Address by the Burgomaster of the municipality Overbetuwe, Mr. Drs. A.S.F. van Asseldonk,
at the Commemoration of the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade

to Operation Market Garden, 73 years ago
Driel, 16 September 2017

Dear veterans,
your excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen
On behalf of the city of Overbetuwe, a very warm welcome to you all.
It is both an honour and a privilege to have you here for this commemoration in Driel, Overbetuwe.

“History is written by the victors” is a quote attributed to the great British Statesman Winston Churchill. He meant that they are the ones in charge, they control the media and will eventually decide which stories about our history will be told.

Deviating and critical stories which put this truth in a different light disappear into the background, or are forgotten about altogether. Fiction and reality become intermingled and what are you, as citizens, then supposed to believe? Usually whatever the dominant forces bring to the forefront as the truth, will actually be perceived, and continue to be told, as the truth. It will subsequently end up in history books and be passed onto new generations.

This subject was often referred to as propaganda, intended to influence public opinion, when it was talked about during the Second World War. Nowadays, in a different form, a different context and in a different time, you could refer to this as yellow journalism and fake news. We hear about this in the media and in particular via social media, on almost a daily basis.

Unfortunately, these types of stories now also increasingly come from authorities, from which you wouldn’t expect to hear this type of language or this method of communication. But of course, if it’s posted on Twitter or Facebook, many users will see it as the gospel truth. We have already seen some extraordinary examples of this.

One thing which often strikes me and which I find increasingly worrying, is the fact that the sender often doesn’t think of the short or longer term consequences of this type of reporting, this own interpretation of information or a situation, or perhaps even this conscious misrepresentation of the facts.

The Poles of Driel also personally experienced the consequences of this. The 1st Polish Independent Parachutist Brigade with their Commander Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski were wrongly blamed for the failure of the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. The British Supreme Command of that time created the image of the Polish soldiers having fought badly. They supposedly didn’t go far enough to help the 1st British Airborne Division in Oosterbeek.

This image, which had been widely spread in the top of the allied forces, resulted in the sacrifices which the Poles made here being ignored, but which we are remembering here in Driel today. Major General Sosabowski was dearly loved by his soldiers, most of whom he knew personally.

At the same time he wasn’t popular with his superiors, because of his critical attitude towards the success of operation Market Garden and as a result of his not always diplomatic performance towards his superiors. He was released from his position in December 1944, as apparently he was too difficult to work with. Sosabowski left the army three years after this, after which he worked as a factory worker in the UK until shortly before his death on 25th September 1967, now almost 50 years ago.

A disillusioned and defeated man. Someone who had been destroyed by incorrect allegations, misrepresentations, by the falsification of history? So in other words, by fake news? Despite the imaging which had been created about the brigade, the Driel population had been very fond of the Polish soldiers right from day one. Driel had been stubbornly and consistently campaigning for the 1st Polish Independent Parachutists Brigade’s and the General’s rehabilitation.

The Polish soldiers have always been very welcome guests during this commemoration service every year, right up until today. General Sosabowski wrote the following about this in his memoirs: “I wouldn’t have been surprised if the local population had become less interested in us and our commemorative ceremonies after all these years. But we are still being welcomed with the exact same enthusiasm. The memories never weakened and their gratitude remained as immense as ever.” End of quote.

This gratitude has indeed remained after all this time, as has the Driel population’s determination to realise the rehabilitation. This didn’t happen until the end of 2005. This wrong imagery, which was initially created back in 1944, either consciously or subconsciously, remained for a shameful 61 years.

Ladies and gentlemen,
“History is written by the victors” and it’s that knowledge which obliges us not to be satisfied with untruths or half-truths. Or indeed fake news.

The Driel population certainly didn’t put up with it either. They continued searching for the truth and subsequently brought this to the attention of those in charge. The truth will ultimately prevail.
They taught us a valuable lesson, which is still current today: continue to ask questions and come up with your own assessment. Don’t be satisfied with propaganda or fake news. Continue to think for yourself and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. That’s how it was back then and that’s exactly how it still is today!