My experience of Liberation Day occurred on April 13, 1945 – three days before my 12th birthday. It is important to understand some of the situation of that time in order to appreciate what I was feeling that day. The whole country, including our town of Haulerwijk in the northern province of Friesland, was under the foreign rule of the Nazis. The people who collaborated with the occupying forces were deeply resented by everyone else, and this translated, of course, into passionate hatred expressed by the younger generation. I was only seven years old when the war broke out and almost 12 when we were liberated and all during that time we hated the Nazis, but we utterly detested these “traitors.” They – the ones who embraced the enemy – were appointed to various government positions, which included jobs in keeping law and order. They were known as landwacht – what is now called the Militia. These men were easily recognized by their uniforms, and they often gloated in their positions of authority over us.
During this time of occupation many things were forbidden, including the playing or singing of the Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus. But many people in our area had small organs in their homes, which were often used to sing and play religious and folk songs. We had one of these organs in our home and I was fortunate to have been given a few years of weekly lessons. One day as I practiced, I was trying to play our national anthem. But I was warned by my parents to play it softly, since it would be a serious offense if it was heard by the wrong ears!
We were eating dinner on April 13 when a strange-looking military vehicle came into view across the canal from our house. It stopped at a curve in the road and then we realized, with an almost electric shock, that this was not a German machine, but a Canadian weapons-carrier! At that exact moment a group of five Militia men, on their bikes, also came into view from the opposite direction. When they spotted the military vehicle they promptly saluted and began almost strutting on their bikes, showing off to what they thought were their comrades in arms. What a hilarious spectacle it was to watch their confusion and hesitation, and then when the realization hit them, we could literally see them sag. They thought they would quickly turn around and disappear, but the Canadians swiveled their small cannon into their direction, and yelled at them to continue in the direction they were travelling!
We were, of course, ecstatic at the news that this was Liberation Day for our community. I immediately jumped onto the organ bench and began to play the Dutch anthem as loudly as I could, and this time my Dad told me to play it with all the stops wide open!
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