Like Poland, the Netherlands suffered a lot during the World War II. Polish military units took part in the liberation of this country and well engraved in the memory of its inhabitants.
During the German invasion of Holland, on May 14, 1940, the German air force heavily bombed the city of Rotterdam. With the exception of the church of st Laurents, no building was left in the city center.
Stukas flew over the city of Rotterdam
After that bombardment the Dutch navy and air force went to the United Kingdom and the Dutch armies “in Europe” surrendered (except the troops in the province of Zeeland which moved trough Belgium and France to the United Kingdom and formed there the “Princes Irene Brigade”). This brigade, after their landing on the shores of France moved as quickly as they could and were the first allied forces that reached the Dutch border of “their” province of Zeeland (waiting there for a short time giving their queen Wilhelmina the time to pass that border as the first “free” Dutchmen).
The price Zeeland had to pay for not surrendering was very high. The Waffen SS bombed the provincial capital Middelburg. SS means (dark ironically) Schutz Staffel (froce to protection). Detached to Holland the Polish 1st Armoured Division under command of General Stanislaw Maczek (16000 soldiers, about 400 tanks) didn’t see the bombed city of Rotterdam but as they entered the province of Zeeland, they could have seen this ruined city later not knowing, at that moment, what their own home cities were looking like. The main problem to solve by the Polish unit was that the Germans isolated the highly populated Holland from the rest of the Netherlands, taking all food and the sources of energy they could put a hand on from the other provinces to supply the German troops. So, alas in vain, the Polish soldiers tried to liberate Holland before the winter started. That winter (in Holland called “the winter of hunger”) people were starving to dead in the cities of Holland. Most Dutchmen still do not want to remember or talk about that period in which children died in their arms. The Dutch were eating cats, dogs (and hate remembering it) and tulip bulbs.
Photo above: General Stanislaw Maczek.
The first place the Polish troops from 1st Armoured Division entered in the Netherlands was the village “Baarle-Nassau”, from where they had to make themselves a way to “Moerdijk”, south of the rivers that form the southern borders of the Provinces called Northern- and Southern Holland. So their slogan was “from Baarle-Nassau to Moerdijk”. Moerdijk was liberated on November 9, 1944, after a week of heavy fights. On October 29 the “black devils” (as they were called by the Germans) liberated Breda. It was done with a successful outflanking maneuver and without any civilian casualties!
Museum of General Stanislaw Maczek in Breda
When in 1830 Belgium splitted away from the Netherlands the new border divided also the village of Baarle into Baarle Hertog (Belgium) and Baarle Nassau (Netherlands). That borderline was not defined. So for every squire meter it had to be ruled by the country it belonged to. The village has everything doubled: two counsels, two police corpses, two fire brigades, etc. Everything a Belgium and a Dutch one. But villagers learned to work together and live in peace and in a good neighborhood. Based on the principle that “borders aren’t that important” the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) union was formed; based on that Benelux idea the EGKS (Europese Gemeenschap voor Kolen en Staal = Europian Unity for Coal and Steel) was created later, next upon that principle was the EEG (Europese Economische Gemeenschap = Europian Economical Unity) that evolved into the EU (Europese Unie = Europian Union).
“Parade” for the Polish troops organized by the citizens of liberated Breda
After the war many Polish soldiers didn’t return to then communist Poland, where communists repressed them for their fight in western allied’ forces (it was so), so many stayed forgotten in England, and some in Holland. Stanislaw Maczek had to work as a servant in a pub in Scotland. After he died (102 years old!) he was, according to his wish, buried in in de field of honor in Breda – another city liberated by the 1st Armored Division.
Photo: Mayor of Breda Mr. Van Slobbe gives a speech in honor of the 1st Armoured Division
This unit was given the highest order of the Netherlands – the “Military Wilhelm’s Order”. The same order was given in 2006 to the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade (commander general Stanislaw Sosabowski), which also participated in the liberation of the Netherlands Holland, in September 1944 involved in an unfortunately failed Operation Market Garden.
Photo below: Gen. Stanisław Sosabowski and his 1st Independent Parachute Brigade in Operation Market Garden.
During World War II the city was, like all other Dutch cities, under German occupation. Each year during Liberation Day festivities, Breda is visited by a large Polish contingent and the city of Breda reserves a special portion of the festivities for the fallen Polish soldiers.
66th anniversary of the liberation of Breda
A museum and a monument honoring General Stanislaw Maczek and the Polish 1st Armoured Division stands at the city center.
General Maczek and soldiers of his division are buried in a nearby Polish military cemetery (actually there are 3 Polish cemetaries, general Maczek is buried in the one at the Ettensebaan street).
Breda was the site of one of the first panopticon prison establishments. This prison housed the only German war criminals ever to be imprisoned in the Netherlands for their war crimes during the Second World War. They were known as the “Breda Four” (and later “three”). They were: Willy Paul Franz Lages, who was released in 1966 due to serious illness, Joseph Johann Kotälla, who died in prison in 1979, Ferdinand Hugo and Franz Fischer who both were released in 1989.
After the liberation the Dutch resistance has sworn: “no allied soldier (brother in arms) shall rest in enemy soil if we can help avoiding that. All are welcome to rest in the Dutch soil”. After the war a special unit of the army, together with a civil society, takes care of it today. They brought the Netherlands an impressive number of them. The biggest field of honour is the American one at Margraten. They were brought there from many places in Europe.
Footage associated with the Polish freedom fighters of the Netherlands:
History of the 1st Armoured Division.
Montage of the 1st Armoured Division.
Website of the 1st Armoured Division in Holland
History of the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade
Battle of Arnhem