I actually consider myself lucky to have both an English parent and a Dutch parent – especially because of the grounding it has given me in the history of Europe.
Allow me to attempt to explain what I mean by that.
Being educated in England meant I was fed a slightly sanitised and – to be perfectly honest – nationalistic view of the Second World War. As in – it concentrated on the British experience of it with very little focus on the suffering of other countries. Put it this way – the Dutch experience hardly rated a mention unless it involved Arnhem, Nijmegen, and how the Dutch were miraculously rescued from the Nazis.
My Dad was born in Leicester – which had been bombed during the Second World War. He was born a year after the Second World War ended.
My Mum was born in Rotterdam, which was also bombed during the Second World War – to the point where there are only a handful of pre-Second World War buildings left standing in the city centre. My Mum also happened to be born during the Second World War.
The British experience of the Second World War now appears to have been consigned to the museums. After all, there are very few veterans left alive now and the bomb sites have all been tidied up and hidden away. It is not discussed in public debates in a way which keeps it fresh in people’s minds. Except when it comes to Remembrance Sunday and other Memorial days.
My Mum always did something which puzzled me before I went up to Groningen, in the north of The Netherlands, on the day of the Dutch EU referendum. She made a point of shaking every British and US Second World War veteran by the hand and saying “Thank you” to them.
I suppose I must have been naive because – to be perfectly honest – the exact extent of the horrors of the Dutch experience of the Second World War hadn’t quite registered before my trip to Groningen.
Groningen is a chocolate box town – as in you can imagine a photograph of it on the lid of an expensive box of chocolates. It has got all the original buildings in the city centre. In fact, I had to go to a museum to find out that – even though the buildings were still standing the population had really suffered. Until the Second World War – Groningen had been the capital of the Dutch Jews. Put it this way – the captions on the photographs might have been written in Dutch but they definitely did not need an English translation.
Every Dutch city I have been to has got some reference to their experience of the Second World War bubbling near the surface.
In Rotterdam – for example – you can visit the Laurence Church and “Het Witte Huis” (or “The White House”) on the Tourist trail. Or you could explore some of the districts of the city and look at the little plaques in the pavements outside some of the houses and flats. These plaques tell you the names and dates of deportation of some of the Jewish residents when they were transported to the gas chambers.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the Dutch experience of the Second World War – and how they keep it fresh in the minds of the new generations – is more beneficial to society than the British way of almost “sweeping it under the carpet”. The Dutch know what it is like to have been occupied – and they don’t want a repeat performance thanks very much.
Why have I told you all this??? It was brought into my mind by the results of the British referendum on the EU – along with the preceding predictions about Armageddon in the form of World War Three.
We need to have a healthy respect for each other (no matter what our nationality or ethnic background). However, we also need to have a much healthier respect for our collective history – especially if we are going to avoid making the same mistakes.