Netherlands commemorate liberation of Breda by Polish army

The two-day celebration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Dutch city of Breda from German occupation by the First Polish Armoured Division under General Stanisław Maczek on October 29, 1944, began on Saturday in Oosterhout, southern Netherlands.

“Europe, you owe your freedom to Polish soldiers. Europe, you must never forget this,” said the head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression (UKiOR) Jan Jozef Kasprzyk during the ceremony.

Apart from Mr Kasprzyk, attending the celebration were the division’s surviving veterans, Polish Ambassador in the Netherlands Marcin Czepelak, Oosterhout Mayor Mark Buijs and other officials.

Mr Buijs said that the First Polish Armoured Division played a “huge role” in the liberation of the Oosterhout municipality, adding that the soldiers “gave their lives for our freedom and we commemorate their deeds with great thankfulness. We thank our Polish friends for their sacrifice 75 years ago. We will never forget this.”

The ceremony was also attended by General Maczek's son, Andrzej Maczek, who said that the Polish soldiers “gave their lives for us, for Europe and the whole world. They never came back to Poland just like my father never did.”

The officials laid flowers on the graves of Polish veterans and lit candles. Dutch residents of the city and pupils of schools named after General Maczek also paid tribute to the soldiers.

Major Marian Słowiński – a centenarian attending veteran – recounted a story of his fortunate survival. Being a tank driver, while rolling into Breda on the day of the battle, he heard a thundering explosion and was quick to realise that his vehicle’s right caterpillar track had been shot by a German tank. “If it had hit the turret, I would be dead by now, instead we veered into a ditch.”

Major Słowiński also recalled the great friendliness and helpfulness of Breda’s citizens.

The celebrations will continue on Sunday with a holy mass in a Breda church and move to the Polish Honorary Military Cemetery in the town of Ginneken. The event will be crowned by a ceremony held at the Netherland’s largest Polish Honorary Military Cemetery in Ettensebaan where the graves of General Maczek and 160 of his subordinates are located. Moreover, medal presentations are to take place.

The First Polish Armoured Division under the command of General Stanislaw Maczek took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy and played a pivotal role in the battle of Falaise, circling the German Seventh (Wehrmacht) Army and the Fifth Panzer Army. Later, its victorious battle route led through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and ended with the capture of the German town of Wilhelmshaven on May 5, 1945. The division was honoured with the highest distinction of the Netherlands, namely the Military William Order.