Every year on the 4th of May, at eight o’clock in the evening, the Netherlands respects a two minute silence to remember those who have fallen. We call it dodenherdenking, or “remembering the dead.” It’s not just to remember those who have died in World War II, but it’s come to mean that. On the central Dam square in Amsterdam, the Dutch royal family leads a cermony that offers flowers at the war memorial which starts the only two quiet minutes that otherwise noisy and busy square knows each year.
I respect these two minutes, even though some people can’t or won’t. I respect them because the generation that lived through the biggest tragedy to happen in the last century is slowly dying and it won’t be long before the last of them has passed away, and then all we have are their stories. It’s easy to say that it’s been long enough, and that it’s time to let it go, but in doing so I think we lose something. We’ll lose a sense of perspective that’s hard to put into words but easy to recognise, that it’s not been that long since we stood at the abyss of complete subjugation and war and that it took a Herculean effort of the combined forces of most of the world’s military super powers to help us step away from that destruction. That it hasn’t been so long since the common person was offered seven guilders and fifty cents to betray the whereabouts of our neighbours and friends, and that more people than we dare to admit took that reward money, simply because it meant their families had something to eat besides raw potatoes and whichever cat wasn’t fast enough to escape a hungry grasp.
We’re fat, lazy and wealthy, and we’re losing our perspective. When all we can talk about is our lease cars, traffic jams, football matches and fashion, it’s good to really stop and remember how close we came to our own destruction and how much we had to do to rebuild our lives.
It’s two minutes. Two minutes where you put your life and personal stuff aside and think about — really consider — the hardships and sacrifices and attrocities of the war and flawed nature of every human being, and admit to ourselves that sophistication and humanity is only a thin veneer and that we can, and most likely will slip and fall into that depravity again.
I will think of the people that were executed in the Netherlands during the German occupation of World War II. I will think of the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others that were considered abnormal who were taken away to concentration camps. I will think of soldiers that liberated Europe and the soldiers they fought to liberate it from. I will think of all the people that worked themselves to death to rebuild this continent.
And this year, especially, I think of all the people that died the last ten years since September 11th, 2001. I think of the absolute destruction and chaos we all sowed around the world. If not personally, then by our mandate. I think of the people that cheered and partied when the news broke that what has become the symbol and figure head of a extremist movement was captured and killed.
“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.