Unveiling of a new ‘Vector of Memory’ in Groningen 

In the lead-up to the 80 years of freedom in 2025, the LRE Foundation launched a new ‘Canadian Trail’ at the end of May titled “Hiking in the footsteps of the Canadian Liberators”. This new long-distance walking trail spans from Zeeland to Groningen in the Netherlands. On 20 June 2024, a new ‘Vector of Memory’ was launched in Groningen. Designed by renowned American architect Daniel Libeskind, these memorials serve as trail markers, highlighting significant locations, individuals, and stories on the Liberation Route Europe. 

The new Canadian Trail runs partly through the province of Groningen, shedding light on its liberation history and making it accessible to all generations. Visitors walking this trail can follow in the footsteps of the Canadian soldiers, who, with the support of Polish soldiers and other Allies, freed Groningen from German occupation in April 1945. The Battle of Groningen took place from 13 to 16 April 1945 and resulted in the liberation of the city. Numerous landmarks along the Canadian Trail tell the story of the liberation of Groningen in all its facets. 

The new Vector of Memory was unveiled in Groningen’s Grote Markt on June 20 with support from the Province of Groningen, Regiobureau Groningen, Cultuurfonds, Nationaal Programma Groningen, Gemeente Groningen, Gemeente Eemsdelta, Regiobureau Regio Groningen – Assen, and FB Stichting FB Oranjewoud. The ceremony commenced at noon with a warm welcome at Groningen’s city hall. Mayor Koen Schuiling of Groningen officially greeted all attendees at the event. Following this, LREF Managing Director Rémi Praud addressed the audience, stressing the significance of remembrance. 

From the city hall, ceremony participants proceeded to the newly installed vector near the Grote Markt. This procession was followed by the performance of four bagpipers from the Clan MacBeth Pipe Band in the presence of military personnel from the Dutch National Reserve Corps (NATRES). Pupils of nearby St Michael’s Primary School held a central role during the ceremony when placing flowers in front of the newly unveiled vector in commemoration of the sacrifice made for the liberation of the city. 

LRE 10th anniversary – an interview with LREF Managing Director Rémi Praud 

On the 10-year anniversary of Liberation Route Europe, we interviewed LREF Managing Director Rémi Praud about the significance of LRE’s mission and key milestones to date.  

He also shared with us what makes working in the remembrance sector so impactful and his recommendations for anyone interested in hiking or biking one of Liberation Route Europe’s Themed Routes across Europe. 

If you look back at the year 2014 when Liberation Route Europe was first launched on an international level, what were your hopes and dreams for the project, and do you feel like they have been achieved? 

My hopes and dreams for the project were both ambitious and heartfelt. I envisioned the Liberation Route Europe becoming a dynamic and impactful way to preserve and promote the history of World War II. 

One of my primary hopes was to create a network that not only educates but also inspires. I dreamed of a route that would bring together diverse communities, foster international cooperation, and promote a shared understanding of our collective history, from a multi-perspective approach. I wanted visitors from all walks of life and from all over the world to be able to walk these paths, learn about the past, and reflect on its relevance for our present and future. 

Looking back now, I can proudly say that many of these dreams have been realized. The Liberation Route Europe has grown into a respected and influential initiative that spans multiple countries and engages a wide audience. We have successfully established a network of sites, museums, and memorials that are deeply intertwined with the stories of the war.  

While there is always more to be done, I feel confident that we have made significant strides toward achieving the hopes and dreams that ignited the launch of Liberation Route Europe. The journey continues! 

Which of the milestones that Liberation Route Europe has reached in the last ten years are you most proud of? 

One of the milestones I am most proud of is the creation and installation of the Vectors of Memory. This project, in collaboration with the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, has been a monumental achievement for the Liberation Route Europe. The Vectors of Memory are a series of unique markers placed at significant sites across Europe, each telling a powerful story of the events and experiences of World War II. Working with Daniel Libeskind has been an incredible honour, and his visionary design has brought a profound artistic and emotional depth to the project. These markers not only commemorate the past but also serve as a bridge connecting history with the present, encouraging reflection and remembrance. 

