Address by the Director of the vfonds Mr. Ton Heerts
at the opening of the Information Centre: The Poles of Driel
Driel, 18 September 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start off with extending a very warm welcome to:
- All present Polish veterans: thank you for being here with us!
- The Polish Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Borkowski
- The Mayor of Overbetuwe, Mr van Asseldonk,
- Representatives from the Stichting Driel-Polen and all other attendees.
As Director of the vfonds (national fund for peace, freedom and veteran care), I feel incredibly honoured but certainly also humbled, to be able to briefly address you here at this location. Honoured because today is a very poignant moment in time: we are going to be opening the “The Poles of Driel” information centre, which will serve to recognise and acknowledge the important role the Poles have played in the liberation of the Netherlands and will provide us with plenty of useful and important information. This is fantastic and well deserved!
Humbled because I am certainly also aware of the fact that the role we play here as vfonds in light of everything that took place here in Driel, Overbetuwe, The Battle of Arnhem and Gelderland during the Second World War, is a very modest role indeed. We, as the vfonds, did not organise the 70 years of freedom the Netherlands and Western Europe have since enjoyed, which is something the Polish veterans from the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade present here today did play an essential role in.
However, the vfonds does demand attention for everything that happened during WWII and the importance of freedom via the initiatives we subsidise: for example via the Liberation Route, Masterpeace and the Liberation Festivals on 5th May.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I need to confess something to you: I did have a moment of hesitation when I first saw the application from the Stichting Driel-Polen for a contribution towards the information centre: the vfonds already does a great deal in Gelderland, including surrounding the Battle of Arnhem, the Liberation Route and the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden: for example via the “Bridge to the liberation concert” next Friday around the John Frost bridge, a WACO Glider in Groesbeek, events in Nijmegen and Ede etc and certainly not forgetting the WWII Freedom Museum being constructed in Nijmegen. My first thought was: do we really need a special information centre in Driel about the role the Poles played? Isn’t it all being too fragmented and too much?
My first primary reaction was no, but when I started taking a more in-depth look at the WWII history with the help of an enthusiastic committee, as well as the role played by the Poles, then I had to come to the inevitable conclusion that I didn’t know enough about the WWII history and I was quickly convinced that, in addition to the recognition and appreciation for the Americans, Canadians and English, the Poles certainly also deserved a great deal of appreciation and recognition for all their efforts to liberate us and who have therefore been responsible for our freedom for more than 70 years!
A special mention needs to go out to, to name but a few:
- The 1st Polish Armoured Division, under the command of General Stanislaw Maczek, especially around Breda,
- And the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, under the command of Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski, here in Driel in the heart of the Battle of Arnhem.
A role which, as I just recalled, also remained underexposed after the Second World War. In fact, the appreciation and recognition for all the efforts by the Poles proved to be a difficult and uphill struggle.
Partly as a result of the unwavering involvement of the Driel inhabitants, with people like Cora Baltussen, the Parachute Brigade and General Sosabowski were eventually completely rehabilitated with the Military Order of William and Bronze Lion, but this didn’t happen until 2006.
Once I became aware of the lesser known history of the Poles’ role in WWII in the Netherlands, there was certainly no longer any doubt in my mind. In fact, it strengthens my belief that the Polish WWII story in the Netherlands and beyond: as I don’t think the Poles enjoyed real freedom until the Berlin wall came down on 9th November 1989 (almost 25 years ago) is too important not to tell!
Not just here in Driel next to the Liberation Route’s Luisterkei with an information centre in the Church, which doesn’t just provide information in relation to what happened here during the Second World War, but which also gives substance to the bond between Driel and the 1st Polish Independent Parachutists Brigade with an annual commemoration which is very special this year: the day after tomorrow with our King Willem Alexander, the Polish President and the Minister of Defence on behalf of the Dutch government, but also at other locations throughout the Netherlands. For example the Maczek museum in Breda. Probably we can say more about the plans for the Maczek museum by the end of this year.
Veterans, ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion,
I would again like to express my great appreciation for all volunteers from the Stichting Driel-Polen who have made such amazing efforts in the realisation of the Information Centre: The Poles of Driel.
Let’s make sure we continue to transfer the value of freedom, for example via this information centre, to new generations, as freedom is something we can never take for granted!
And finally: Ambassador Borkowski, I would like to thank all the Poles, via you and the veterans, for all their efforts to give us our freedom!
Lest we forget!