As is customary on May 4, Memorial Day, the victims of World War II were remembered at the war monument in The Bottom. On the monument are the names of 130 persons of the Netherlands Antilles, including 12 Sabans, who perished during the 1940-1945 war.
Formerly, there were 129 names on the war monument, but on December 19, 2021, the name of a 130th person, Thelma Esther Polak was added. She was a Jewish nurse who was born on Saba in 1920 as the daughter of a Surinam Jewish doctor who worked on Saba. She perished at concentration camp Sobibor in 1943. The original, larger plaque contains the names of 11 Saba seafarers died on sunken oil tankers during WWII.
Island Governor Jonathan Johnson, Island Secretary Tim Muller, several Members of the Island Council, a group of more than 20 students of the Sacred Heart School (SHS) and the Saba Comprehensive School (SCS), civil servants and other members of the community were present at the solemn ceremony. The SHS had students of grade 6 and staff present, while the SCS had delegated at least one student of each grade, students of the Saba history program and staff.
Island Governor Johnson, Island Council Members Hemmie van Xanten and Carl Buncamper, and four students laid wreaths at the monument following the one-minute silence at 2:00pm, the exact same moment of the Memorial Day observance in the Netherlands and in other parts of the Dutch Kingdom.
“We are very lucky to live in freedom on Saba. We should cherish and enjoy this this freedom, and remember what it means, especially now with the war in Ukraine,” stated Johnson in a short address at the start of the ceremony. He also mentioned that since December last year, the name of Thelma Polak was added to the monument on a separate small plaque. “We remember her as well as she too was born on Saba,” said Johnson. He noted that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony did not take place last year.
The victims of WWII were commemorated at the war monuments throughout the Dutch Caribbean. The 129 victims whose names are engraved on the identical plaques, which were installed in 1957 on all six islands, include merchant navy personnel, persecuted people, civil and resistance victims, and military. The majority of the Antillean victims were seafarers who worked on oil tankers. The oil refineries in Aruba and Curaçao supplied fuel for the allied forces.
A large group of students was present at Wednesday’s commemoration. “It is important to have our students appreciate freedom, to observe the importance of living in a safe environment and to remember that freedom is not a given,” said SCS Principal Anton Hermans.
On Liberation Day, May 5, the SCS will hold a freedom breakfast at eight locations on Saba from 8:00 to 10:00am: the Flight Deck, Bizzy B in the Windwardside, Island Flavor, Bottom Bean, Queen’s Garden, Ecolodge, the Home and the SCS. Students, former students and many others will assist with this breakfast which serves to observe and celebrate freedom. “It is a true community effort,” said Hermans. Besides Saba, freedom breakfasts and meals will be held on Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire and St. Maarten.