By Nicole Small
We take a look at how the city renowned for peace and justice has dealt with its own firsthand experience with war, and how the traces and memorials left behind, serve to reinforce the city's message for peace. As The Hague gears up to celebrate the UN International Day of Peace in September, for many this year's celebrations will have an extra dimension, with 2015 also marking the 70th year since the end of World War Two (WWII). WWII unleashed the terrors of war firsthand onto the Dutch landscape and its people with invasion and occupation. When the devastating air raids on Rotterdam were used as a threat against other cities, Dutch national defence conceded surrender and The Hague became command central for the occupation of The Netherlands. The city's landscape was forever changed by Hitler's decision to build a continental line of defence against Allied attacks with the construction of the Atlantikwall, a series of defences that stretched from Norway to Spain. Bunkers and barricades were set up along the Dutch coastline, and the local area was further fortified into a militarised zone to prevent ground attack by Allied forces. An anti-tank ditch was dug using the basin of the Haagse Beek (the existing creek stretching from Kijkduin to the Gemeentemuseum) as a basis for the route. This was followed by a large wall and barricades, looping around the Malieveld to Clingendael before finally connecting back up with the coastal defences, thereby encircling half the city and effectively splitting it in two. Over 135,000 people were forcibly displaced from Scheveningen and The Hague and over 3,000 buildings were demolished and whole streets disappeared. Further damage and casualties occurred when German rockets intended for Britain, crashed down on Haagse neighbourhoods, and when British forces accidentally bombed residential Bezuidenhout.
Today much of the obvious remnants of war have been erased. The large concrete wall that had divided streets such as Eisenhowerlaan was demolished immediately after the war to make way for new town plans, and more recently, the Haagse Beek has had its ecological balance restored with native vegetation and a more natural flow, its serene presence in stark contrast with its dark 20th century chapter. Bunkers and other coastline fortifications were generally either demolished or covered after the war, with just a few remaining visible, that now serve as one of the city's tangible reminders of its most challenging period in history. While few original traces of war remain, the city is adorned with post-war memorials, such as the Hague War Memorial opposite the Peace Palace, the Juliana van Stolberg Monument (which now doubles as a memorial to the Bezuidenhiout bombing), Madurodam (named for George Maduro and partly funded by his parents after his death in Dachau), the Jewish Children's Memorial in Rabbijn Maarseplein (with names of the children deported and executed), and the Stijkelgroep Monument at Westduin Cemetery, the plaque on the Scheveningen Prison, and the memorial at Waalsdorpervlakte outside The Hague (which all honour the memory of those who lost their lives working in resistance to occupation). You can learn more about the impact of war on The Hague at the Haagse Historiche Museum, which has a permanent exhibition room on World War Two, and Museon, which has a special exhibition about the Atlantikwall until 1 November, where you can also get a remembrance route walking map, taking you past key points of interest and the city's new on-street information panels. Visit also www.atlantikwalldenhaag.nl for a downloadable walking map and to see incredible contrasts of Hague landmarks now and then.