Lest we forget: Europe Remembers
May 8, 2020 is the 75th anniversary of VE Day: the official end of WW2 in Europe. There are many online events to mark the occasion, but two initiatives, Liberation Route Europe and Europe Remembers have been established since 2008 to ensure the stories of the war are not forgotten. Here we bring you the inspirational tale behind their foundation.
by Matilda Hickson
Above: Celebrations at the end of WWII (Liberation Route Europe Foundation)
This year sees the 75th anniversary of peace in Europe. In June 1944, the Allied forces launched their biggest ever offensive to liberate the countries of Western Europe. They landed on the beaches of Normandy and fought their way through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, hoping to be in Germany before the end of the year.
Unfortunately all didn’t go to plan, and while France, Belgium and half of the Netherlands were liberated at this time, it would take until the following May for the war to be over. Each year the number of surviving veterans from these campaigns diminishes and very soon the brave men and women, who fought so that we could experience peace today, will be gone.
So it becomes even more imperative that we remember their stories and sacrifices. As Jurriaan de Mol, founder of the Liberation Route Europe (LRE) says “we should treasure the freedom that we have today and be grateful to all those men and women who gave their lives to give us this freedom. And also ask the question, how did we lose our freedom at the time, and what did we have to do to get it back and what should we do now to protect it.”
De Mol established the LRE in 2008 and it now includes nine countries with over 150 organisations involved, including museums, memorials, cemeteries and organisations all working together. The website is comprehensive - by choosing a country or region, you can then discover points of interest to visit, stories of people involved in that area and some locations even have a ‘listening’ post - where you can actually hear the story belonging to that site (both on the website and on the ground).
Not content with establishing these initiatives, de Mol is also setting up a hiking trail along the route which he hopes will become as big as the Camino de Santiago. His wish is that anyone who is on holiday or visiting an area will be able to include a museum or memorial or walk along the old route to victory and discover the history there. But most of all, he hopes they will remember what happened 75 years ago and therefore ensure that it will never happen again.
Jurriaan de Mol: The Liberation Route Story
Above, left to right: Jurriaan with his Dad, Nicholas and twin brother Nico; Jurriaan with his parents; Nicholas de Mol, whose WWII story was the inspiration for the founding of the Liberation Route Europe
Jurriaan de Mol and his twin brother, Nico, used to enjoy their family holidays. But in 1974 he remembers a particularly special camping trip, one that would affect his future, although he didn’t know this at the time.
He describes the day as typically Dutch, alternately raining and sunny, and his father had been recounting an amazing war story that had taken place quite near to where they were currently staying.
Twenty nine years earlier, Nicholas de Mol had knocked on the same door but in a very different state. Starving and nearly freezing to death, he had escaped three days earlier from a labour camp in Hamburg
So they hopped in the car and drove to Handorf - a small village east of the Dutch border in the area of Muenster - in Germany. When they got to a farm on the outskirts of the village, his father went and knocked on the front door. A man with grey hair and one arm opened it and cried out with pleasure ‘Nicholas!’
Twenty nine years earlier, Nicholas de Mol had knocked on the same door but in a very different state. Starving and nearly freezing to death, he had escaped three days earlier from a labour camp in Hamburg. His family were from Rotterdam and on the 9 November 1944, underground forces had targeted German troops in the city, and in retaliation, all men between the ages of 18 – 40 had been rounded up and put on trains to Germany as punishment. Nicholas de Mol was just 19 years old.
But after being in Hamburg and a labour camp for only one week, the RAF unleashed a bombing campaign on the city and Nicholas escaped and started walking home. After three days on the road he knew he could no longer make it without help. He had reached the village of Handorf, just one hour from the Dutch border. Literally taking his life in his hands, he knocked on the door of a farm on the outskirts of the village. It was opened by a young German man with one arm. He’d recently been wounded in fighting on the Eastern front.
Above: Aftermath of the RAF bombing in the Eilbek district of Hamburg
The young men decided that they could help each other, and an unlikely friendship blossomed. Nicholas kept the farm going, with its cattle and sheep, and the German man, whose name was Albert Makke, gave him food and shelter in exchange.
In May 1945 Albert gave Nicholas a rucksack with provisions and told him the war was over and he should go home. Nicholas eventually made it back to Rotterdam three months after the war had finished.
After meeting again nearly 30 years later, the two men and their families met every Christmas until Albert died in 2005. It was this story of friendship that inspired Jurriaan de Mol to start the Liberation Route and the initiative, Europe Remembers.
At a time when Europe appears to be disintegrating, de Mol feels it is important to bring people together by telling their stories (love, loss, resistance, occupation) along the ‘liberation route’, stretching from England to the USA. Only by remembering how we achieved 75 years of peace, can we strive for a further 75 years.
"we should treasure the freedom that we have today and be grateful to all those men and women who gave their lives to give us this freedom" (Jurriaan de Mol)
Liberation Route Europe
The Liberation Route Europe (LRE) is an international remembrance trail that connects important milestones from modern European history. It forms a link between the main regions along the Western Allied Forces’ advance from southern England, to the beaches of Normandy, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the Hürtgen Forest and on to Berlin. The route continues to the Polish city of Gdańsk, where a democratic revolution for overcoming the division of Europe was launched nearly two generations later. In southern Europe, Italy has now joined the LRE, from Sicily to the Gustav and Gothic Lines, as has the Provence region in southern France and the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
LRE also gives people the chance to discover and experience the route that the Allied Forces took during the final phase of the Second World War. It connects this history with life in modern day Europe, as well as other parts of the world, underscoring the role of international reconciliation and the promotion of reflection on the value of our hard-won freedoms. A new hiking trail, stretching 3,000 miles from London to Berlin, and passing through hundreds of points of interest, will be opened in 2020.
Listening Spot Stories
More than 180 audio spots have been created across the Netherlands in the provinces of Zeeland, Noord-Brabant, Limburg and Gelderland en Overijssel, and in the German-Dutch border region.
At each audio spot a personal story is told about the experiences of someone in that area. For example, a 6-year-old, on seeing parachutists in September 1944, ran to her mother saying, “God is throwing people out of heaven”. Her mother replied, “Do not worry my child, it is only confetti.”
Another listening spot can be found in the grounds of a hotel at Molenbosweg, in the Netherlands. Under a lime tree in front of the hotel, you can hear the story of owner Marcel Hoogenboom’s grandparents. His grandfather, Leendert, was part of the resistance group in Van Deest in Middelburg, but he was betrayed by a neighbour. He died in a camp just before the end of the war. The hotel (a grand house at the time) was used to try and hide a large number of local Jewish people in a cubbyhole under the stairs. Sadly a crying baby gave away the hiding place - but it is these personal stories that help to bring, and keep alive, the memories of the Second World War.
The stories of the locations can be downloaded from www.liberationroute.com and there is also a LRE app. Available for iPhone and Android users the app offers easy access to historical events, sites, biographies, and audio stories.
Europe Remembers 1944 - 1945 is part of the Liberation Route Europe and is a special campaign to remember the end of the Second World War in Europe. It is running throughout 2020, not only in Europe but also in the USA and Canada.
With such a significant anniversary, there are many large events and commemorations planned throughout the two years, and all events can be found on their website: www.europeremembers.com/events/
The website also provides stories, information and suggestions of places