The Netherlands commemorates liberation of Breda by Polish army

The Dutch residents of the city and pupils of the schools named after General Maczek paid tribute to the soldiers. Leszek Szymański/PAP

Polish officials and WWII veterans on Saturday gathered in Oosterhout in the southern Netherlands for the start of several-day commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Breda from under German occupation by the 1st Polish Armoured Division.

The Saturday ceremony was attended by the 1st Division's surviving veterans, Polish Ambassador in the Netherlands Marcin Czepelak, head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression (UKiOR) Jan Józef Kasprzyk, representatives of the Polish Culture Ministry, as well as General Maczek's son Andrzej Maczek.

The officials laid flowers and lit candles on Polish veteran graves. Tribute to the soldiers was also paid by the city's Dutch residents and pupils of schools named after the 1st Division's commander General Stanisław Maczek.

The Sunday observances began with a holy mass in Breda's St. Laurence Church, after which a roll-call ceremony for fallen Polish soldiers was held at the Polish Honorary Military Cemetery in the Breda suburb of Ginneken, where General Maczek is buried.

Deputy Culture Minister Jarosław Sellin, who represented Poland at the ceremony, recalled the Breda inhabitants' gratitude to the Polish soldiers for liberating their city from the Germans.

"On that day the city, under German occupation since 1940, regained the freedom it so desired. This freedom was brought to them by soldiers from the 1st Armoured Division. Today we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of Breda's liberation," Sellin said.

Breda Mayor Paul Depla said the city will never forget that it owed its freedom to Polish soldiers. "We will never forget that we owe our freedom to the soldiers of the 1st Armoured Division under the command of General Stanisław Maczek," Depla said. He added that a memorial site dedicated to Maczek will open in a few months in the Polish Honorary Military Cemetery.

Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife, who are starting a visit to the Netherlands on Monday, will take part in the commemorations with Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife.

The First Polish Armoured Division under General Stanisław Maczek took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy and played an instrumental role in the Battle of Falaise by circling the German 7th (Wehrmacht) Army and 5th 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 unit liberated Breda on October 29, 1944.