Another significant milestone is the launch of our themed routes. These routes are an innovative way to connect the transnational aspect of Liberation Route Europe to the local level. They allow visitors to explore specific themes related to World War II, providing a more immersive and focused experience and contributing to a broader understanding of the war’s impact on different regions and communities. 

These milestones, among others, highlight our continuous efforts to preserve and promote the history of World War II in a meaningful and impactful way. 

What are the challenges of working in the remembrance sector? Especially regarding the current political tendencies in Europe – what do you think makes Liberation Route Europe’s message so important? 

The remembrance sector faces several significant challenges, particularly in light of the rise of extreme right parties, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the broader threats to our democracies, which pose unique difficulties in our field of work. 

One of the main challenges is the growing polarization and the resurgence of nationalist sentiments. As extreme right parties gain traction, there is a concerning trend of historical revisionism and the glorification of divisive ideologies. This makes the work of remembrance and education more crucial than ever. We must ensure that the true history of World War II, with all its complexities and lessons, is preserved and conveyed accurately to counteract these narratives. 

The war in Ukraine has also underscored the fragility of peace and the importance of remembering the past. The conflict reminds us that the horrors of war are not confined to history books but can resurface in our present day. This situation amplifies the importance of Liberation Route Europe’s message of peace, unity, and the value of democratic principles. 

The broader threats to our democracies, including misinformation and the erosion of democratic norms, pose a challenge to the remembrance sector. In this context, Liberation Route Europe’s role is vital in promoting critical thinking and historical awareness. By educating people about the past, we equip them with the knowledge to recognize and resist the signs of democratic backsliding. 

Can you tell us some things about the upcoming projects and campaigns for the rest of 2024? Which ones are the next milestones you want to see the Liberation Route reach in the future? 

Firstly, we will be developing more themed routes and content, extending our presence to new regions and countries. This expansion will not only grow our network but also strengthen the Liberation Route community. The new routes and Vectors of Memory will provide fresh perspectives into the events of World War II and recognizable links between diverse regions, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of our shared history. 

Secondly, we are in the process of adapting and enhancing our digital infrastructure, including our website and mobile application. Our goal is to make the user experience even more engaging and accessible. This digital transformation is crucial in reaching a broader audience and making our resources more accessible to people around the world. 

In addition, we have recently launched a podcast series and are committed to enriching our audio content offerings. These podcasts provide an intimate and immersive way to experience the stories of World War II, featuring interviews with historians, personal accounts from veterans and witnesses, and expert analyses. We believe that audio content is a powerful tool for education and engagement, and we are excited to continue expanding this aspect of our work. 

Beyond these projects, our focus will be on ensuring that our efforts have a meaningful impact. We are dedicated to encouraging more people to walk and cycle our trails, learn about history, and engage in thoughtful reflection and discussion. Our aim is not only to provide historical information but also to inspire conversations and connections among visitors. By doing so, we hope to foster a community that values remembrance and is committed to preserving the lessons of the past. 

Which of our themed routes have you hiked already, and which recommendations would you give to anyone who is interested in following the trails? 

I have had the pleasure of hiking several of our themed routes, and each one offers a unique and enriching experience. One of the most remarkable routes I have walked is the Along the D-Day beaches route. This trail is truly outstanding, with stories embedded in every step you take. The breathtaking views and the profound historical significance make it a must-visit for anyone interested in World War II history. It’s perhaps an obvious choice, but it never fails to leave a lasting impression. 

Another route I highly recommend is the Operation Market Garden Cycling Route. This trail is not only rich in history but also incredibly engaging and scenic. It starts from Leopoldsburg in Belgium and stretches all the way to Arnhem. Cycling through these locations, you can vividly imagine the events that unfolded, making it an immersive and memorable experience. 

Closer to home, I am particularly fond of the trails in the Belgian and Luxembourg Ardennes, as well as the Hürtgen Forest. These areas offer peaceful routes through beautiful landscapes, providing a perfect blend of nature and history. 

