Ralay Race

 

Fifty years after that the German General Blaskowitz has signed the surrender document, ending the war between Germany and the Netherlands, in Wageningen,[1] this memorable event is celebrated by more than two thousand enthusiastic athletes with a liberation relay race, to be started from this city.

On the square in front of the therefore so famous hotel “De Wereld” prevails in the night of 4 to May 5th, 1995, an informal, exuberant atmosphere. Every runner, man as well as woman, is aware to participate in a unique event: an impressive ambiance with enchanting illumination, because team members of the organization  have handed a flaming torch to each of the more than two hundred teams.

Just after midnight the mayor solves a thunderous starting shot and one by one the teams, at first along a hedge of cheering spectators, disappear from the fierce light of the spotlights into the dark night, on the way to their own town or village.

Just outside Wageningen our team is loaded in two minivans, except for the first runner with the torch and its successor, who is ridden in a car ahead to the next switch point (about seven kilometers away).

Although the atmosphere in “my” van and in the car is excellent, I am glad that, about three o’ clock, my first stage begins. Running with a torch with flame on this unusual, early nighttime hour, gives a powerful feeling of freedom that belongs to this unique event.

It is a windless, cloudless night. With a buzzing sound and cheerful flashing, colored lighting, a plane is, alongside a peaceful sky, on its way to the east. What a stark contrast to the war years, when often hundreds of growling threatening Allied fighter aircraft with their deadly bombs load thundered in that same direction …

As at five o’clock the night gradually gives way to the break of dawn, it is my turn again. The variance among the teams that run to the east and north, is very large now, but nevertheless there is, next to a place name board of a village on the Veluwerand, a group of former resistance fighters standing in the dusk. The caps in their hands, ceremoniously saluting or softly applauding, they keep an emotional bridge between this liberation relay race and those for them indelible war years.

This 5th of May is a warm summer day. Around noon, when temperature has increased above thirty degrees Fahrenheit follows, in shorts and T-shirt, my last solo performance. Soon we meet an oncoming convoy of military vehicles from World War II. Army Cars (including many jeeps) and other vehicles and rolling stock are generously staffed with re-imported American, Canadian and British war veterans. Living Resistance monuments, many of whom will probably wear the uniform for the last time in their lives. Their brightly polished stripes, stars, beams and trophies of honor shine in the sunlight. So far as possible standing but more than often seated, they bring a ceremonial military salute. While running, I spontaneously greet back, holding the flaming torch, symbolically, as high as possible in the air.

 

Three kilometers before reaching our destination -the town hall in our city- we all have to stop. Now a flaming torch is handed to all runners because we will, after a “march” of nearly one hundred and fifty kilometers, be honored by our deputy mayor as being a strong, united group. Barely three hundred meters after the restart, while the public interest is steadily growing, we must stop again, because the flame of my torch, after having sputtered quite a bit, abruptly extinguishes. A number of thoughtful teammates keep their well lighted torches together, so that a large flame arises, where I keep my copy in for about a minute. Unfortunately, without any result …

In desperation, in an ultimate attempt to neutralize the defect, I submit my torch to a closer inspection. In vain … Or it should be, that I discover the letters on the side of the torch, that betray its quality and origin:

ERSTKLSSIGER GARTENFACKEL

M A D E   I N   G E R M A N Y

(May 1995)

[1] City in the middle part of the Netherlands.

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