|Military Cemetery Grebbeberg|
People often ask me which part of The Netherlands where I have been living. I answer Wageningen. Then they are puzzled. They refers to people who do not study agriculture. Usually I will explain further where Wageningen is or simply by saying it is near to Utrecht. If we open Google Map and find Utrecht in the center of the Netherlands, you must zoom in until Wageningen appear. Due to its strategic spot, this small city had a role during World War II. Every May 5th, Dutch celebrates Liberation Day or Bevrijdingsdag. Wageningen is the center of this celebration. I did not expect myself finding amusing history in this city when I arrived three years ago. I underestimated it.
Every time we visit a city in Europe, the center give its first impression. Can you imagine ancient building in the main square with symbolic statues? Whilst, Wageningen city center did not seize me at the first time. Wageningen is so called new city. The centrum rebuilt after massive destruction during World War II (WWII).
I followed public lecture about Dutch history WWII. My interest was welcomed by Studium Generale with a theme “The Role of Student from Wageningen University” (at that moment it was called as Agricultural University) in WWII. The speaker was grandson of former student in Wageningen. He read the diary of his grandfather. This year, I joined a cycling trip with the group of international student. It was organized by staff in Expat Center. We retraced the relics of WWII.
|Group of Cycling Trip|
The group gathered in Aula of Wageningen University, in front of memorial statue “The Naked John” as a symbol of liberation. Next to Aula, there is Hotel De Wereld. A Liberation Treaty was signed here on May 6th 1945. In fact, the statement of surrender was released by Nazi in Germany on May 4th. On the following day the liberation was celebrated. We passed Torckpark to Memorial of Jewish. There are five statues hand in hand. It represents five Jewish who were killed during Nazi occupation. It was recorded as the fewest number in comparison to other city. During WWII, 50 Jewish people lived in Wageningen, 90% of them survived.
The group cycled to Rhein River. Wageningen is located exactly at the north of the stream. It was a main venue of battle between German and Dutch infanteri. German attacked Wageningen on May 1940. Dutch army built defense line from Wageningen to Amersfoort all along 40 km. The target of German during the attack was holding The Queen as hostage. Fortunately, it was known by Dutch military. There was no civilian killed. Wageningen was successfully evacuated. The Queen and Royal Family moved to UK.
The trip was meant to Grebbeberg, 4 km to the north of Wageningen. We visited a museum in military cemetery. From the kaleidoscope, we could observe the strategies of defense from Dutch Army. Three defense lines were set: voorpostenlijn, frontlijn, stoplijn to protect Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam. Sadly, the preparation of defense was in a big failure. The phone and radio for communication did not work. Dutch Army built pill box along front line to posit weapon. They expected a head to head battle. German came with different strategies which made them be able to sneak into defense lines. The war was lasted only for 5 days before Dutch surrendered. In the end, more than 400 armies were killed both during the battle or simply after German blockaded the pill box.
|Defense Lines by Dutch Army|
The trip was closed in the hill of Grebbeberg behind the cemetery. We observed the remains of pill box and trenches. Some discussion emerged. The group shared what happen in the other part of the world during WWII. In Latin America, many refugees from Europe came. In Asia, WWII was an era when Japan colonized eastern to southeast Asia, from China to Indonesia. Till these days, the memory of war is still fresh. One day before celebration, May 4th there is minute of silence for two minutes on 8 a.m. It is taken seriously in The Netherlands. All the vehicle stop. People send flowers to some monumental spots. The Veteran are still alive. They commemorate the event annually. For them, the memories of war lingers. They remember the cry, the shot, the pain.
|Pill Box and Trench|
A night before celebration, the picture of war is exhibited in the Wageningen church. The exhibition is accompanied by choir performance. The story of WWII is presented year by year. I stood in front of picture. A destroyed building with the name of Printing Company.
I mumbled “What is Vada?”
A man responded me “It was a printing company. Wageningen was well known as printing company at that time! Now it is all about the university. Are you student?”
“Yes, we are.”
“I am from South Africa.” a friend of my friend answered
“It is nice to learn the history here especially because Indonesia and South Africa are Dutch Colony.”We had a small talk with him. When he said farewell, my friend told me that he is Mayor of Wageningen. Wow, after all this time!