In the autumn of 1944, Allied armies liberated southern parts of the Netherlands. The rest of the country still faced an exhausting winter and famine. On 5 May 1945, the German army in the Netherlands surrendered and the country celebrated the liberation. In the Dutch East Indies, it was the Japanese capitulation on 15 August 1945 that ended the war.
People had been expecting the news any day and the announcement was finally made on the radio in the evening of 4 May 1945: the Netherlands was free. Exuberant celebrations followed. It was not without risk, since Allied soldiers had still not covered the whole area in those first few days, and there were armed German soldiers around. In Amsterdam, on 7 May German snipers opened fire on a jubilant crowd from the Groote Club building on the corner of Kalverstraat and Dam Square. Some 22 people were killed and over 100 wounded. Amid the jubilation, crowds also began attacking collaborators. Women who were accused of contact with German soldiers were a particular target.
When the Dutch colonial army (Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger - KNIL) surrendered on 8 March 1942, the soldiers became prisoners of war. The Japanese interned most of the Dutch and many other inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies in camps, separating the men from the women and children. For the internees this would be a horrific period of hunger, exhaustion and humiliation. Many of the men were forced to work, some on the Burma Railway – known as the Death Railway. The survivors were not liberated until the summer of 1945. Among the prisoners the Americans found when they reached the Japanese camps was A.W.L. Tjarda van Starkenborch Stachouwer, the last governor general of the Dutch East Indies.
The Second World War left deep scars among those who lived through it in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. For those who had been in the German concentration camps and the Japanese internment camps, the liberation was not the end of the war. Others too were often scarred for life by the horrific experiences they had been through and the injustice they had suffered. Although in the immediate postwar years few found much sympathy for their plight, later a concern developed of the problems with which they lived. One group that only received recognition in the 1990s, was of the so-called comfort women: women prisoners who were forced, sometimes for years, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. Fifty years after, their faces and their stories still told the traumatic tale of their ordeal.