1 Remembrance adress by Mr Martin van Rijn, State
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Remembrance adress by Mr Martin van Rijn, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport, at the Oranjehotel Commemoration, Scheveningen, Saturday 27 September 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls
Seventy years since the start of the Liberation, and nearly seventy years since the end of the Second World War, we have come to the Oranjehotel, a particularly historic location. It was here that the brave men and women who stood up to the Nazi oppressors were imprisoned. Many paid the ultimate price for their courage. We are here to remember them.
Their legacy is our peace... our freedom. And it is a priceless legacy. What those people did then remains extremely relevant today.
We therefore remember the ‘resistance’: the men and women who actively opposed the Nazi occupiers, in the towns and cities and in the rural areas. They represented all sections of society, professions, political affiliations and religious denominations.
They fought for freedom and for the future, our future. They accepted that they may not survive to enjoy that future with us. We owe them a vast debt of gratitude, and we are duty bound to remember their sacrifice. We do so by keeping their memory alive. We do so by passing on the lessons of the war to each new generation.
What are those lessons? How can we ensure that people are never again murdered because of their faith, their appearance or their sexual orientation? We must never take peace and liberty for granted. They were hard won, and must be jealously guarded. 1
Many of you here today, young and old, are actively involved in keeping the memories of the past alive. You do so in various ways and in various contexts: in politics, education and social activities. The pupils of Mariscollege Belgisch Park, for example have adopted the Oranjehotel and attend this memorial meeting every year. Members of the Sint Joris Scouts are here too, and later they will act as our wreath-bearers.
I would like to tell you about two members of the resistance who were incarcerated here at the Oranjehotel. The first is Koos Vorrink, who once wrote:
“War is not inevitable. The belief in peace is far stronger. The things that unite people are more important than those which divide them.”
That is what Koos believed... and he did so passionately.
Koos Vorrink was born in 1891 and started his professional career as a teacher. The First World War and the Russian Revolution had a great impact on the young Koos, inspiring him to become active in politics. He joined the Social Democratic Workers’ Party and became the chairman of its youth movement, a position he held for several years.
Koos took every possible opportunity to share his message; he spoke at rallies and he published pamphlets. War, peace and solidarity were the topics which moved him. He saw war as a monster which needlessly claimed countless lives. He therefore championed the concept of an international rule of law with the ultimate aim of achieving world peace. He saw democracy as an essential precondition.
In 1934, Koos was elected President of the SDAP and gained a seat in the Senate. Soon after the Netherlands’ capitulation in May 1940 he joined the resistance. The following year, he and the journalist Frans Goedhart set up an
underground newspaper: Het Parool.
It was in 1943 that Koos was arrested by the Nazis on suspicion of being involved in the resistance movement. He spent a short time here at the Oranjehotel, where his captors tortured him in the hope of forcing a confession and having him betray his fellow conspirators. They were unsuccessful. Koos was transferred to the prison camp at Haaren, from where he was transported to Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp at which tens of thousands of prisoners perished. Koos was not among them. He survived the war and returned to the Netherlands where he continued his political work in a free and democratic country. His efforts had not been in vain. Koos Vorrink died in 1955.
The second resistance fighter I would like to tell you about is Edmund Peter Wellenstein, known to all as ‘Mom’. He was born in 1919, so represents a slightly younger generation than Koos Vorrink. Ladies and gentlemen, he is here with us today. Mom, if I may call you that, it is an honour to meet you.
You studied physics in Delft. On 22 November 1940, you were told that all Jewish staff of the university, including some very prominent professors, were to be dismissed with immediate effect by order of the occupiers. Three thousand students walked out in protest – and you were among them.
This was the first mass demonstration against the persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands. The Nazis took immediate measures. They closed the faculty and banned student organizations. Mom became an active member of the resistance. He was betrayed, arrested and brought to the Oranjehotel. He spent two months here before being transferred to the prison camp at Amersfoort, where he witnessed the mass murder of Russian prisoners of war. After the war, he ensured that they were given a fitting memorial.
Mom joined the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He went on to play a major part in the development of various European institutions concerned with economic and political cooperation. They included the European Coal and Steel Community, a forerunner of the European Union. The ECSC was established by the 1951 Treaty of Paris as an economic alliance to promote post-war reconstruction. Its six members included Germany.
