April 28, 2014 -- Arnheim
While many of the stops on our river cruise have brought us to medieval towns with old buildings and lots of charm – think of Brugge – today’s stop in Arnheim is different. This is not to say that Arnheim and its environs are insignificant; on the contrary, this area of the Netherlands played an important role in modern history.
In the mid-1940s, German troops were occupying every piece of Western Europe they could reach. When they reached the Netherlands, they were met with little or no resistance because the Dutch armed forces were, practically speaking, non-existent. Because the Netherlands had remained neutral in WWI, the people and government had no experience with war or modern armaments. The soldiers rode on bicycles and carried single-shot bolt action rifles. They were no match for automatic weapons and tanks. The country capitulated quickly to the Nazis. Nonetheless, the country held a pivotal position in Europe’s geography and became one of most important combat areas of WWII.
Our tour this morning was to the town of Groesbeek, home of the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945. The museum was founded with the mission of preserving the memories of the war years in the area, especially the period leading up to the liberation of the country in 1945. The museum honors not only the history of the place and period, but also the memory of the thousands of Allied soldiers who died to free Holland from German control.
Perhaps the most important battle, at least psychologically, was the battle for the Arnheim bridge over the Waal River. One of Britain’s military leaders, Montgomery, devised a plan to take control of the bridge in order to weaken the German military; Arnheim and Groesbeek are scant kilometers from the German border. The other Allied commanders agreed to Montgomery’s plan which failed primarily because British forces did not get to their positions on schedule. American and other troops were in place, but the plan failed and he bridge remained in German hands. The story has been told, with more accuracy to be sure, in the movie A Bridge Too Far.
Over the course of almost a year, the Allies attempted to capture the bridge. They were finally successful in April, 1945, when troops came from three directions to push German troops back into Germany. Canadian forces were instrumental in liberating the area. Today, the National Liberation Museum attempts to tell the story of WWII as seen through Dutch eyes with a special emphasis on Operation Market Garden, the assault by the Allies on Arnheim.
|Recreation of jail cell used by|
Germans to hold Dutch prisoners
|Artifacts from the war years|
The Museum houses artifacts from the period, including a baptismal gown made from a parachute and bread made from the same ingredients and instructions the Dutch received in airdrops. There were recreations of prison cells and hidden closets where illegal radios were hidden. Dioramas recreated some of the action around Arnheim and models of drones and their tow-planes gave an idea of how men and equipment were delivered. In fact, the Museum sits across the road from a drone landing area.
|Model of drone hanging from ceiling|
|Diorama -- Crossing the Waal|
Our bus groups were each split into smaller groups to be more manageable in the cramped Museum. We were passed from docent to docent [all of whom are volunteers], so we got more than one perspective on the history of Garden Market and its effects. Several of the docents had been children when the “invasion” occurred and remembered it vividly. They did not hide their feelings of gratitude to those responsible for their liberation. Those who had lived through it spoke of the shortages which they experienced during the War. Even after Liberation, there was rationing of some products until 1952 when the final rationing on tobacco was lifted.
At the end of our sojourn through the Museum, we assembled in our small groups to see a short film about Operation Market Garden. The film had narration but no other sound containing, as it did, archival footage from the fighting itself.
|Looking up at the "parachute"|
|The "parachute" Memorial Hall|
After the film, each group was led into an auditorium of sorts. We had seen this building from the outside when we arrived and were told it was built to look like a parachute to symbolize all of the paratroopers who had landed, many of whom died in the fighting. One of the docents gave a short talk on the significance of the building and of the lists of names of the those killed in action during the operation. As one of the survivors of the era, she told of asking her mother, years later, what was the happiest time of her life. She did not share what her expectations were but did tell us she was surprised when her mother answered, “August, 1945.” Despite the privations of post-War living, she said, she was free once again and that was most important to her.
In an irony unknown by most of our fellow passengers, today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The thrusts of Yom Hashoah are “never forget” and “never again.” The National Liberation Museum tells us the same thing. [For more information, visit www.liberationmuseum.com.]
We returned to the ship just before 1:00 and lunch. Afterwards we read/blogged rather than join the walking tour of Arnheim. Shame on us.
Tonight, Tessa gave a sales pitch for future cruises with Vantage. We were not so interested in another cruise right now, but the drinks, such as they were, were free. Tomorrow’s port talk was followed by dinner [cous cous casserole/roast beef] and then more reading and game-playing.
Tomorrow -- Enkuizen