Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the opening of the Freedom Museum, 5 July 2023, Groesbeek
Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the opening of the Freedom Museum, 5 July 2023, Groesbeek.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In 1944 Ria Rosendaal and Maria Diedenhofen were both seven years old.
Two perfectly ordinary girls. One was from Nijmegen, and the other from the town of Hau, just across the border in Germany. They went to school, played with their brothers and sisters, and generally enjoyed life as children do.
Until the bombing of their towns shattered their illusions of safety.
‘The ground began to rumble, the walls shook and the windows rattled,’ said Maria. ‘At that moment, you’re abandoned to your fate, and you know it.’ Her experiences were similar to Ria’s, just 25 kilometres away.
As she described it, ‘The butcher’s shop was full of injured people and the doors had been ripped off their hinges. All you heard was moaning. There was dust everywhere, and it was as black as night.’
Today, almost 80 years later, Ria and Maria have told us a little about their pasts. To remind us of what can happen if we’re not careful. To warn us.
And to encourage us to stand up for peace, freedom and security when they are in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, we understand the necessity of that all too well. The experiences of Ria and Maria are those of all children confronted with war and violence. That’s easy to forget in our part of the world. Where our freedom feels like a given.
But every day, the terrible war in Ukraine reminds us of the truth. Freedom is not a given. It requires constant maintenance. The Freedom Museum understands that. Which is why it explores not only what happened between 1939 and 1945, but also how it could happen. How a creeping sense of dissatisfaction could mutate into acts of unimaginable cruelty. How ordinary people suddenly found themselves in a world they didn’t recognise.
How they often faced impossible choices.
‘There is never just one story.’ That’s the overarching theme of the Freedom Museum. And everywhere we look, we see just how true that is. Let me be clear: there is no doubt about who the victims were. Nor about who was responsible for their suffering.
Nevertheless, back then your position in society largely determined your experience of the war. Whether you were a man or a woman. A civilian or a soldier. Whether you were Jewish or from another background. These were all factors that determined how you answered the question: what can I do?
It’s a question that is as timely today as it was 80 years ago. A question we must all ask ourselves when things get tough. When push comes to shove.
When our peace, freedom and security are at stake. And no: the answer isn’t always easy. It wasn’t easy back then, as we can read here in the testimonies of soldiers and civilians. And it isn’t easy now.
Today, Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are fighting for the peace, freedom and security of their country. And just like the families that Ria and Maria came from, they are perfectly ordinary people whose lives have suddenly been turned upside down.
But what this museum shows above all is that it’s usually ordinary people who do the most extraordinary things. Who make a difference. Who determine the course of our history and our future. That’s why, in this museum, the story doesn’t end in 1945 but continues into the here and now.
Taking us along the path the world has travelled since then. Maria summed it up neatly just now. ‘European cooperation was built from the rubble of the Second World War,’ she said. And she’s right. In the post-war years, we Europeans learned that cooperating is not the same as giving up your identity.
That one thing does not have to rule out the other. And that there is much more which unites us than divides us. The best illustration of this is the fact we are here today together, to open this museum.
The Netherlands and Germany have certainly come a long way. All the way to the point we’re at now: two countries united in friendship. Partners that work together in all kinds of areas. The economy, the cultural sector, the armed forces.
Once again, we face difficult choices. Once again, everything we stand for is under pressure. And once again, we need to ask ourselves: what can I do?
We can find the answer here in this museum.