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Word of the day: Engelandvaarder (England-sailor)

Further to yesterday’s posting about VAREN (to sail) I would like to zoom in on the World War II epic hero of Dutch culture Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (1917-2007). He was a reckless daredevil, spy and pilot, a hero who flung all caution to the winds (die alle veiligheid liet VAREN).


Why was he a hero? Because of his heroic deeds. Yes, but there were so many others who deserve this title. He became the hero, because he himself was a good media man.

In 1969 within the span of exactly one year he wrote his memoir about his adventures during World War II and overnight it became a bestseller. He called it ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ (Soldier of Orange). By 1994 it had sold over one million copies.

In 1977 the film ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ (Soldier of Orange) had its premiere in Amsterdam. It was directed by ‘Hagenaar’ Paul Verhoeven (of later ‘RoboCop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Basic Instinct’ fame). The film made an international star of Rutger Hauer and was elected number two in the list of best Dutch films (number one was ‘Turkish Delight’ also directed by Paul Verhoeven). I recently saw the film again and I have to say that the film has not aged one bit. It is still as exciting, funny and moving as it was almost forty years ago.

In October 2010 the very successful musical of the same title had its opening night. It was based on both film and book and staged in a theatre that was purpose-built for the production on the former airbase Valkenburg near Katwijk. It has been running now for almost three consecutive years and over one million visitors have seen it.

I have not yet seen it, but so many of my friends have recommended it that I intend to go before it closes in December 2013. Apparently the producers are thinking of moving the production to an airbase near London.

As I suggested in earlier postings, ‘Soldaat of Oranje’ is the one and only heroic epic in the Netherlands that earned global fame. Even though there are many true World War II heroes, Hazelhoff Roelfzema is the only one who has a famous name

Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema was an ‘Engelandvaarder’ (England-farer/sailor) but he was not the only one. Around 200 mainly young people managed to VAREN (sail) across the North Sea to offer their services to the exiled Queen Wilhelmina in England and fight against the nazi’s.

There were many Engelandvaarders who did not succeed in reaching the promised land. Some of them died. The Dutch poet Hendrik Marsman (1899 -1940) was one of those unsuccessful Engelandvaarders. Marsman is well known for that wonderful poem ‘Herinnering aan Holland’ (Memory of Holland) which was chosen by the Hollanders as the Dutch Poem of the Century in 2000: ‘Denkend aan Holland zie ik brede rivieren traag door oneindig laagland gaan…’ (Thinking about Holland, I see broad rivers slowly moving through endless lowlands…).

In his fortieth year Marsman tried to make the crossing from France to England in a small freighter. On 21 June 1940 the ship was struck by a torpedo and the poet drowned in the English Channel. Some fourteen years earlier the poet had written a poem about a crossing by ship and an encounter with death. The description of this death is so eerily accurate that some say that Marsman must have foreseen his own death.

De overtocht

De eenzame zwarte boot
vaart in het holst van de nacht
door een duisternis, woest en groot.
de dood, de dood tegemoet.

ik lig diep in het kreunende ruim,
koud en beangst en alleen
en ik ween om het heldere land,
dat achter de einder verdween
en ik ween om het duistere land,
dat flauw aan de einder verscheen.

die door liefde getroffen is
en door het bloed overmand
die ervoer nog het donkerste niet,
diens leven verging niet voorgoed;
want de uiterste nederlaag
lijdt het hart in de strijd met de dood.

o! de tocht naar het eeuwige land
door een duisternis somber en groot
in de nooit aflatende angst
dat de dood het einde niet is.

The crossing

The lonely black boat
sails in the dead of night
through a darkness, wild and vast,
to meet death, yes death.

I’m lying deep in the groaning hold,
cold and oppressed and alone
and I mourn for the bright land
that vanished behind the horizon
and I mourn for the dark land
that faintly appeared on the horizon.

who was struck by love
and overpowered by blood
who has not yet experienced the darkest
whose life did not perish for good;
for the ultimate defeat
that the heart will suffer in the fight with death.

o! the journey to the eternal land
through a darkness somber and vast
in the never ceasing fear
that death is not the end.

Translation: © Ruud Hisgen 2013

Tomorrow I’ll continue my story about Hazelhoff Roelfzema and two other successful Engelandvaarders.