If your Memorial Day was similar to ours, you spent the day with family and friends. Everyone brought delicious things to eat, and you enjoyed some fresh air in your backyard or a park. Everyone stuffed themselves, enjoyed the sunshine, and caught up on the family happenings.
The first Memorial Day in the Netherlands in 1945 was quite different. For years, the country had been occupied by the Nazis, and thousands of Dutch citizens had been imprisoned and worked to death in concentration camps. In late 1944, the Allied forces began to liberate them. The war was not over yet, the fighting was fierce, and thousands of Allied soldiers were killed. There were so many bodies that they needed to have a place to bury their dead.
The little town of Margraten responded to the need. They gave housing to the exhausted surviving soldiers, and made a cemetery just outside the town for those who had perished. Over 17,000 American soldiers were buried there (although many were later reburied in the US). The villagers helped bury the fallen soldiers. And for the next 70 years, the people of the village cared for the graves. Families in Margraten “adopted” soldiers and brought flowers and wreaths to their gravesides on birthdays and holidays. The next generation continued the tradition, and to this day, the townspeople still bring bouquets to honor the ones who liberated them.
You can read more about Memorial Day 1945 in this article by the Washington Post:
Including in the article is this link to about 8 minutes of silent video footage taken on May 30, 1945: