May 14th, 1940. Nazi Germany had attacked the Netherlands a few days earlier. Because of its industry, Rotterdam was an important target for the Nazis. But the city didn’t surrender as easy as expected. The Dutch marines, encamped in Rotterdam, defended its city with fierce and heroic fighting. Until the Nazis decided they had had enough. They bombarded the entire historical center and destroyed it. Over 900 people died and 80.000 became homeless. The bombardment was soon followed by the surrender of the Netherlands.
To commemorate this day, the French/Belarussian artist Ossip Zadkine made a sculpture that gives me goosebumps every time I see it. He named it De Verwoeste Stad (The Destroyed City, 1953). This bronze statue is over 6 meters tall and depicts a screaming man without a heart. He is in agony and throws his arms desperately in the sky. The missing heart illustrates Rotterdam’s destroyed city center, a city without a heart.
The statue is special to many people in the city. To the older people, who witnessed the bombardment, it represents pre-war Rotterdam and that dark day on the 14th of May. To the younger people, like myself, the statue represents a sense of pride. Even after that much setback, the city pulled itself together and became the wonderful city it is today. For that reason, I visit this beautiful and yet terrifying statue and think about all the city has gone through.