Language Arts, Social Studies
Netherlands American Cemetery
“ Dutch citizens have adopted all of the 8,301 graves at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Why do many Dutch citizens remain connected with events from over 70 years ago? Why honor the sacrifice of foreign citizens? This topic presents an opportunity to explore how countries had different experiences of World War II and continue to have unique ways of preserving that history. ” -Erica Swenson
During this lesson students will take notes on a variety of secondary and primary sources in order to build their background knowledge about the Dutch experience during World War II and the work of the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. Students will also be introduced to a fallen soldier from Lewiston, Maine named Private First Class Stanley Clark and they will record information based on an interview with his grave sponsor, Nowy van Hedel. Finally, students will write up their different theories as to why many Dutch people are committed to the care of American graves in the Netherlands in the form of a fictional email between Nowy van Hedel and the Clark family. This lesson is designed for the end of a World War II unit.
Activity Download Activity
On May 10, 1940, Germany launched a blitzkrieg attack on the Netherlands. The Dutch were caught off guard as they had remained neutral throughout World War I and hoped to continue this policy despite recent turmoil in Europe. The Germans quickly landed paratroopers throughout Dutch territory, took over key bridges, captured airfields, and seized control of a large swath of land. The Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, bombed Rotterdam with such ferocity that sections of the city were flattened, 800 civilians lost their lives, and 80,000 others were left homeless. Finally, on May 15, 1940, after five days of fighting, the Netherlands surrendered when Germany threatened to bomb more Dutch cities. For the next five years, the Netherlands existed as an occupied nation under Nazi control. All of the graves at Netherlands American Cemetery, where Stanley Clark is buried, have been adopted by locals who visit the graves regularly.
At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to:
- Describe the experience of different Dutch people during World War II; and
- Identify reasons why Dutch people adopt the graves at the Netherlands American Cemetery.
Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.
D2.His.4.6-8. Analyze multiple factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
- Warm Up
- Building Background Knowledge Chart
- Fact Sheet: Private First Class Stanley Clark and Nowy van Hedel
- Timeline of Major World War II Events in the Netherlands
- Email Exchange Assignment and Rubric
- Exit Ticket
- Internet access for each group of students
- Chart paper, overhead, document camera, or blackboard space for recording class notes
- Project (or print out) the Warm Up and Exit Tickets.
- Project (or print out) the Fact Sheet - Private First Class Stanley Clark and Nowy van Hedel.
- Make one copy of the three handouts (Building Background Knowledge, Timeline of Major World War II Events in the Netherlands, and Email Exchange Assignment) for each student
- Cue the Netherlands American Cemetery Video from the ABMC.
- Cue link to Stanley V. Clark’s Fallen Hero Profile.
Activity One: Warm Up (10-15 minutes)
- Project or Distribute the Warm Up activity
- Think/Pair/Share: Ask students to use their prior knowledge to list different ways in which Americans typically memorialize military service men and women who have been killed in American wars.
- Question: How do we remember or honor American military service members who have died during war?
- Ask students to share some of their answers with other students sitting nearby.
- Record some of the students’ ideas. Possible answers include: building statues, making artwork, caring for grave sites, Memorial or Veterans Day celebrations, parades, literature, researching fallen soldiers, sharing family and community stories, donating to related causes, creating a fund in the name of a fallen soldier, reading off the names of fallen service women and men in a public space, naming locations after fallen service men and women.
Activity Two: Building Background Knowledge Chart (30 minutes)
- Distribute the Building Background Knowledge Chart. Project this chart on the board or recreate on chart paper to record student responses.
- Say: At the Netherlands American Cemetery there are 8,301 graves of American service men and women who died during World War II. All of these graves have been adopted by Dutch citizens who have pledged to visit these graves at least twice a year and research the lives of the soldiers buried there. Nowy van Hedel is a 30-year old Dutch man who adopted the grave of Private First Class Stanley Clark from Lewiston, Maine; a soldier who just turned 20 years old. Why would Nowy van Hedel and other Dutch citizens be so interested in adopting the graves of fallen American military service men and women?
