4 May is the day on which we commemorate all Dutch victims of war.

‘During the national commemoration of Remembrance Day we remember all Dutch victims – civilians and soldiers – who have been killed or murdered in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or anywhere else in the world in war situations or during peace-keeping operations since the outbreak of the Second World War.’

This is the official text of the Memorandum for Remembrance Day on 4 May. Ever since the end of the Second World War, the Netherlands has commemorated its dead on 4 May. As from 1961, the Dutch victims of the Second World War are remembered together with Dutch victims of other conflicts, wars and peace-keeping missions that have taken place since the outbreak of the Second World War in the Netherlands.

The national commemoration of Remembrance Day in the Netherlands takes place on 4 May, at 8pm. At that moment, two minutes of silence are observed throughout the country to commemorate Dutch victims of war. A remembrance ceremony is held on Dam Square in Amsterdam in the presence of the head of state and various representatives of both the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Parliament. This national commemoration of Remembrance Day is held simultaneously with local commemoration ceremonies in nearly every town and city in the Netherlands. At 8pm, the entire country is silent for two minutes.

On 4 May, but also on other significant dates, commemorative ceremonies are held in specific places that are connected with the history of the Second World War, such as the concentration camps in Amersfoort, Vught and Westerbork, the ‘Oranjehotel’ prison in Scheveningen and the Hollandsche Schouwburg in Amsterdam, the former theatre that served as a deportation centre for Dutch Jews on their way to concentration and extermination camps.

The national commemoration of Remembrance Day on Dam Square

The ceremonial commemoration on Dam Square, which is attended by 20.000 people every year, generally takes place along established lines. At 6pm, the flag is hung at half-mast. The Royal family walks across Dam Square through a ‘corridor of honour’ made up of soldiers and veterans to the foot of the National Monument. There the wreath is layed down by the king just before 8pm. Directly afterwards, the two minutes of silence are announced by means of the Taptoe, the Dutch counterpart of the British bugle call known as Last Post.

For two minutes, beginning at 8pm, one hears nothing but the flutter of flags and the cooing of doves. The Netherlands is remembering its dead. Following the two minutes of silence, the first verse of the Dutch national anthem, Het Wilhelmus, is played. Then the winner of a poetry contest for young people (Dichter bij 4 mei) will recite his or her poem. A number of survivors then lay a total of five wreaths on the National Monument. Following a speech by the mayor of Amsterdam or another prominent Dutch person, four other wreaths are laid by the chairpersons of the Upper House and the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament, respectively, and the representatives of Council of Ministers, the armed forces and the city of Amsterdam. The choice to have the survivors lay their wreaths first is a deliberate one. Their experiences are key. The dignitaries follow them.

Before the commemoration ceremony takes place on Dam Square on 4 May, there is a commemoration service in De Nieuwe Kerk located on Dam Square in Amsterdam. This service is broadcast live on radio and television. Every year 5 million people are watching this broadcast. It can also be viewed on screens placed on the square by the general public. The commemoration service in the church is attended by some 1.700 invited guests. These typically include members of the first generation of people who were affected by the Second World War, representatives of more than 80 organisations of such people and other survivors. During the commemoration service a literary author reads a work of especially dedicated proze for this occasion. And each year since 2001, the National Committee for 4 and 5 May also commissions the composition of a new piece of music especially for the commemoration service in De Nieuwe Kerk. The composition premières on 4 May.

Regulations on 4 May
On 4 May, all shops are required by law to close by 7pm. The vast majority of the cafés, bars and restaurants, including casinos, also comply with the National Committee’s request to honour the two minutes of silence. Football matches and large pop concerts are temporarily brought to a halt. Even numerous online social networks have made it a point to encourage users to honour the two minutes of silence on 4 May in recent years.

At 8 pm, public transport and road traffic essentially come to a standstill throughout the whole country. Trains, trams and buses stop running. The Dutch Automobile Association (ANWB) and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment remind drivers about the two minutes of silence and advise them to pull over safely to the side of the road. No planes fly in the airspace above the Dam around 8pm. On their flights elsewhere in the world, the Dutch airline companies also announce the two minutes of silence.