Look backward before Liberation 5/5/45


Have you ever looked back on tragedy prior to your own or others’ liberation? Have you ever celebrated liberation while remembering the loss and pain of before?

In The Netherlands (Holland) the end of World War II is celebrated every

May 4th and 5th as the Remembrance and Liberation days.

May 4, is Remembrance Day, a solemn day to remember the many civilians and soldiers who lost their lives.

May 5 is Liberation Day, a day to celebrate the freedom which was so slow to come after six years of Nazi occupation. Parades re-enact liberation by Canadian, American and British troops.

Looking backward, hope and tragedy resulted from September 1944’s military operation, Market Garden. This joint military effort had planned to end World War II in Europe by Christmas, and liberate all of The Netherlands.

Catastrophically, Operation Market Garden failed.  Only the southern half of The Netherlands was liberated when the allies found they could not secure the bridge Arnhem, The Netherlands. Lack of full use of the Dutch underground, breakdowns in allied communications,  leaks of allied intelligence and bad weather all contributed to the demise of Operation Market Garden.

Have you ever paid a high price to surrender all for Liberation? The Dutch railroad workers had gone on strike in support of Operation Market Garden. In retribution Hitler ordered the blockade of all  food and fuel transportation to the rest of The Netherlands. As a result, fifty-thousand civilians lost their lives during the Dutch hunger winter of 1944/1945.

The impact was so profound that after WWII, the world learned what the multi-generational impact of famine became. The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study, funded by government funding, and summarized again recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that multiple generations after starvation had lower birth weights, increased cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more.

In the early 1950’s when my mother attended her midwifery school in The Netherlands, every sign of Dutch carefulness with food was still present. Every midwifery shift had carefully meted out food. Everyone loved night-shift when for some reason, food was not rationed out.

Dutch caution was still present for me in the late 1950’s and ’60’ as well.  I remember no Dagwood-style sandwiches, no overly full hot baths. “Een beleg” (one sandwich topping) my aunt would say. She walked in on my mortified ten-year old self in the bath, to make sure I was shivering in only a few inches of hot water. This tante-aunt, otherwise helpful and kind, had survived the starvation winter. She still enforced caution, as if a blockade of fuel and food would happen again. My other tantes en ooms (uncles and aunts) had survived starvation in The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) Japanese concentration camps and showed less caution with food, but approached all of life with a cautious worry.

Zuinig is a big Dutch vocabulary word, meaning a blend of careful and avaricious.  This is part of the “you know your are Dutch list”* (see below) on my website. The list is similar for other WWII survivors and for those who lived through the Great Depression.

I’m grateful I was raised by parents who experienced liberation in May in the Netherlands, 1945, and August in the Dutch East Indies, 1945. Simple pleasures, outdoors, nutrition all were emphasized in my home. When I made choices for a time which led me to be locked up in “isms” such as alcoholism, I recognized liberation, it’s joys in the previous words of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents. It took us years to talk more fully of our various liberations, yet I knew the joy and light of freedom in my older family members’ eyes.


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