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04a-2012 - Should history be part of our future?
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Oranjestad – On any given day of the week, many locals and tourists alike, see their journey across the island ending on top of Sero Colorado, the easternmost tip of the island. From this point, most of the time they may enjoy a splendid view of the Venezuelan coastline, just about 15 miles away. Some leave their vehicle behind there to hike to the well hidden natural bridge at the foot of the hill. Other than that, apparently there is not much to be seen at the site. Or, is there more? Every now and then a local person may be asked by a curious tourist, what those peculiar circular concrete platforms on top of the hill are, or were. Regretfully, most of our citizens do not know themselves that these concrete structures represent a very important part of our recent history, namely the dark days of World War II, that would not go unnoticed to this tiny part of the Western Hemisphere. On these platforms, some huge cannons were installed, able to cover with its shells the main part of the strait between Aruba and the Paraguana peninsula. Another cannon was installed at Yuana Morto, known as the “Kustbatterij”. Actually, the guns at Sero Colorado and Yuana Morto, together with an outlook on top of Sero Alejandro, formed the principal defense against expected attacks from the German navy on the refinery, for its importance to the allied forces. To be able to contribute to that defense, a local military force was instituted under the name “Schutterij”, in which many of the young local men of those days participated, along with British, and later on American personnel.

On February 16, 1942, the long expected attack finally came. A German U-boat started launching torpedoes at the tankers in and in the neighborhood of the refinery harbor, and tried to cause damage to the refinery itself by shelling the premises. Fortunately, no great damage was caused to the refinery itself, but at sea the consequences were severe. Four Lago tankers, the Oranjestad, Pedernales, San Nicolas and Tia Juana, were hit by torpedoes and sunk, while the attack took a total of 47 lives among the crew of the ships involved. A couple of days later, a torpedo launched by the German U-boat ended on shore at Eagle, where the effort of dismantling the artifact took four more lives of Dutch military, when the torpedo exploded. Curiously enough, this latter incident remained more known by the general public as a part of our recent history than the attack on the refinery, which without any doubt may be booked as the largest catastrophe in our history, with the highest number of lives lost.

As a consequence of the attack, most of the population living in the vicinity of the refinery fled to more inland located neighborhoods, where they remained for weeks, sleeping in and around the dwellings of those living there, sharing food and other items in those days of great scarcity because of the war. Fortunately enough, the German navy would prove unable from that moment on to launch another attack on Aruba, and the refinery continued to contribute greatly to the Allied Forces’ need for fuel, specifically aviation fuel, providing at times up to 80% of the aviation gasoline consumed by the joint forces against Germany and Japan.
The historic sites which could tell us about this part of our past, today have no sign whatsoever that makes its visitors aware of the events that took place so many years ago, where not only Arubans were involved, but also all the nationalities working and living here, as military or refinery workers, who shared those rough days to follow, always fearing the next attack, enduring the food shortages and other hardship toward the end of the war, so disastrous to the entire world.
As this historic date – February 16 - is approaching again, when it will be exactly seventy years ago that Aruba lived its scariest moments and with an unprecedented loss of human life, shouldn’t we do more about it than we have been doing until now. Shouldn’t we give this spot on top of the hill, visited by thousands of locals and tourists alike, something to give its visitors to remember this moment of shared continental history? Apart from the consideration that we have a task educating our own people about their history, aren’t we observing a changing trend in tourism worldwide, where more and more visitors are not only interested in sun, beach, good food and entertainment, but wish to know more about that particular country, its history and its culture? How many of our historic sites have any sign, telling visitors what is worth knowing about that particular place? We should really ask ourselves if history, for the sake of the generations to come, can and should be part of our future. Apart from the educational aspect toward our own people, it will also make good economic sense toward hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to our island each year.

At this particular moment, when Aruba may need to re-invent itself economically, in the event of the loss of the refinery, would it not be appropriate to combine what is educationally correct with what would make good economic sense? Let us give this site, which symbolizes the one and only place on the American continent attacked during the entire World War, the spot it deserves amongst ourselves, and taking into account the interest among our visitors also.

Note: a word of appreciation to Adolf Kock, Edric Croes, Evert Bongers, Samuel Ramada and Jorge Ridderstaat for their contributions and supply of photographic material.

Aruba Chamber of Commerce and Industry
February 15, 2012