As I was watching TV just now, switching from channel to channel like a 21st century zombie, I came across the following commercial:
It’s a public announcement from the Dutch 4th & 5th of May-committee, that starts out by reminding us we had lost our freedom during 5 years of World War II. The voice over continues by saying that since then, we have passed freedom on from one generation to the next. It’s something that should not be taken for granted and something we are responsible for, together. She finishes off by telling us that on the 4th of May we will be remembering the victims and that on the 5th we will celebrating our freedom. Her final question is: “How will you pass our freedom on?”.
It was only three weeks ago that I wrote about the Dutch national remembrance and celebration day, and the confused guilt trip I have been going through in the wake of it. But while I was watching the above commercial I felt I hadn’t said all I needed to say.
You see, as so many other places in the world, Dutch society is no longer succeeding at hiding it’s true (pretty racist) colors. Some of you may have heard of the discussion we’ve been trying to have about our family friend, “Black Pete”. If it rings no bells, feel free to read an old blogpost of mine about it.
Some of the same people that are trying to ban Black Pete from the Dutch celebration of Saint Nicholas, have been trying to ask for a more equal representation during the May 4th remembrance.
The point they have been trying to make has to do with a lot of things, but the one they have been speaking about most is the role of the Dutch army during the Indonesian National Revolution, which took place between Indonesia’s declaration of independence in 1945 and the Dutch recognition of its independence at the end of 1949.
During the two minutes of silence that we hold at 8PM every year, we remember all victims of WWII during the first minute and victims of other wars in the second minute. According to the protesters, we only focus on “white victims” and choose to ignore the victims in Indonesia, for which the Dutch conscience is not completely clean.
A couple of weeks ago, this group of protesters announced they would disturb the two minutes of silence with a noise-demonstration to bring attention to their cause.
Politicians have tried being civil, saying: “If you are protesting to demand respect, you shouldn’t start out by disrespecting others. There is a time and place to discuss and demonstrate, but this isn’t it.”
Just like with the Black Pete discussion though, there was a small window of opportunity for society to defuse the bomb before it went off. You see, the right reaction to a person telling you that you hurt them with something you did (or didn’t do), in my opinion, is: “Really??? I made you feel that way? I had no idea and I am so sorry! Please, join me at my table. Let’s talk.”
I know, I’m naive that way…
But I’m seeing friends on Facebook (yepp, I’m still there) putting frames on their profile pictures showing the Dutch flag and stating “I will be silent for 2 minutes”.
For most, it’s probably just a well-intentioned attempt to pay their respects to the dead. It bothers me though, because it’s so much beside the point that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The noise-demonstration is not a protest against being quiet. It is a protest against being ignored, marginalized and disrespected. The fact that you don’t understand why they feel this way, doesn’t make it less right. It just makes you ignorant.
So in their stupor of petrified ignorance my fellow countrymen are only achieving one thing: proving the protesters right.
Ironically, this year’s theme is “resistance” so we are all being encouraged to stand up for what we believe is right. I think the people that came up with the idea were hoping we would be standing together AGAINST racism, though… wupps.
You know how festive days such as mother’s day and valentine’s day always get responses along the lines of “What’s the point of being nice to your mother / lover once a year? It should be done each and every day or not at all.”?
All though a tad cynical, these people are right, in a way. So are the people that say that emphasizing or reinforcing their love on this given day is an important reminder to not take such a beautiful thing for granted.
A national holiday we have in the Netherlands and that I write a blog about almost every year (see here and here) is our World War II remembrance day (4th of May), followed by Liberation Day (5th of May).
All though I have always payed my respects (two minutes of silence at 8PM) and always did my best to celebrate my freedom consciously, I must admit that lately, I feel like the previously mentioned cynics when it comes to remembrance day…
Every year I make an effort to ask my friends and co-workers what they will do when the clock hits 8 PM on the 4th of May. I always try to remind them that it is not just 2 minutes of “having to be quiet” but that these 2 minutes can be used to explore our own thoughts on the current state of the world and honor those who have died for the freedom we now so easily take for granted.
I always feel fired up and ready to act after liberation day. And then… NOTHING. Maybe I write a blog about my white privilege and dive into a couple of Facebook discussions and call my friends out on their inherent racism… But that’s it.
I feel icky just admitting that. I feel useless and I feel hypocritical. If only the world wasn’t collapsing under the weight of all the racism, bigotry and hate mongering, then I could act as if my help wasn’t needed.
But it is, and so is yours.
