After the ultimate failure of Operation Market Garden, Allied commanders decided that the liberation of the Netherlands would require the dispersal of their forces. This would stretch the Allies’ limited resources, so priority was first afforded to thrusting eastwards towards the Rhine and into the German heartland. This resulted in a strange situation. When the final drive came to clear the north and west of the Netherlands, it was launched from the east – from Germany.
In March 1945 the Allies breached the German defences and crossed the Rhine. The Allied forces were now divided into three groups: two headed deeper into Germany, while the third swung round to liberate the Netherlands. They found a country in the depths of the so-called Hunger Winter that claimed 20,000 lives.
The task of clearing the northern part of the Netherlands was given to the I Canadian Corps. They were assisted by units from the British XXX Corps, the Polish 1st Armoured Division and the Belgian 5th SAS.
Combat at this stage of the war was sporadic and depended on whether individual German commanders chose to keep fighting. In certain areas, the German forces put up stiff opposition (the terrain, with its many streams, canals and waterways, favoured the defenders); elsewhere they chose to surrender. Many ordinary soldiers laid down their arms in the final weeks of the war.
Canadian troops were principally responsible for the liberation of the northern and eastern Netherlands in the spring of 1945. Nearly 1400 soldiers who lost their lives in the campaign are buried here – the headstones belonging to teenagers are especially moving. Adjacent to the cemetery is a visitor information centre, which explains the events of the war through films, personal memoirs and photographs.
As its name suggests, the Memory Museum exists to preserve information about World War II, from the rise of National Socialism to the Liberation.
Objects, photographs, film fragments and documents retell the World War II stories that have been passed down from generation to generation in Friesland. One of the most spectacular acts of the resistance in the area was a raid on the Huis van Bewaring prison in Leeuwarden on 8 December 1944 by members of the armed group known as the Knokploegen (“Strong-arm Boys”). They managed to free 51 captive resistance fighters within half an hour, without a shot being fired.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the Dutch government built a camp near the town of Hooghalen to accommodate (mainly Jewish) German refugees. Camp KZ Westerbork was later used by the German occupiers as a transit camp. Many Dutch Jews, Sinti, Roma, resistance combatants and political adversaries were imprisoned here before being transferred to concentration and extermination camps in Germany and occupied Poland. Anne Frank was deported on the last train leaving Camp Westerbork on 3 September 1944.
The National Memorial Centre Westerbork explains the history of the camp.
This cemetery on the island of Texel, which made up part of the Atlantic Wall, contains the remains of Georgian soldiers killed in a mutiny within the German army, the Texel Uprising.
The 822nd Queen Tamar infantry battalion, stationed on the island of Texel, was made up of 800 Georgian and 400 German soldiers. The Georgians had been taken prisoner on the Eastern Front earlier in the war and chose to join the German army rather than go to prisoner of war camps. In early April, the battalion received orders to transfer to the mainland to fight the Allies. The Georgians became worried that if Germany lost the war, as seemed likely, they would fall into Soviet hands and be dealt with as traitors. In the early hours of 6 April, they staged an uprising, led by their commander Shalva Loladze and assisted by the Dutch resistance. On the first morning some 400 German soldiers on Texel were slaughtered, mostly in their sleep. The Georgians were unable to take control of two gun batteries at the north and south of the island, however, and the Germans sent reinforcements from the mainland. It still took five weeks to put the rebellion down. During that time, 565 Georgians, 800 Germans and 120 Texel residents were killed. Fighting continued even as Germany was signing its Instrument of Surrender in Berlin on 8 May; the violence was only stopped by the arrival of Canadian troops on 20 May.
Watchtower, Camp Westerbork National Memorial Centre © Allard1/iStock