Tonight We Are All Dutch

The achievements of the Dutch people and the tragedies they have suffered have, at times, been disproportionate to the small population and the tiny size of this remarkable nation.

Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, "tiny Holland" -- the "Northern Low Countries" with less than 2 million people -- experienced an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity and became the premier economic, industrial, commercial and naval power in Europe -- in the world. And lest we forget, the arts and sciences.

During World War II, while all of the Dutch people suffered greatly under the Nazi boot, the plight of the 140,000 Dutch Jews was nothing short of genocidal. Of the approximately 140,000 Dutch Jews, some 107,000 were deported to death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Sobibor, where between 102,000 and 104,000 were murdered, or approximately 74 percent -- the highest percentage among Western European countries.

What an unspeakable human tragedy for one of Europe's smallest nations!

More recently, on a cold night in February 1953 a monster North Sea storm collapsed several dikes protecting the "lowlands." More than 1,800 people drowned in the flooding during what came to be known as the "Watersnoodramp" (Water ordeal disaster).

The stoic Dutch, however, were not to be defeated and once again embarked on a project of a scale and magnitude totally disproportionate to the size and resources of "tiny Holland": the Delta Project (or "Delta Works"), a mammoth undertaking which, after it was finished in 1986, has been protecting the Netherlands against the kind of storm that strikes once every 10,000 years. In other words, ensuring that such a tragedy will never happen again.

The achievements of "tiny Holland" have continued in many areas, including sports. Witness the 24 medals won by the Dutch team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the Netherlands' impressive third place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Ironically, and tragically, the Netherlands moment of victory in Russia has been wretchedly eclipsed and marred by the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 by a Russian missile reportedly with the knowledge and support of the same country that hosted those Winter Games.

And once more, the loss of life suffered by the Dutch is disproportional to the population of that country.

Out of the 298 passengers on board the ill-fated flight, 193 were Dutch.

A particular sad and sobering statistic is the fact that the small, beautiful town of Hilversum -- population 85,000 -- lost 13 of its residents, three entire families, to the cowardly attack by thugs in Eastern Ukraine, or Russia.

The front porch light is on, and the brick sidewalk leading to its front door is lined with bouquets of white roses, orange lilies and other bright-colored flowers. A few white stones taken from the gravel landscape have been assembled in the shape of a heart on the front walk.

But no one is home at the Smallenburg house in this quaint Dutch city. The family was killed on the Malaysia Airlines jet shot down last week.

The Smallenburgs -- parents Charles and Therese Brouwer, and children Werther and Carlijn -- were among three Hilversum families wiped out Thursday when a missile struck down their flight en route from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur. The sting of the loss touches most people who live in the area. It's a city with a population of just over 85,000 people, but everyone seems to know someone affected by the tragedy.

And so it goes in too many villages, towns and cities in "tiny Holland."

The population of the Netherlands is close to 17 million today. It has grown almost ten-fold since the "Dutch Golden Age."

But so has the resolve, the solidarity, the compassion and, in this instance, the grief of the Dutch people.

Today, the Netherlands received and honored the first 40 victims' bodies from those fields in Ukraine.

They were brought to the Netherlands by two military aircraft -- a Dutch and an Australian -- and they were met by members of the Dutch royal family, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of victims' relatives.

Then, in 40 hearses, they left Eindhoven air base for the Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks south of Hilversum for identification.

Two more planes with more victims are due to arrive in the Netherlands on Thursday.

The nationalities of these first 40 victims are not yet known. Flags of all nations that lost their citizens in the disaster are flying at half mast and churches all over the Netherlands are ringing their bells for the victims.

Thousands of Dutch people lined the route the hearses took, threw flowers, saluted -- many shed tears.

To them all the victims brought to "tiny Holland" today are Dutch.

And tonight we are all Dutch.