ON MAY 4TH, the Dutch celebrate Dodenherdenking, Remembrance of the Dead, a holiday like Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries and Veterans Day in the United States. Both of those evolved from Armistice Day, the holiday commemorating the end of WWI, but the Dutch holiday honors the Dutch who have died, civilian and military, in fighting or peacekeeping efforts in WWII and after.
This year, the celebration was marred by a controversy centered on a fifteen-year-old boy’s poem. Auke de Leeuw won the annual contest commissioned to select a poem to be read publicly at a ceremony in Amsterdam, but the poem was disallowed because, well, the man it honors fought on the wrong side of WWII. The organizing committee eventually agreed with protesting groups, stating that the poem honors a man who “was not a victim” of the war but “a perpetrator.”
Auke de Leeuw is named after his uncle, who was one of some 20,000 Dutch who for a variety of reasons fought on the German side against the Russians. As in all wars, the issues were not clear to everyone at the outset. These men and boys fought out of hatred for Communism, their own Fascist ideology, a naïve belief that they were better serving Holland, or for mere survival. Some, no doubt, believed in Germany’s cause. Auke’s uncle, Dirke, was one of five brothers (of 11 siblings) who fought in the war, the other four on the side of the Resistance. Auke’s poem illustrates the difficulty of the choices conflict forces upon people and is called The Wrong Choice. It seems from the words of the poem that Dirke Siebe felt compelled to his choice by poverty and hope for a better life.
In pausing to consider Auke’s poem, we do no disrespect to the Dutch remembrance of those Holland has lost to conflict, but rather we allow ourselves to ponder an important question we might otherwise miss. “How can we learn from our mistakes if we are not allowed to name them?” asked Auke in an interview, adding “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?”
The poetry contest asked Dutch youngsters to consider the effects of the war on those who experienced it in all its dimensions. Auke wanted to show that “everyone loses during a war.” His poem does that, though not in the way poems traditionally read at such national ceremonies do. In telling his story, Auke bears his uncle’s burden through remembrance and publicly confesses his own weakness in bearing the burden of choosing. He reminds us that remembering should be a work of building. Sharing the burden of choice helps us preempt future cycles of suffering and remembrance. It is a peacemaking work that strengthens community and builds bridges of compassion and understanding to others. Read Auke’s poem on page 33 in the Poetry section of IN COMMUNION.
– Pieter Dykhorst
❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012