It seems the Dutch committee for 4th and 5th of May celebrations agrees that we all need a kick up the ass, and therefore decided the theme of this year’s WWII remembrance should be RESISTANCE. Even more, it has been decided it should be the theme of the whole 2018 calendar year…
Museums are adapting their exhibitions to this year’s theme and special education series are being compiled at schools, where WWII veterans and war heroes are stopping by to tell their stories.
I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but the Dutch year of resistance happens to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The exact date of his murder was the 4th of April and on this day last week I watched the movie Selma.
The general story line and historical context were not new to me, as I hope it isn’t for anyone else. The film did however contribute to a better understanding on my side about what resistance entails.
It requires courage. It requires perseverance. It requires not taking “no” (or “wait” or “I can’t” or “It’s too hard”) for an answer. It requires caring more about the cause than your own well being.
As Dr King said in his legendary “I have a dream”-speech (which does not feature in the film, btw):
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
So yes; SOUL FORCE!! And now that I come to think about it, I actually wrote a blog about it just last week, only in the version of super woman Valarie Kaur. She didn’t call it Soul Force though. She called it revolutionary love.
And then former American president Jimmy Carter showed up at Stephen Colbert’s late show. Such a sweet and wise man; I had no idea! He reminded me of the willpower it takes to love those that seem undeserving of that love but the importance of doing it anyhow.
It seems my generation’s greatest purpose in life is to achieve inner peace or “zen” or a perpetual state of “Netflix & chill”. These are actually all thing I excel at, but I suddenly realize that being relaxed is making me complacent and -oh the horror-, indifferent.
I need to refuel my inner rage and channel it into something productive and less egocentrical.
Pff… I think I’ve even written about this before… What do I do to get out of this cycle?
I need to start planning some field trips.
Goals for the month of May:
Visit at least one exhibition, museum or lecture that fits the “resistance” theme.
Make a grumpy looking stranger smile.
Think of a good present for my bf’s birthday.
Bake a cake and eat it too, but with friends (especially the undeserving ones?). Or maybe it should be humble pie.
Newschannel Euronews has an item they show in between programs called “no comment“. It always shows images of some event but with no commentary. No translation. No explanation. Just images. For a couple of minutes you get to decide what is going on and if you think that’s OK or not. I always thought it was kind of cool. Perhaps it’s the closest you can get to objective journalism.
If the internet taught me anything though, it is that there is no such thing as “the truth”, nor is anybody ever completely impartial. The fact that the camera is pointing this way and not that can change the whole story. I try to be conscious of this fact when I read / watch any narrative.
This morning however, the internet gave me a shocker when I encountered the image seen below, among the likes of one of my FB friends. It really took me a while to process what I was seeing and reading and my initial reaction was anger. I asked the person who had liked the image (and he’s a family member, for crying out loud!) if he really believed this to be true. I asked him this, with the intention of deleting him from my account and from my life if he declared to my (cyber)face that he stood behind this statement.
I felt offended. Personally. I felt the legacy of my grandparents was being spat on and I couldn’t believe people were giving such a message a thumbs up. I felt it was unfair to hold me accountable for something that happened long before I was born. I felt it was wrong to put the Nazi horrors in the same sentence with what is happening in Palestine as if these things are somehow related. I hated the fact that I was being asked to disagree with Germans killing jews but to condone jews killing muslims (or vice versa for that matter).
Now that I’ve calmed down a bit I am trying to see if I can find the nuance in there somewhere, but I’m finding it quite difficult. All I can come up with is that I do understand that everyone has the right to defend themselves. My inner Ghandi however keeps popping out and poking at me with his walking stick and repeating his famous quote like a mantra:
UPDATE: Nuance found! I also decided to change the title of this blog and share a bit of the discussion I had on FB with the people that posted the controversial image.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually, and I still feel that the way this South African jewish organization formulated their message was way too strong., -and I can’t believe I am actually going to admit it,- BUT, I do understand where they were coming from now.
In their very elaborate response to my angry, slightly defensive rant, they asked me to bare two things in mind:
1. The Allies were fighting the German/Italian/Japanese Axis not because of what Hitler was doing to the Jews but because they were invading other countries.
2. The incredibly brave individuals who put their lives on the line to save Jews during the Holocaust were a minuscule minority.
I can’t deny any of this. It’s painful and it’s true.
The thing is, that I actually do believe that the world stood by and watched atrocities happen for way too long. Individuals breathed a sigh of relief as the horrors passed by their front doors (in other words, they were not jewish) and politicians dared not speak up and risk turning up on the losing end.
