The Netherlands are our friendly and apparently familiar neighbouring country: North Sea beaches, canals, bicycles, a somewhat more colourful and libertine lifestyle. When Action Reconciliation Service for Peace volunteers are invited to choose a host country during their initial seminar, they repeatedly say: “The Netherlands – I might as well stay at home.”
But the 18 ARSP volunteers in the Netherlands are quick to find out that there are in fact differences. The volunteers perform educational work on political and historical issues in museums such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and at memorial sites such as Kamp Vught – the site of one of the five German concentration camps set up during German occupation. They also work on social issues, participating in projects that see them engaging with undocumented refugees, homeless people and drug addicts. The ARSP branch office in Amsterdam provides the volunteers with practical support.
Memories of German occupation persist among Dutch residents to this day. The Dutch remember the complete destruction of Rotterdam during the air raid on 14 May 1940, the five years of terror by which all forms of resistance were combated by the Nazis, the ghettoisation and deportation of the Jewish population and the deportation of half a million Dutch citizens to the German Reich, where the deportees were made to perform forced labour. The winter of 1944–45, which saw thousands of people starve, many of them children, is also unforgotten. Every year on 4 May, the country remembers the victims of fascism and war. On 5 May, Dutch society celebrates the end of the German occupation.
ARSP began its work in the Netherlands in 1959: volunteers helped construct an international ecumenical social academy, the Visser't Hooft Centre, in Rotterdam. When ARSP celebrated the 50th anniversary of its work in the Netherlands in 2009, it became clear that from the 1960s onward, ARSP volunteers increasingly began working on social issues, and later in the field of political and historical education.
ARSP volunteers learn that to this day Dutch-German relations are not conflict-free. Issues related to the politics of remembrance lead to recurrent disputes – as in 1995, when the idea of combined Dutch-German commemorative events was first publicly discussed, or during the past few years, which saw a lively and self-critical debate on Dutch collaborators erupt in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands are part of ARSP’s international programme for volunteers from Germany.