Below is the full text in English of the speech by King Willem-Alexander during the National Remembrance on Dam Square in Amsterdam. I’ve decided to translate it properly as I have nothing else to do and I can’t sleep, and can’t keep bugging people. And it needs to be read.
And translation is what I do.
It was a touching speech. I cried buckets and I don’t even like royalty. But memories of something awful and today is normally a big event, where kids are taught about history and others come to pay respect, concerts and some actual survivors turn up and are so joyful and sweet, and then you see them and you just want to hug them. The survivors, not the royalty.
But here is what he said, our King. Also couldn’t keep myself from butting in a bit here and there.
It feels strange on an almost empty Dam for Remembrance Day. But I know that what we are all experiencing is something are going through together.
In these exceptional months, we have given up some of our freedom.
Our country has not known anything like it since the war.
Now we make our own choices. For the sake of life and health. At those times the choice was made for us. By an occupier with an ideology without mercy, which killed many millions of people.
How did that ultimate freedom feel? There is one testimony I will never forget.
It was here in Amsterdam, in the Westerkerk, almost six years ago. A small man with clear eyes – proudly standing upright at 93 – told us the story of his trip to Sobibor in June 1943.
His name was Jules Schelvis.
There he stood, fragile but not broken, in a full, silent church. He talked about transporting 62 people in one cattle wagon. About the barrel on the bare floor. About the rain that splashed through the cracks. About hunger, exhaustion, filth. “You were going to look like scum,” he said. And you heard how sorry he was in his voice.
He told us about the watches that were torn from wrists by soldiers upon arrival. About how he lost his wife Rachel in the chaos. He never saw her again.
“What normal person could have thought of this? How could the world allow us righteous citizens of the Netherlands to be treated as scum?” His question was lost between the pillars of the church. I have no answer. Still not.
What I also remember is his account of what preceded the journey. After a raid, he and his wife and many hundreds of others were taken to Muiderpoort station. I still hear his words: “Hundreds of bystanders watched without protest as the crowded trams passed under strict surveillance.”
Right through this city. Right through this country. In front of countrymen.
It seemed to go so gradually. One step further each time. No longer allowed to go to the pool.
No longer allowed to play in an orchestra. No longer allowed to cycle. No longer allowed to study. Be put on the street. Are picked up and taken away.
Sobibor started in the Vondelpark [Amsterdam]. With a sign: “Forbidden for Jews”.
Certainly: there were many people who resisted. Men and women who acted, who showed civil courage against the tide and put their own safety on the line for others.
I am also thinking of all civilians and soldiers who fought for our freedom. To the young soldiers who died on the Grebbelinie in those May days. The soldiers who served our Kingdom in the Dutch East Indies and who died, unnecessarily. The resistance fighters who were executed on the Waalsdorpervlakte or inhumanised in prison and concentration camps. The military who did not return from, or were seriously injured in, peacekeeping missions.
[Ankie edit: added unnecessarily, we were the main the reason for the deaths in the Dutch East Indies, and how can you even say serving our Kingdom? We never had any right to go there. Not our land. Never our land. And killed so many in Kosovo while peacekeeping, because I think the men were too young and inexperienced, our mistakes, young men.]
Real heroes willing to die for our freedom and our values.
But there is also that other reality.
Fellow human beings, fellow citizens in need, felt abandoned, heard insufficiently, insufficiently supported, if only in words. Also from London, also through my great-grandmother, yet steadfast and fierce in her resistance. It is something that does not let me go.
War spans generations. Now, 75 years after our liberation, the war is still in us.
The least we can do is not look away. Don’t justify it. Do not erase. Do not set aside. Not making “normal”, which is not normal.
And: nurturing and defending our free, democratic constitutional state. Because only it offers protection against arbitrariness and madness.
[Ankie edit: isn’t arbitrariness and madness a part of life now, just to get by? I am not nurturing any constitutional state ever.]
[Ankie edit: two minutes later: ok, get your point.]
Jules Schelvis endured hell and managed to make something of life as a free person. Much more than that. “I have kept faith in humanity,” he said.
If he could do it, so can we. We can do it, we do it together. In freedom.
A very Dutch speech, I was a little undone. We do need to remember this always. As will future generations about these days.
Now so so tired and need about 2/3 days sleep. All this translation tires one out. xx