We are not discussing the way we operate as The Ministry of Poetic Affairs this time. No, we are discussing the way we do things differently in the country where our organization is based: The Netherlands. Today we remember those who died during and after World War II. We are different when it comes to remembering this war because many countries remember this war on a different day.
It all depends on where you live in the world when it comes to the end of World War II. In some parts of the world, the war ended before May 5th, 1945. On May 5th, 1945 the war ended in The Netherlands. Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, but the war did not end on that day.
On May 5th the war ended in The Netherlands with the surrendering of Johannes Blaskowitz, the leader of the German armed forces in The Netherlands. The official ending for the German armed forces was signed on May 7th, 1945 by Aldred Jodl.
It wasn’t until September 2nd, 1945 that the war officially ended, with the surrender of Japan.
In The Netherlands, we celebrate our freedom on May 5th. On the night before this day, we remember those who died during the war. As of 1962, we also remember those who died during World War II and during those conflicts after this period in history. We also remember those who died during peace-keeping missions of the United Nations.
Freedom is a great gift. We are reminded of those dark pages in our history books. Freedom inspired many to write poetry. War also brought forward poetry. The emotions that are related to these conflicts are sometimes very intense.
At The Ministry of Poetic Affairs, we do everything to be the ambassadors of poetry and freedom. We believe that our world needs change and an end to the war. Unfortunately, after World War II, many other wars started. Even today, we see a world where people fight each other. Some conflicts are hidden or forgotten, while other conflicts get a lot of media coverage.
In 1943 a poem was published in a Dutch illegal newspaper. The Germans who occupied The Netherlands dictated newspapers what to write about. It was only four days after the Dutch surrender on May 14, 1940, that the first illegal newspapers were distributed.
One of these poems is a Dutch poem written by Jan Campert. Campert died in Neuengamme on January 12th, 1943. He wrote the poem Het lied der achttien dooden. When translated, this the title will become The song of the eighteen dead. This emotional poem handles the eighteen men who were executed because they were part of a Dutch resistance group. Campert wasn’t one of them but was also part of the Dutch resistance. He was caught and sent to Neuengamme.
This poem is translated by Harm Jagerman from Dutch to English. To show the rest of the world, what this period in history meant. In this poem, we read about those who are about to die. It’s almost like you are part of these last moments in their lives.
The song of the eighteen dead
The cell is only two meters wide
and narrow twee meters,
even smaller is the piece of land
from that I do not know,
I will be resting unnamed,
my companions too,
we were eighteen in number,
no one will see the evening.
O loveliness of air and land,
of the Dutch free coast –
once overwhelmed by the enemy,
I didn’t find any hour of repose;
what can a sincere and faithful man,
still do in this day and age?
He kisses his child, he kisses his wife
and starts a vain battle.
I knew about the task I started
a task of heavy effort,
but the heart couldn’t ignore it
never shuns the peril;
it knows how it must go in this country
the freedom was honoured,
before a violater’s hand
before (the) swearing breaks and swanks
the nauseating piece existed
and Holland was invaded
and the treasure of its ground,
before it made its claim
and that Germanic comfort,
conquered a country and forced it under its ruling
and plundered it like a thief.
The Pied Piper of Berlin
now plays his melody;
as true as I am dead later on,
the loveliest I will not see any more
and the break will not be broken
or sleep with her —
rejects all that he offers or offered
that sly fowler.
Remember, the one who reads these words,
my companions in need
and those who love them the most
in their time of despair
as we thought about
our country and our people,
there will be a day after each night,
every cloud will pass.
I see how the first light of morning
shines through the high window —
my Lord, make the dying easy,
and so I failed
like any can fail,
gift me with your grace
so that I will go as a man
as I stand before gun barrels.
— Jan Campert (translation: Harm Jagerman)
What is this poem about?
Campert wrote this poem as if he was there in those final moments of the group of eighteen men who were about to be executed. This execution took place on March 13th, 1941.
A group of 200 men of the Dutch resistance organization De Geuzen were caught by the Germans. One of them was the leader, Bernard IJzerdraat. The resistance group was formed shortly after the German invasion of The Netherlands (May 10th, 1940). Three of the men were sent to a lifetime sentence. The others, together with three men who took part in the February Strike of 1941 were executed at the Waalsdorpervlakte. This is an open place in the dunes near The Hague. It’s not very far from the location where this poem takes place: the prison that was nick-named Oranjehotel (Orange Hotel) as a reference not only to the Dutch royal family but also as a reminder of a hotel that was located nearby (in Scheveningen). From this prison, about 250 people were sent to the Waalsdorpervlakte during the Second World War. On that location, they would be executed.
On May 4th, this location is one of the places where a remembrance ceremony takes place.
Jan Campert was born on August 15, 1902. He was a journalist, theatre critic and writer. He aided Jews during the war and was finally caught by the Germans. He was sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp, where he died on January 1943.
In Dutch literature, Campert is remembered mostly for his poem Het lied der achttien dooden. After the publication in two different illegal newspapers, the poem was printed and sold as a poetry card. The money that was raised, was used to help to hide Jewish children during the rest of the war. It also formed the beginning of the Dutch publisher De Bezige Bij.
This article is based on this article.