European Liberty and the Kinderdijk Windmills

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The 19 remaining "astonishingly well-preserved" windmills of Kinderdijk suck water from the land and have done so for years, because if they are not used, they lose their capability.

Photography by the authors

What a contrast: a museum that’s a testament to how a country ultimately shook off the yolk of a power-grabbing neighbor — and a look at the more distant past to see how that same country fought an even stronger enemy, Mother Nature and her seas.

The National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek near Nijmegen dramatically spotlights the horror of World War II that ended in Europe on May 8, 1945. There were 72 million deaths in the conflict, which again shows the terrible truth of the saying “War is what happens when politicians run out of ideas.” Only recently have Americans come to realize in the war against terrorism that war strikes civilians, too. In World War II, for example, 200,000 Dutch civilians died.

The Uniworld coach unloads us under a poster that shows the real terrorists of the Second World War, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

“Stalin,” a guide reminds us, “murdered 44 million people during this era.”

It is nevertheless, pleasing to see the Dutch remember the other, better side of the story and appreciate what the Allies did for them. They are so grateful the Allied air forces were able to drop food supplies to them in the last few months of the war. The Dutch were starving, literally dying, because they had no food.

A hologram of FDR changes into the face of Harry Truman before us. But we have to ask who the young Dutchman is in the painting we notice. He is a 22-year-old student, Jan van Hoof, a member of the Nijmegen resistance who saw the Germans were trying to blow up the bridges to delay Allied efforts to cross the Waal River into Germany. He cut the wires to the German explosives then led a British armored car through town. He died when the Germans fired on the vehicle.

The museum exhibits the names of Jewish people murdered by the Nazis. It’s all horrifying especially the photographs that show the face of innocent children.

Other rooms show how the Dutch hid their radio stations that communicated with the free world. Radio gave the Resistance instructions on how it could further the Allied war effort. Chairs also surround the floor map of the complicated and unsuccessful battle Operation Market Garden that 35,000 American, British, Canadian and Polish airborne forces mounted in the futile hope of bringing the war in Europe to an earlier end. The airborne troops took off from 21 airfields in England, airplanes leaving 30 seconds apart in a column that was 93 miles long in the air!

Only 300 houses were left standing after the bombardment of February 1944, which, our guide tells us, accounts for much of the ugly new architecture we see over the Netherlands.

We go to a somber field outside town that is the Canadian cemetery. We enlarged one of the 2,600 tombstones to make its words more legible. It marks the grave of E. P. Thompson, who won the highest decoration for junior officers below the Victoria Cross, the DSO, the Distinguished Service Order. Reading his grave markers was a salutary experience: he was a Lieutenant Colonel at the age of 21!

This day in the Netherlands reminds us of the convenience of river boating. We had, on a previous occasion, wanted to see the small museum of the Battle for Arnhem Bridge under the John Frost Bridge that had been defended so courageously by the Parachute Regiment officer of that name.

Our previous visit had been a laborious trek by train from Amsterdam and we had arrived to find after we had visited the main Arnhem museum that the little bridge building was closed. This time we merely wandered over from our Uniworld river boat that was tied down to the city pier. The two flag poles mark the museum.

The 19 remaining “astonishingly well-preserved” windmills of Kinderdijk showed up next on another bleak, grey and, of course, windy day. This line of powerful mills was placed here to suck water from the land using Archimedes screws and then dump the water into canals. It has worked well for many years and the windmills seem to thrive on the work because, a guide tells us, if they are not used they lose their capability.

We climb up into one windmill wondering about the compact comfort the families that lived in them enjoyed. They even have TV. But if you are fighting water all your life it must be a great to feel at times that you are winning the battle.

We have our own family comforts after dinner on the River Queen, the charming musical entertainment Uniworld puts on for us in the evening. It sure beats TV.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.