Third Letter

Third Letter from Amsterdam, 1995

by Reggie Williams

On May 4th (4 mei) the Netherlands celebrate the end of World War II and the Day of Remembrance for those who were killed during the war.

This year it was the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war. The official ceremony was held on Dam Square, site of a huge stone monument in memory of the victims of fascism. It is in the center of the city, across from the Royal Palace.

At 7.45 pm the Queen, Koningin Beatrix, walks from the Palace over the square with her family and all the Dutch government officials. She places the official state wreath at the foot of the monument, followed by her family, government officials and military people with smaller wreaths. Then the children come forward to place bouquets of flowers along with all the others. Then at eight o`clock there is two minutes of silence in which all traffic and movements stop and all the church bells in the city ring. It is a very stately and ceremonial affair. Thousands of people gather around the square and the palace. All the streets around Dam square are blocked off which creates a traffic nightmare in town. The whole area is fenced off which does not allow the observers to get very close. And most don`t get to see anything because of the large number of people. It reminds me of the official wreath ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On Remembrance Day 1970 the Young Amsterdam Gay Action sought to get inclusion of those gays and lesbians who fought during the war or suffered in Nazi concentration camps. The protesters tried to place their wreath on Dam square, but they were met with police resistance and were arrested. As a result the COC, the Dutch Gay and Lesbian organizations organize their own ceremony at the Homomonument.

Hundreds of gays and lesbians participated in this year`s ceremony, which my lover Wolfgang and I attended. He placed a bouquet in memory of his great-uncle Carl, who was gay and got murdered in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (Berlin) in April 1945. The service included a supervisor of the city and a very popular lesbian writer, Karin Spaink, who is living with MS. She gave a very powerful and moving speech. Then the Gay Men`s Chorus and the Lesbian Chorus sang, each a very beautiful, poignant song. We then had our two minutes of silence.

For me as a newcomer, and an outsider standing there listening to all the bells in the city ringing at the same time, it was a very moving experience. People then moved forward to place their flowers on the raised triangle made of polished pink granite. Three triangles make up the Homomonument which was unveiled in 1987. It was the first public monument to Gay and Lesbian persecution in the world. The whole event was very moving for me, and I was glad I had the energy to attend.

The next day Queen Beatrix, in her address to the nation for Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) said “Freedom is the right of thinking, doing and being differently. Tolerance which wants that there are no limits leads to intolerance and real freedom is only possible after being liberated within.”

The media coverage of Liberation Day was quite extensive, with lots of old footage of the war, concentration camps and stories of resistance. The movie "For a Lost Soldier", a story of a love affair of an American soldier and a young Dutch boy was aired on television.

Reggie Williams