to ensure that it did not become a part of the war.
As expected, the allied and axis forces would rather avoid invading a front that posed little-to-no threat. However, the Nazi forces invaded the Netherlands in May 1940; with little resistance, they were able to occupy much of it up until Germany’s eventual surrender and defeat in 1945. While military losses were relatively small during the war, with 17,000 soldiers and military personnel dying, the actual loss of lives in the Netherlands was that of its civilian casualties ― almost 300,000 deaths.
During World War 2, the Netherlands’ population sat at just under nine million; losing over 300,000 of its citizens to the war meant they lost 3% of their entire population in a war they sought to remain neutral. While some argue that the first National Remembrance Day in the Netherlands took place in 1946, Amsterdam held the first Remembrance Day in 1945 after pushing out the German forces from the city.
National Remembrance Day in Netherlands timeline
The Netherlands is neutral throughout the first world war and after the war in European military affairs for almost a century.
After five days of fighting, the Nazis capture the capital, Amsterdam.
A combined raid in Amsterdam leads to the discovery of the secret annex ― Anne Frank and her family are arrested and deported.
The Canadian army pushes north, liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.
National Remembrance Day in Netherlands FAQs
Where is the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is on the North-Western coast of Europe; it lies between Belgium and Germany.
I don’t know anyone from the Netherlands, can I observe this day?
Yes. Despite not being Dutch, honoring the lives of those who have died during the war or other tragic circumstances is up to you and worth doing.
Does the Netherlands still practice neutrality?
No, although the Netherlands declared themselves neutral at the beginning of each instance of war, their foreign policy at the moment does not reflect neutrality.
How to Observe National Remembrance Day in Netherlands
Observe a moment of silence
Join the Netherlands at 8 pm CET. Pay your respects to all those from the Kingdom of the Netherlands who have lost their lives since 1939.
Conduct research to educate yourself
The history of the Netherlands is rich and diverse. Take some time to understand why the people of the Netherlands are valuable to their nation.
Read “The Diary of Anne Frank”
It is one of the most iconic books to emerge from the ruins of WWII. “The Diary of Anne Frank” will give you a glimpse into the conditions that many Jews faced during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.
5 Facts About The Netherlands
The Netherlands is not Holland
The Netherlands, also called the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a collection of 12 Provinces; Holland, both South and North, makes up two of those provinces.
It sits below sea level
The Netherlands translates to ‘lower countries’ and has over 25% of its land below sea level.
They have one official language
Dutch is the only official language of the Netherlands; despite holding the highest English proficiency in the world, English is still not recognized as an official language.
The Dutch are happy people
The Netherlands is the sixth most happy country in the world; the population is genuinely and generally upbeat and joyful.
They love bicycles
There are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands; they are over 22 million bicycles and just about 17 million citizens.
Why National Remembrance Day in Netherlands is Important
Someone needs to remember
After some time, the world moves on from tragedy and the horrors of war. We need to mark those moments forever and continue to commemorate them.
It's about lives that matter
The world suffered losses of a magnitude that have not happened again. It matters that so many citizens that could have contributed significantly to society were lost.
It is a unifying gesture
Two minutes of silence at 8 pm might not seem like much. However, all 12 provinces cease any activity and participate in this day of remembrance, which has a massively profound impact on the population.
National Remembrance Day in Netherlands dates