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May 2014 Heroes of the Month: The WWII Soldiers Who Died to Liberate Holland

We will never forget the brave men who fought so hard during World War II to preserve our freedom. This is just as true in Europe, where U.S., British, Canadian and Free Polish (1st Polish Armoured Division) soldiers are still recognized and honored for their heroic efforts during that war. This month, we join Holland in paying homage to the great men who died while liberating Holland from the brutal grip of the Nazis.

About six miles from Maastricht, in the Netherlands, lie buried 8,301 American soldiers who died in “Operation Market Garden” in the battles to liberate Holland in 1944-45. Every one of the men buried in the cemetery, as well as those in the Canadian and British military cemeteries, has been adopted by a Dutch family who minds the grave, decorates it, and keeps alive the memory of the soldier they have adopted. It is even the custom for each of these families to keep a portrait of “their” soldier in a place of honor in their home.

Liberation Day in the Netherlands is celebrated each year on May 5th and is a national holiday. The day was selected because on the 5th of May, 1945, Canadian General Charles Foulkes and the German General Johannes Blaskowicz agreed to the surrender of all German forces in the Netherlands. The national observance actually starts on May 4th at 8:00 p.m., when two minutes of silence are observed throughout the country. If you are ever in the Netherlands when that happens you will never forget it. It is both eerie and very moving to see an advanced society literally come to a halt.

Each year a concert is held on the evening of May 5th as the closing event for the day of remembrance. The final piece is always “IL Silenzio”, a memorial piece commissioned by the Dutch and first played in 1965 on the 20th anniversary of Holland’s liberation. It has been the concluding piece of the memorial concert ever since.

One of the most moving performances of Il Silenzio at this annual memorial service was that of a 13 year old Dutch girl, Melissa Venema, backed by André Rieu and his orchestra (the Royal Orchestra of the Netherlands). The beautiful concert piece is based upon the original version of taps and was composed by Italian composer Nino Rossi. Although the original video of Melissa Venema’s performance honoring the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate Holland during World War II is no longer available, Ms. Venema has played this poignant piece at other venues in Holland. One of her more recent performances is below.

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