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In the Netherlands, exhume the Nazi bunkers

Ⓒ AFP – EMMANUEL DUNAND – | Photo taken on June 18, 2017 from visitors in the grounds of a bunker built by the Nazis in the Netherlands

The sand had finally covered the bunkers erected by order of Hitler a few steps from the beaches of The Hague. Just like the painful memories they evoke. But for some years now, these remnants of reinforced concrete are exhumed for tourists, and also in the name of the national memory.

The underground network of casemates and tunnels at the foot of the dunes forms part of the Atlantic Wall, erected by the Germans during the Second World War to defend 5,000 km of coastline from northern Norway south of France, against an offensive of the allies.

The Hague region was perceived as particularly vulnerable because of its vast expanses of sand. In 1942 Hitler ordered it to be built in the middle of the dunes and woods of more than 870 blockhouses, of which only a little more than half, 470, have now been found.

Some of them serve as a refuge for bats during the winter, while others are now open to the public.

In 2008, volunteers from the Atlantic Wall Museum, in the coastal suburb of Scheveningen, undertook the unique and unprecedented restoration of a ten-piece bunker in the nearby woods to Of the German soldiers.

A vintage telephone, a German sign to warn the troops that “the enemy is listening,” the damp freshness of the place and the ambient confinement make a leap in the time of almost 75 years.

Blockhouses “are still being discovered,” says Guido Blaauw, a businessman passionate about the Second World War.

He bought one from the government in Clingendael, near the city center, where the Austrian Nazi chief Arthur Seyss-Inquart, later executed for war crimes, once had his own underground refuge.

– Constructed by forced laborers –

Ⓒ AFP – EMMANUEL DUNAND – | Photo taken on June 18, 2017 from visitors in a bunker built by the Nazis in the Netherlands

In the immediate aftermath of the war, these cumbersome vestiges had been condemned by the Dutch after having been plundered for their woods and cables, precious in these times of scarcity.

And for decades, they have been abandoned, some becoming playgrounds for local children. Others were converted into high-security command posts of the Dutch government during the Cold War.

But for many, they remain a dark reminder of the painful German occupation of the Netherlands, according to Deirdre Schoemaker, spokesman for the European Foundation for the Heritage of the Atlantic Wall.

Between 1940 and 1945, more than 100,000 Haguenese were forcibly evicted by the Germans and thousands of homes, seven schools, three churches and two hospitals were razed to erect these fortifications.

In addition, the bunkers were built by Dutch by force, with the collaboration of local companies hoping to benefit from the war.

So it did not surprise anyone when, at the liberation of the town in May 1945, the Haguenais decided to bury them under sand and rubble to bury the memory of a “painful history”, of which “people do not Did not speak, “says Deirdre Schoemaker.

However, over the past decade, the image of bunkers has gradually changed: “People are becoming more open and more comfortable talking about it, even with German tourists,” says the Foundation’s spokesperson European.

– A ‘Day of the bunkers’ –

In 2014, several associations working to open these vestiges to the public created the “Day of the bunkers”, which is more and more successful. Last June, it attracted more than 10,000 visitors who visited “at least three or four” of them along the Dutch coast and, for the first time this year, from the Belgian coast, Deirdre Schoemaker continues.

On the occasion of this annual event, bunkers closed the rest of the year are open to the public for a day.

A way for those who have lived the war to confront this dramatic past and to “make memories to the surface”, according to Schoemaker.

“The elderly, witnesses of the war, who had difficulty in facing the bunkers, are more interested today,” said Guido Blaauw, who plans to turn his into a museum and conference room.

But many are still reluctant to plunge back into this period which “determined the course of their whole life”, also notes the owner of the vestige of Clingendael.

On the other hand, in the eyes of the tourist Sebastian Frank, a 31-year-old German nurse, the bunkers symbolize a part of the story that must be looked straight in the eye, “so that it does not happen again”.

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