This year marks the 75th anniversary of the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany. From 10 to 14 May 1940, Rotterdam is the scene of an ongoing struggle for control of the city and its bridges. An incredible, largely unknown story that ultimately leads to the devastating aerial bombardment of the old city centre by the Luftwaffe. These momentous days are brought to life again in the former RDM Submarine Wharf “Onderzeebootloods” near Heijplaat. The exhibition “The Attack – May 1940, five days of battle for Rotterdam” is dominated by the large, menacing form of a Heinkel He 111, the bomber that destroyed the city. Huge projections, personal stories and original objects show the battle from three perspectives: the confusion among the citizens, the resistance of the Dutch defenders and the experience of the German soldiers. This unprecedented approach is made possible by the joint efforts of Museum Rotterdam, Stadsarchief Rotterdam (Municipal Archives) and the Militärhistorisches Museum Flugplatz Berlin-Gatow.
Stronger through struggle
Rotterdam today is a modern looking city, despite its medieval roots. A city and populace that’s known for being rough, ready and straightforward and where action speaks louder than words. Or as the official motto of the city states: “Sterker door strijd” (stronger through struggle/effort) . This motto traces its origins to the early days of World War 2. The Attack takes the visitor back to the city just before it fell victim to mass aerial bombardment. Back to a five day battle for Rotterdam, that has always been overshadowed by the devastation of the old city at its conclusion.
Five long days
From the very first hours of the German invasion on 10 May 1940, Rotterdam sits right on the front line. Drops by German airborne forces signal the start of five long days of fighting, in the streets, on the river and in the air above the city. German and Dutch troops dig in along opposite banks of the River Meuse. The people of Rotterdam are caught in between. The exhibition shows the battle, the confusion and the terror in the city from these three perspectives.
Huge projections of 3 by 12 meters place the visitor in the main battlegrounds using original photographs, eye witness accounts and film footage. Personal stories, military analysis and historical objects make the events of May 1940 almost palpable. The looming shape of a large bomber towers above it all, a version of the Heinkel He 111, the aircraft type that eventually destroys the old city. The huge impact of these five days for Rotterdam are made clear using models and images of the city before and after the war.
The Attack is not only an intense experience, but an important story for those who want to understand Rotterdam better. It also makes clear that freedom can’t be taken for granted and should be cherished. In the back of the Submarine Wharf visitors can create a newspaper about the events of May 1940. In addition, young and old can make a virtual tour of Rotterdam during this period in 1940. Who wants to know how the people of Rotterdam fare during the rest of the war and under occupation, can visit the permanent education centre Museum Rotterdam ’40-’45 NU that opened on March 28, 2015 at Coolhaven in Rotterdam.