Organizations such as this had one common objective: lasting peace in Europe based on solidarity between countries which, until recently, had been enemies. What a historic achievement!
Mom Wellenstein was a prominent representative of the Netherlands at the European level. His commitment to the cause of European unity over more than five decades was formally recognized when the European Commission presented him with a prestigious distinction.
In 2003, the Oranjehotel invited Mom to speak at the memorial meeting. He graciously accepted and shared some of his recollections in a very engaging speech. I would like to quote a short passage, in which Mom describes how pleased he was to be assigned a cellmate.
“There was not enough room for a second bed, but between the existing bed and the wall there was just enough space for a mattress to be laid on the floor. It could be stacked on the bed during the day. Because we weren’t allowed to lie down during the day anyway, it really didn’t make any difference. The sloppingout bucket with its wooden cover and the washbasin were shared with brotherly love, as were the ‘extras’ such as biscuits and sugar which I was eventually allowed to have brought in from outside.”
Koos Vorrink and Mom Wellenstein. Two very courageous people who dared to take a stand against tyranny and oppression. Two prominent Dutchmen, two prominent Europeans, two world citizens who fought for peace and democracy, justice and solidarity. They gave their all – and were willing to give even more – to ensure that the dreadful events of the Second World War will never be repeated.
We too must ensure that such atrocities never happen again. But how?
The experience of tyranny and genocide helped to confirm certain moral principles. After the war, efforts were made to embed those principles within politics and within society itself.
One such principle is the active pursuit of ongoing peace. Another is the strengthening of democracy, while there must also be a strengthening of the constitutional rule of law and justice, at both national and international level.
All such ambitions are based on solidarity. Society must be unified, cohesive and inclusive. There must be solidarity between people of different religious or political beliefs, between rich and poor, and between the people of all nations. The ultimate objective is to create a mature, diverse and tolerant society: a society in which everyone has a part to play and in which everyone feels complete acceptance. A society in which people live alongside each other in peace and in which everyone is truly free.
These are the values of citizenship, and their promulgation is a shared responsibility of government, politicians, social organizations and the individual citizen alike. The process takes place in the home, in the neighbourhood, in the workplace, in the community centre, in parliament – anywhere and everywhere that people come together.
The school is also an important locus at which the values of citizenship are instilled and put into practice, not only as part of the history or social studies syllabus, but in the way that students interact with each other.
We must confront each new generation, not only with the historical facts, dreadful as they are, but with the choices they can make in terms of freedom and democracy. How can I act? How can I contribute? Who should I take as my role model? These are the questions which young people should ask themselves. I am therefore very interested in how schools teach their pupils about the Second World War. I would like to find ways in which we can link the cold, hard facts with the moral lessons and with our citizenship values. I believe that doing so will be a sound investment in our future.
Recent studies reveal that many people, and especially the young, are interested in the Second World War. War museums have seen marked growth in their visitor numbers, while there has also been a significant increase in the number of exhibitions, memorials, monuments and so forth. This year and next, a full seventy years after the end of the war, barely a week will pass without the opening of a new exhibition or the unveiling of a new memorial.
In many cases, the events commemorated have a local or regional significance. In the village of Foxhol, for example, a war memorial was recently unveiled to honour three local resistance heroes and all who “by the hand of the occupier never returned”. In Amsterdam, there are plans to erect a wall bearing the names of all Jewish war victims. Nijmegen, a city which was particularly hard hit by the war, intends to create a Liberation Museum.
Only last week, during the commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, Nijmegen demonstrated the potential of bringing together various elements to form a cohesive ‘living history’. Earlier this year, I visited Normandy where I had the honour of opening a section of the Liberation Route. The story of the liberation takes in a number of locations in several 6
countries. The Liberation Route shares that story with schoolchildren, tourists and casual passers-by. The cohesion in the different elements of the stories is pivotal in getting across the message.
It would be possible to bring together all the various elements which make up the complete story of the Second World War. Those elements include not only the military battles, but persecution, resistance and the hardships endured by people throughout Europe and beyond. By bringing these elements together, we also bring them closer to the public. I shall continue to follow developments in this sphere with great interest, and I wholeheartedly support the initiatives of the National 4 and 5 May Committee and various private funds.
