day is an extremely important celebratory day for the people of the
Netherlands. It marks the day that the country was finally freed from the grasp
of Nazism at the end of the Second World War. If you are visiting Amsterdam on
this day then you will find it hard not to be swept up in the party spirit.
When World War II broke out in 1939 the
Netherlands had hoped to remain outside of the conflict. Any such hopes were
quickly dashed however when the Nazis invaded the country in May 1940. The
Dutch Royal Family and the government disappeared into exile in London and the
country was left to face its darkest days in recent history. Occupying forces eventually
took control of everything, food supplies in shops were rationed, life in
general became extremely restrictive and people faced forced labour, working
for the Germans. Meanwhile, most disturbingly, the majority of the 150,000
Jewish people in the country were rounded up and deported to the Nazi death
camps of Europe. Dutch Gay men, lesbians, gypsies and other ostracised social
groups were also sent to the camps to die as well as some political opponents
of the Nazi regime.
Some Jewish families managed to hide in
friends’ homes and businesses and were kept fed and supported for years. The
most famous is of course Anne Frank, her family and friends who lived in a
secret annexe at the top a warehouse building at 263 Prinsengracht. The Anne
Frank House Museum here provides a detailed and moving account of life for
those in hiding and ultimately their unfortunate discovery and later death at
Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp. Those that harboured and assisted Jewish
people faced harsh punishment from the Nazis and were often sentenced to death
The Allied Forces eventually accessed
France in June 1944 and worked their way across Europe. Netherlanders are
likely to have felt optimistic that help and liberation was not far away.
However the terrible reality was that fighting in the southern Dutch provinces
raged for months and the country faced a particularly bleak winter that would
wreak further havoc upon most of the country’s already exhausted population.
The sheer cold and lack of basic food and fuel spelled disaster for the western
and northern Dutch provinces. People literally only survived by eating tulip
bulbs. It is estimated that some 18,000 Dutch civilians starved to death during
It was not until the 5th May
1945 that the whole of the country was finally liberated by the Allied Forces.
In light of such horrific hardships it is clear to see why this date is
celebrated by the Netherlands so ferociously. It is known locally as Bevrijdingsdag.
Day (Bevrijdingsdag) and Liberation Festival (Bevrijdingsfestival)
Throughout Amsterdam and the country at
large there are lots of events held to celebrate the end of the Nazi Occupation
on May 5th. These multiple
individual celebrations of freedom come under the umbrella of the Liberation Festival
(Bevrijdingsfestival). If you are in Amsterdam on this day then you won’t fail
to notice the celebratory air, delicious food stalls, the open-air music, dance
and DJ stages spread throughout the city. From the Westerpark to the NDSM-wharf
and the Homomonument, you will be greeted by an infectious and uplifting energy
and spirit. The latter location was the world’s first war memorial to the
hundreds of thousands of lesbian and gays who were tortured and exterminated during
Nazi Occupation of Europe. It is normally a place for reflection and quiet
contemplation but becomes a particularly upbeat place for celebration and
positive enthusiastic remembrance during Liberation Day and Gay Pride.
During the Occupation of the Netherlands there
grew a strong Dutch Resistance movement. Their important role is also
celebrated on Liberation Day and several buildings that were central to their activities
are open for the public to visit, bringing their story to life.
A special concert is held
annually on Liberation Day on the Amstel River alongside the Royal Theatre
Carré. Dutch Royal family members are often amongst the audience.
Amsterdam is actively encouraging the citizens
of Amsterdam to come together and enjoy a special celebratory Freedom Feast (Vrijheidsmaaltijd)
with each other out on the streets of the city to mark Liberation Day. Over 200
public locations participate including Dam Square itself. Why not pop along
yourself and raise a glass to the freedom of the country.