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Foundation cares for 50,000 Dutch war graves in over fifty-five countries

All 175,000 casualties of war listed in commemorative books

Tags: World War II

THE HAGUE - Remembering their 175,000 victims of war has been an annual event for the Dutch ever since the Second World War ended in May 1945. The Netherlands continues to commemorate its fallen and casualties on the eve of May 5th with silent walks by civilians and official programs all over the country. Graves, particularly those at Allied war cemeteries often are tended to by children. Schools throughout the country on a rotating bases adopt for a year local war monuments and keep them tidy.

Dutch care for wargraves goes well the beyond country’s own borders. A special organisation, the Found-ation for War graves (Oorlogsgravenstichting) almost has a global scope: from Norway where 37 Dutchmen are buried to Myanmar (Burma) with 620. Of the known burial sites of Dutch nationals who died as a result of WWII, Indonesian soil with 25,000 harbours half of the 50,000 war dead with a known grave. The Netherlands itself accounts for over 13,000 graves, Thailand about 2,200, most of the others all are located in Germany.

The most widely known burial sites in the Netherlands are Grebbeberg (a battlesite of 1940 with 800) and Loenen (with 3,500), both for the military. Over 9,000 graves are scattered thoughout the country. All are maintained by the Foundation, along with those in over 55 countries.

Most of the Dutch casualties of war (125,000) either were buried nameless in mass graves or cremated in concentration camps. Others perished at sea. Many people still are listed as missing although all were added to the 42-volume commemorative book compiled by the Foundation.

Occasionally the remains of a missing person are discovered and identified. Such was the case recently with soldier A.J. van der Velden who on May 10, 1940 stood guard at a pillbox on the Moerdijkbrug. Witnesses claim he was shot by German parachutists and fell from the bridge into theriver below. He remained the sole missing person from the May 1940 battles. At some point it was learned that on April 29, 1941 the remains of a Dutch soldier which had been found on the riverbanks near the bridge were buried - marked “unknown soldier” - at the Dubbeldam cemetery. In 1999, a new attempt to identify these remains was successful. Since then, a marker with Van der Velden’s name was placed on the grave.

The Foundation which issues an illustrated annual report for donors, arranges wreath layings at many of the memorial fields abroad. The Indonesian site of Menteng Pulo in 1999 had 17 such events, usually involving a group of visitors. The Oorlogsgravenstichting also makes available study material for schools, a video, brochures, a mobile exhibit, and has speakers on call to address groups about its work. Those interested could obtain for a small fee photocopies of pages from the 42-volume commemorative book, listing specific names. The Foundation also arranges flowers on request to be laid at any grave on fields in its care or pictures from a specific grave marker.

The Foundation welcomes financial support for its work and can be reached at: Oorlogsgravenstichting, Postbus 85981, 2508 CR The Hague, phone (01131)70-313 10 81, fax (01131)70-362 15 46.