The people who actually experienced the war – the eye witnesses – will not be with us forever. The way in which we remember must therefore change. We must invest in recording and sharing knowledge about the events. We must find ways in which to explain often complex issues to young people. This demands cooperation. It will be important to ascertain what young people themselves find interesting and how we can reach them using modern communication methods. A professional approach is required.
Cooperation is also needed in order to collate and interlink all the strands of knowledge held by various institutions. Young people will then gain a better understanding of the war in all its facets.
This building – the Oranjehotel – is an important part of the history of the Second World War. As such it can be a powerful medium through which to speak to future generations. I believe that this is widely acknowledged.
Moreover, the Oranjehotel stands in a very special city: The Hague, known throughout the world as the International City of Peace and Justice. It has earned this epithet based on the hospitality it has traditionally shown towards multilateral organizations. The choice of The Hague as the location of the Peace 7
Palace inspired many institutions concerned with international law and justice, including the United Nations and the European Union, to follow suit.
The Hague’s museums are also actively involved in promoting these universal values. Moreover, the city authority’s coalition agreement states, “Cultural heritage must be visible in the city. Accordingly, we intend to support and facilitate the Atlantic Wall and the Oranjehotel.” I am confident that this will further strengthen The Hague’s status as the International City of Peace and Justice.
Of course, the Oranjehotel is not the only physical reminder of the darkest period in our recent history. There are many other locations at which people were imprisoned, tortured and murdered.
There are also many other places which provide a reminder of the opposition to fascism shown by courageous citizens from all sections of the community. Many of them paid the ultimate price: their lives. Their story will also be kept alive in the many Resistance Museums throughout our country.
Experiences of persecution and resistance are extremely significant even today; they affect us all. The sacrifices made in the past created the freedom we enjoy today. This is why we must continue to tell the story so that future generations understand that peace and liberty can never be taken for granted.
Recent world events have raised questions and doubts. I sense a feeling of uncertainty, even among the young. Could there be another world war? Do the events in Ukraine mirror those of the late 1930s, or has the world really changed and moved forward?
Any historical story gains in significance when told at the very place the events took place. Mulock Houwer has just told us about the future of this location. Cell
601 – the death cell – is part of a building which is now scheduled for demolition. There are, however, plans to preserve it for posterity. Very expensive plans.
The preservation of the Oranjehotel was widely supported by parliament. Unfortunately, the world was then plunged into economic crisis. This led to cutbacks in public expenditure, including the funding for cultural heritage. To raise the money needed to preserve the Oranjehotel is a challenge of immense proportions. It is nevertheless a challenge to which many motivated people have risen. Their aim is twofold: to memorialize the victims but also, and primarily, to ensure that the lessons of the war are passed on to successive generations.
The Oranjehotel Foundation has approached various potential sources of funding, including central government. Their efforts have met with some success. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Security and Justice have both agreed to cover a substantial proportion of the costs of separating the building which contains Cell 601 from the remainder of the complex. This will allow its development to become an independent and accessible monument.
The business plan for the ‘freestanding’ Oranjehotel was completed in June. It prompted me to hold talks with the Fund for Peace, Liberty and Veterans, which had already discussed an earlier version of the plan.
I am pleased to be able to announce that my talks with the Fund were also successful. Subject to certain conditions, it is prepared to contribute one million euros towards the investment costs.
I am confident that the Oranjehotel Foundation will be able to raise the remainder, particularly if it enters into partnerships with museums, schools, and sister institutions at home and abroad with a view to sharing knowledge, interconnecting the elements of the wartime history and ensuring that the lessons remain topical and relevant.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,
In the Netherlands, we try to promote active citizenship. This means that we encourage people to think for themselves and to form their own opinions rather than ‘following the herd’.
Remco Campert wrote a poem which is very apposite, and with which I would like to conclude this memorial speech.
Resistance does not begin with grand words but with small deeds. Just as a storm begins with the gentle rustling of leaves in the garden, or the restless pacing of a cat. Just as rivers begin at a small source hidden deep in the forest. Just as a massive conflagration begins with the same match that lights a cigarette. Just as love begins with a furtive glance, an inadvertent touch or a quiver in the voice. Ask yourself a question: that is where resistance begins. And then ask the same question to someone else. Thank you.