Tomorrow is remembrance day in the Netherlands, as the dead and victims of World War II and beyond are honoured. Each year at the national memorial service at the Dam square in Amsterdam a poem is read by the winner of the school competition organised by the remembrance committee. This year there was controversy as the winning poem was about a Dutch volunteer for the Waffen SS
, which was not appreciated by the Auschwitz survivors organisation, which threated to boycott the procedings. In the end therefore the poem was scrapped, but it had already laid bare a sore spot in Dutch history.
Auke de Vries' uncle was but one of several tens of thousands of Dutch volunteers fighting for the nazis, most of whom ended up in the Waffen SS fighting on the Eastern Front, in the SS division Wiking
, the Freiwillingen Legion Niederlande
or the panzer grenadier brigade Nederland
. Many of the men that joined up were hardcore fascists, members of the NSB (Nationaal Socialistische Beweging), but quite a few were also genuine "idealists" thinking they could carve out a place for Holland in the new Germanic world order by fighting the Bolshevik menace.
Needless to say, this part of WWII history doesn't quite fit with the image that us Dutch would like to have as ourselves as innocent victims of the Nazi occupation, where after the war everybody had been in the resistance. Auke de Vries' poem lies bare this history again, which is one reason it became so controversial.
But for many people just the idea of honouring a collaborator at the national remembrance service, especially one who had fought in the Waffen SS, a criminal organisation responsible for countless war crimes and other atrocities, is an insult to every victim of Nazi Germany.
Something which is hard to disagree with, even though Auke de Vries' intentions were noble, as he said that "he wanted to show everyone loses during a war, no matter what side they are on":
'How can we learn from our mistakes if we are not allowed to name them', he said. 'I was born in peacetime. It is hard enough for me to make the right choices, so how must it have been for people during the war?'