- Project (or distribute) the Fact Sheet - Private First Class Stanley V. Clark and Nowy van Hedel. The teacher may choose to read it or ask students to read the information.
- On the Building Background Knowledge Chart, ask students to brainstorm their thoughts on the question and put their answers in box one.
- After a few minutes, record some student answers. Students should add any new information to his or her chart.
- Divide the students into groups of two to four students each.
- Show the ABMC video describing Netherlands American Cemetery.
- Using the video, ask students to add information and ideas to box one. Ask students to predict different reasons why Dutch people would adopt the graves of American soldiers.
- Record more of the students’ ideas on the whole-class notes or chart at the front of the room.
- Introduce three new sources of information:
- Netherlands American Cemetery Brochure
- Timeline of Major World War II Events in the Netherlands
- Akkers van Margraten, online testimonials of Dutch people during World War II
- Teacher Tip: Choose “English” in the upper right hand corner. In the interactive timeline, Rich Prevoo, Huub Bessems, and Annie Prevoo-Fijns are good sources for students.
- Using this new information, ask students to identify and predict different reasons why Dutch people would adopt the graves of American soldiers. Students will record notes in box two of their charts.
- Record and share some of the students’ ideas. Examples may include: Dutch people suffered during five years of German occupation during World War II (forced military service, concentration camps), many World War II battles were fought throughout the Netherlands, American soldiers stayed in the homes of Dutch people for many weeks, many Dutch people grew up with a family tradition of visiting American graves, etc.
- Show the interview clip of Nowy Van Hedel, the man who adopted PFC Stanley V. Clark’s grave. Also, allow them to link to Stanley Clark’s Fallen Hero Profile.
- Ask students to identify and predict different reasons why Dutch people would adopt the graves of American soldiers. Students will record notes in box three of their charts.
- Record some of the students’ ideas onto a whole-class notes or chart at the front of the room.
Email Exchange Assignment (15 minutes)
- Project or distribute the Exit Ticket to students. Students may use their Building Background Knowledge Chart to write a response to the two guiding questions of the class:
- What happened in the Netherlands during World War II?; and
- Why have people in the Netherlands adopted graves of fallen American service men and women?
- Introduce the Email Exchange Assignment and rubric.
- Students will use the notes that they have recorded on their Building Background Knowledge Chart to write a fictional email between Nowy van Hedel (the grave adopter) and the Clark family. In this email they will include specific details of the Dutch experience during World War II and they will also explain some reasons why people in the Netherlands want to adopt the graves of American servicemen and women.
- Students can contact and interview other members of the adoption program through the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery in Margraten.
- Students can write detailed thank you letters or emails to the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery in Margraten.
- Students can adopt graves in a local cemetery and research the history of the person buried there.
- Students can visit a local World War II memorial or a local cemetery. They could perform some community service cleanup work.
- Students can record a video message for the members of the Foundation for Adopting Graves at the American Cemetery in Margraten.
- The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas. These cemeteries are permanent memorials to the fallen, but it is important that students know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the Understanding Sacrifice Interactive Map.
- This could be adapted for older learners by adding more layers of information. An excellent article was recently published in the May 25, 2015 Washington Post about the experiences of some American families of fallen soldiers and their Dutch grave adopters.
- This lesson could be adapted for younger learners by removing some of the World War II content. They can have meaningful conversations about how we remember and honor American soldiers.
- A supporting teacher could help with some of the reading during Activity Two. The map reading and timeline reading will be the most challenging.
- Teachers may want to form groups with at least one strong reader or one person who already has background knowledge about World War II.
- For the Email Exchange Assignment, a voice or film recording could replace a written email. The teacher may also choose to have students work in small groups to write and/or act out a skit between a fictional Nowy van Hedel and members of the Clark family.