The fourth of May: still a heavy day

Written by Dyonne Onyema

Every year, people dedicate two minutes of silence at 8 pm on May 4 to pay their respects to civilians and soldiers who’ve died during World War II and other wars. On Remembrance Day we honour the men and women and appreciate their sacrifices and their contributions towards peace.

It’s the 4thof May: the birthday of my brother-in-law and of course it’s the Dutch National War Remembrance Day. I’m sitting at the dining table with my family and other people that have been invited for his birthday. We’re enjoying our meal and talking about all kinds of different topics when my sister points at the clock. Everybody stops talking. It’s eight o’clock. The whole country is quiet for two minutes to show their respect to the victims of World War II.

After the two minutes are over, everyone at the table starts talking again. The mother of my brother-in-law asks everyone what they were thinking about during the silence. She says: ‘It’s so weird. We have to remember all of the people who have died in the Second World War, while there’s still are plenty of other wars we have to think about, even the wars that are still going on right now’’.

Personally, I also find it very selective to put our main focus on the Holocaust and the Second World War: I see no difference with other wars and genocides. It’s important to commemorate the victims of all wars on 4 May. For example, the Vietnam war and the war that is still happening in Syria. Naturally, all war victims are commemorated during the National Remembrance Day, but for me and a lot of other people, the emphasis is too much on the Second World War. This war is moving further and further away from us and the generation that has experienced this war is slowly disappearing.

Remembrance Day is still a heavy day for some people, but it seems to be getting less. That’s actually not strange at all. It’s much more difficult to connect with something that has happened a long time ago if you don’t know anyone that lived in those times. The number of people who have actually lived through the war diminishes every year.

But what if you have actually experienced the second World War or if you knew people who died in the war? That you have seen yourself how cruel people can be, but also how caring people can be for helping you. Imagine that you walk around the streets and the only thing you see are soldiers standing in line with their guns. Imagine how scared you would have been. Imagine the loved ones you could have lost during the war. Think about the fact that nothing will ever be the same again after a war. You have to spend the rest of your life wondering why you did or didn’t do something and if things could have gone differently if you made a different choice.

That is what 4 May is all about. It’s about thinking about how the people during the Second World War, but also the people during other wars, felt during these hard times. It’s hard to think of those things because fortunately, our generation didn’t experience it. But you can try to imagine it. Try to remember those people and their difficult choices. Even if it’s only for two minutes. It’s important to think about these times because there are people for whom it’s still a heavy day and will always be a heavy day.