No more war!
On 4 May, it is national remembrance day in the Netherlands. On this day we commemorate the fallen. In Brunssum, too, this tradition is deeply rooted.
Each year on this date, an impressive ceremony unfolds in the public cemetery at the Merkelbeekerstraat. Inhabitants of Brunssum who were killed in action, wherever in the world, are named one by one. ‘The last post’ is played by a musician of one of the many music groups Brunssum boasts. Wreaths are laid by the Municipality of Brunssum, faith communities, committees and foundations operating in Brunssum, assisted by the various scouting associations Brunssum has.
The ceremony then continues at the British War Cemetery, a military cemetery where 328 British soldiers are buried who gave their life during World War II. All graves have been adopted by Brunssum families. In this way, they have become part of the community and each grave is well kept and decorated with flowers.
This ‘looking after each other’ is deeply rooted in Brunssum, which transformed from a small rural village into a bustling town as a result from the mining industry. Miners in the state mine Hendrik had to look out for each other and collaborate intensely when they were deep underground. That sense of solidarity and community often continued aboveground. With impressive consequences…
People going into hiding
During World War II Brunssum was a hot spot for people going into hiding. Because of the many miners from Germany but also faraway places like Yugoslavia, Spain or Morocco, Brunssum had become a melting pot of cultures, languages and local dialects. People having to hide were therefore less conspicuous and children, generally speaking, merged effortlessly into the large families. Based on historical material, it is estimated some 300 to 400 people hid in Brunssum during the war, half of which were children, mainly Jewish. We know for a fact that all the people that went into hiding in Brunssum, survived the war, a fact not many people now living in Brunssum know. Here, you will not encounter the so-called ‘Stolpersteine’, the ‘stumbling stones’ embedded in the pavement in front of the houses where people in hiding were arrested, deported and murdered.
This piece of history of Brunssum is a unique story in itself, since not a single person was sold out to the enemy. Despite the fact that there were a great many NSB members and other collaborators living in Brunssum at that time. It was alright to disagree with your friend or neighbour, but rat on them? No, the sense of community and solidarity in Brunssum was too strong to let that happen.
A warm welcome
After the war, the NATO was established to safeguard democracy and the freedom and safety of its member states. And in 1967, when the search began for a new location for NATO’s European headquarters, since 1953 known as AFCENT, Brunssum presented itself. In the local vernacular it is still called AFCENT, even though it has been officially renamed as Joint Force Command (JFC) since 2004. The many nationalities and different cultures suit Brunssum well, with its history of solidarity both underground and aboveground. With the celebration of 70 years NATO headquarters, Brunssum can be proud to have been host to such a large international community since 1967. And this time, the international community is not focusing on mining or hiding, but on safeguarding freedom and safety.
So, let us celebrate that we can live in freedom. Not only on 5 May, liberation day which is celebrated nationwide including Brunssum of course, but every day. And let us cherish and be proud of our roots: hospitality and looking after each other!