The world was stunned, like a deer in headlights. There was no protocol for this. No precedents or lessons learnt from previous occurrences that we could fall back on. We were slow to act. There must have been denial and heaps of mixed messages, making it so difficult to take a strong stand for the masses.
So yes, that surviving jews held grudges for the world’s passiveness: I get it… We didn’t step up until the Nazis started making life difficult for the rest of us, the non-jews. That’s offensive and no apology or compensation will ever mend those wounds.
But I don’t see us giving the Tutsi’s in Rwanda a free pass, nor have I heard them ask for one (or have they…? not even sure about that one, as the world cared even less about what happened to them than the jews’ ordeal and I haven’t really heard of them since)…
Another thing that has been bugging me is how this statement is not about the world not allowing jews to stand up for themselves. This whole image, without mentioning it ONCE, is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I always struggle with political correctness here. Can you use Jew as a synonym for Israeli? I can imagine there are many jews that would disagree. Or non jews, for that matter. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few muslims that have no issues with jews or their faith, but do whole heartedly dislike Israelis. And then there are those referred to as zionists, who are the one’s that believe in and actually persue “the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland“
So in that sense, the first sentence in the image above refers to jews, but the second one refers to Israeli’s and more specifically, the zionists who are trying to establish their so called homeland on somebody else’s homeland.
So my conclusion is, I get it, but I still don’t think it’s OK at all…. but feel free to disagree!
Today was the official opening of the Engelandvaarders museum in an old bunker, once part of the Nazi’s Atlantic wall. Our jolly king did not let the weather bring his spirits down and had no trouble putting himself second to give the amazing volunteers and veterans that made this museum possible a moment to shine.
All though I might need some more time to come up with a decent blog on this topic, I did want to post this today, also in response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Generation XYZ.”
You see, this new museum in Noordwijk is both a tribute to those who gathered up all their courage and decided to risk their lives to make freedom possible for themselves and the rest of their countrymen and -women during WWII as it is a reminder to younger generations that every single person can play a role, take a stand and make a change!
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
And as far as I’m concerned it’s not any deity that you are accuontable to, it’s all of us. It’s society. The world. Mankind. Give it whatever name you want. Show you know right from wrong, by speaking up against injustice or malice. You’ll see you’re not alone. Be inspired and inspire others. We can do better than this.
Quoting Kid President: What will you create that will make the world awesome?
My story is not spectacular. My story is not heroic. My story is actually not even my story but at the same time it really absolutely is! This story forms part of a greater whole and I am so proud that I am a part of it! It deserves to be told and I want to be the one to do it. So there.
I ended my previous blog on a bit of a cliffhanger. I wrote about the voyage of my grandparents in 1943 and may have briefly mentioned that I retook this voyage, as an ode to them and all others who attempted to cross the North Sea to England during WWII. But enough about them (but no seriously, they were awesome!), allow me to tell you about my part in all of this!
So, I think I’ll start at the end and work back from there. You see, when we returned from our fourtysomething hour long journey, we came ashore with cameras pointing at our faces (waiting for us to break down?). We were applauded, photographed, filmed and interviewed. We were asked to pose, to talk about how we felt, to smile and to wave this way and that. I tried to be original every time I was asked about the voyage and to treat every question as if it was asked to me for the first time.
The most frequent asked questions were the following:
1) What drove you to take part in this venture? (sometimes asked in the form of: why in the blazes did you say yes?)
2) What went through your mind while you were at sea?
3) What does it mean for you to step in the footsteps of your grandparents?
4) Would you do it again?
The questions sound simple enough, but I had the hardest possible time coming up with the right answers. I think whoever asked me them, was pretty satisfied with whatever I came up with but I always felt I hadn’t quite covered it. I kept thinking they actually wanted to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I felt I was never really giving them all that. Sure, it was always true but I always had to feed it to them in ready to eat soundbites and therefore my answers always sounded incomplete to me. It missed the “on the one side blablabla, but on the other side blablabla” crap we academics love to get lost in.
That’s why I thought writing this blog would be easy. I would just jot it all down, from left to write, and equip my formulated thoughts with tons of footnotes and sidethoughts between parentheses, which is what I reckon most of my daydreams must look like as well… but I degress…
Let’s answer these questions… Numero uno, why in the blazes did I say yes?! Ahhh, but my answer needs an introduction… because my perceptive readers must have noticed that this question implies the involvement of another party, being the one that is asking me to come along. That would be Epco and Teije, who came up with the idea for this undertaking during the new year’s reception of the newspaper they both work for.
