On May 3rd Stichting Ocan organized a ceremony in which it recognized the role of the Dutch Caribbean community in the Second World War and the brave efforts of those who are still serving in the armed forces. The ceremony was held at Rotterdam’s Van Ghentkazerne. In attendance were some 90 persons, representation from the Aruba House and servicemen and women in uniform. The Dutch Minister of Defence and the Ministers Plenipotentiary of Curaçao and Sint Maarten were not able to attend.
Shortly after words of welcome the names of some 168 Dutch Caribbean persons who perished all over the world during the Second World War were memorialized through a still video under the live accompaniment of The Ambassador of Music, Anastacia Larmonie on piano and a minute of silence. Spoken word artist Brooklyn recited a poem written by Walter Palm.
Ocan chairman drs. Glenn Helberg spoke of the brave fight of those from the islands who served during the war effort in the 1940s in several capacities as officers, as members of the Dutch resistance and workers of Shell and Esso oil refineries. Helberg, whose address focused on the topic of libertarianism and exercising freedom, moved those in attendance to ponder the great tragedy of those dark years and the limitation of freedom still existent today in the decolonization process. That the definition of freedom can differ between persons was also emphasized during the chairman’s short address. He pointed out the selflessness of the community that fought for freedom in a time when the freedom being fought for was not its own.
Lieutenant colonel ing. Jos Rozenburg gave a comprehensive presentation based largely on 8 years of extensive research into the role of the islands and their communities, as collected in his book “De Antillen in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”. It included a viewing of wartime propaganda film by the US government and Nazi-regime and many little known facts such as the long classified agreement between The United Kingdom and France to occupy Aruba and Curaçao should the islands come under threat of Nazi occupation. In closing, Rozenburg also highlighted the positive effects of the war by pointing out that the morale of the servicemen led to men of different cultural backgrounds working together. The war served as a catalyst for the emancipation of the Antillean people and the decolonization process in the form of the realization of the autonomous country of the Netherlands Antilles.
Sergeant major Elvis Manuela focused his address on the selfless motivation for country above self, the harsh realities of wartime and the tough times servicemen often experience when returning home from deployment. Manuela is but one of the many Dutch servicemen who has served and continue to serve worldwide. When asked by the evening’s moderator Leila Wijnhoven-Constancia to share with the audience some impressionable experiences from his missions, Manuela recounted his experiences in Croatia and Afghanistan. He explained that brotherhood and teamwork are essential in surviving deployment. He fondly shared how he and his fellow servicemen grouped for a game of dominoes after returning from missions and how the group would celebrate each other’s birthdays. Manuela is also the chairman of the Multicultureel Netwerk Defensie.
The evening’s last speaker was Roy Pieters. Pieters, an old chairman of Ocan, spoke to the audience on the theme of heroism. He instilled upon those in attendance that we all can be the person we want to be remembered as on a daily basis. Being cognizant of this is therefore vital. It is more challenging to be remembered as a hero; that is something that we cannot plan. Depending on the context one can be seen as either a hero or as a saboteur. The story of George Maduro, who was born 100 years ago this year and the story of Boy Ecury are the stories of Dutch Caribbean persons who did not become the important figures that we now honor and the heroes that they are through a plan.
During the intermezzo spoken word artist Brooklyn was joined by mime Picture Marv in delivering a moving performance which embodies the strength of the servicemen.
It is Ocan’s intention to make the memorial a recurring event. It sees much importance in educating the community on our place in history and our importance today in maintaining peace and the freedoms we have been afforded. Those interested in further reading about the fascinating yet forgotten history can read articles contributed by historian & veteran politician Will Johnson and read highlights of Jos Rozenburg’s findings on the Ocan website www.ocan.nl
As it does annually on May 4th, Memorial Day, Ocan laid a wreath together with Manuela in a delegation of representatives from association of the former Dutch colonies during the Dodenherdeking ceremony at National Ereveld Loenen in the east of the Netherlands. Prime Minister Mark Rutte will delivered a speech at Loenen in connection with the 70 year anniversary of the Oorlogsgravenstichting, the foundation that is tasked with the upkeep of all Dutch military cemeteries the world over. Drs. Glenn Helberg formally attended the national memorial ceremonies on Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
Stichting Ocan’s core activities are consultancy, advocacy and recruitment within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Board of Directors consists of Glenn Helberg (chairman, acting treasurer), Chris Frans (deputy chairman, secretary), Rigobert Nivillac (member). Cynthia Ortega-Martijn serves as advisor to the Board. Stichting Ocan knows an extensive network within the Dutch Caribbean community and institutions. www.ocan.nl, +31 70-380.33.01.