They found out about a little boat that lay in a museum in Overloon, named after one of the original passengers, Yvette Bartlema. And during their first brainstorm sessions about how this project could take form, they came into contact with living legend, Eddie Jonker. This 90 year old war veteran was also the chairman of a Stichting Engelandvaardermuseum, raising funds for the resurrection of a museum to commemorate all those who travelled to England during the second world war and joined the allied forces and the resistance. He joined the RAF himself and contributed greatly to the cause and remains an amazingly sharp witted man today with a strong will and a warm hart. The foundation was working on a project to build a replica of the Yvette for in the museum’s collection, which turned out to be the final boost Epco and Teije needed for their idea to really set sail.
All they needed now were 3 other people to come along on this odyssey, which (long story short) brought them to me. And I said yes because… well, honestly because I thought it sounded like an adventure. The first time I tried to explain this to my friends and family, I described it as the reaction a child would have hearing his / her favorite attraction park had just opened a new ride. But of course there was more to it… I was getting the chance to learn about these mysterious people in the black and white pictures. I read their words from fading letters that had been kept safe (but nearly forgotten!) in boxes and cupboards by family members. I learned things about my own history and about history in general that I didn’t even know I missed.
I also said yes because from the very start, the organizers emphasized that safety was very high on their list of priorities. That made me feel like I could permit myself to be brazen. It was an opportunity to go on an adventure, with a big chance of discomfort a slight chance of getting hurt, but with a panic button in case things (or people) would go overboard. That my grandparents did not have this luxury, was a realization that was often in our minds and humbled us during our get-togethers.
And I guess that brings us to the second question. In all honesty, what I thought about during my time at sea wasn’t all that interesting… I wish I could tell you I philosophized about the meaning of life and my part in it. I wish I could tell you I solved some crazy riddle or perhaps made up one, but I’m afraid it would be untrue.
My thoughts were more along the lines of “Man, this North Sea puddle sure is BIG!” and “ Didn’t I see a wave just like that one, an hour ago?!” and most of all “ bleeeuh, my tummy feels funny… but luckily not as bad as THAT guy…”. That guy was one of my fellow passengers and grandson of one of the original crewmembers, Coen. His nausea started somewhere during the first night and never really stopped. He came out of his greenish-greyish cloud of misery for a couple of minutes every time he ate something. It would give him enough energy to make a couple of jokes and then fall back into his zombie-state after hanging over the side to give whatever he had just eaten back to nature…
There were a couple of moments during the voyage that we spoke about what we were doing and what it all meant. We talked about the original passengers and about their role in the bigger picture. We talked about the other veterans we had met and what they represented for the younger generations. We talked about boat refugees in current times and the way we view them. My grandparents were heroes, boat refugees arriving in Southern Europe from Africa are a plague. Is it really that different?
After this last conversation I had Manu Chao’s song, Clandestino, on my mind and tried to remember all the lyrics. All I kept coming back to was “Soy una raya en el mar”, or “ I’m a line in the sea”, which is pretty much how I felt. Another song that stuck with me is Papeles mojados, by Chambao. I encourage you to listen to both songs and look up their translated lyrics if you don’t speak Spanish.
And how it feels to step in the footsteps of my grandparents…? In truth, I don’t think I have. I made a trip in a boat and I am proud of myself for doing it, but I have in no way done anything matching the heroism of the original passengers, as the boat trip itself was merely the beginning of their voyage. I guess that is also why it was so hard to write this blog. I just felt so small in the light of their story and almost unworthy to be putting the spotlight on myself for something so meaningless.
I did feel the need to describe this feeling of gratitude and admiration I feel for the people that fought for our freedom. Not just my grandparents but all the men and women that contributed to the resistance and stood up against the hate and injustice that was swallowing the continent. The last question is therefore an insignificant one. Retaking the boattrip does nothing for the true meaning of their mission. To truly honor their valor I must actively participate in the world and make an effort to make a difference. I can either sit by the sidelines and point at all the things I see going wrong, or I can find ways to truly make a difference.
In current times, things have been getting so confused. People are being called fascists left and right. Politics are filled with fear mongering rhetorics, which is creating an atmosphere that is truly worrying. Fear is the best bed to plant the seed of hate in and it is happening all around me. I will not go into this much further in this blog (but I will try to in a future one) but will leave you with this video that recently aired before the European elections.
We must never forget our past, and that is the true moral of this story and the only true way to honor the original passengers of the Yvette!