Our aim is to create local routes in cities, both small and large, to encourage people to discover or rediscover their local history. This initiative allows individuals to connect with their own communities in a meaningful way, uncovering stories that may even be linked to their own family histories. By bringing these narratives to life, we hope to make these sites speak, enriching our understanding of the past and its impact on our present and future.  

Is there anything you would like to say to our partners and members? 

To our esteemed partners and dedicated members, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude for your unwavering support and commitment to the Liberation Route Europe. Your contributions have been instrumental in shaping our journey over the past decade and have enabled us to achieve remarkable milestones. 

Your collaboration and enthusiasm have helped us expand our network, enhance our educational initiatives, and preserve the memory of World War II in meaningful and impactful ways. Together, we have created a community that not only commemorates the past but also inspires future generations to understand and reflect on the importance of peace, freedom, and democracy. 

Liberation Route Europe expands the Canadian Trails: the new Historic Paths Across North West Europe 

Earlier this Spring, the LRE Foundation and several project partners met in Knokke-Heist, Belgium, to kick-off a new extended section of the Canadian Trails project. This initiative (REFOOT) is supported by funding from the Interreg North-West Europe programme and aims to create a transnational hiking trail that follows the path of Canadian soldiers who helped liberate Western Europe during World War II. The project expands upon existing efforts in the Netherlands and extends the trail from Normandy to Germany as part of the Liberation Route Europe.  

The LRE Foundation is working alongside international project partners: LRE France, the Juno Beach Centre (France), and the For Freedom Museum (Belgium). Additionally, associated partners include the Juno Beach Centre Association (Canada), the French Hiking Federation, European Ramblers Association (Germany), and Stichting Wandelnet (Netherlands). 

The significance of the project lies in its dedication to preserving the memory of WWII, particularly Canada’s often overlooked role in Europe’s liberation. The new section of the Canadian Trails aims to weave together the narrative of Canadian soldiers’ journey from France to Germany via Belgium and the Netherlands, fostering cultural understanding and remembrance along the way. The trail, once completed, will serve as a walkable link connecting various historical sites, museums, and cities. 

During the kick-off meeting, the partners discussed the project development stages, shared responsibilities, and the next steps. Additionally, they had the opportunity to visit the inspiring For Freedom Museum in Knokke-Heist, one of the project partners, who also hosted the meeting in their hometown. In recent months, the partners have been working together to develop the first deliverables of the project, including the selection of historical sites and stories to include and the communication strategy and outputs. 

Project Officer Emme Johnson, leading the project and kick-off meeting, said “Our project aims to create a unique and immersive experience that connects the past with the present, and strengthens the ties between Canada and Northwest Europe through shared history and cultural exchange. By combining historical content, Vectors of Memory, and sustainable tourism practices, we hope to make this project inspiring and rewarding.” 

The team is excited to have had their first in-person meeting, to be followed by an online meeting at the end of June, and looks forward to a fruitful collaboration that will conclude in Spring 2025 with the launch of the new trails. 

Celebrating 10 Years of Liberation Route Europe in Arromanches-les-Bains 

Liberation Route Europe, one of the LRE Foundation’s key projects is among the leading cultural itineraries in Europe. Launched in 2014 the project has just turned 10. On the 7th of June, the LRE Foundation team travelled to Arromanches-les-Bains to celebrate this milestone with the network and partners.  

The anniversary event commenced with a Liberation Walk on Friday, June 7th, where participants gathered at the Esplanade in front of the D-Day Museum and started a guided historic walking tour through Arromanches.  

Following the walk, the “10 Years of Liberation Route Europe” ceremony unfolded at the Remembrance Garden. Opening remarks were delivered by Rémi Praud, Managing Director of LREF, followed by speeches from Nathalie Porte, Vice-President of Normandy region overseeing tourism, and Marcel Bastide, Mayor of Arromanches-les-Bains.  

Rémi Praud delved into the key milestones of LRE’s decade-long journey, while Madeleine Lebranchu, Vice President of FFRandonnée, announced a new collaboration agreement with the LRE Foundation during her speech, signed up immediately after the ceremony. 

The event featured the handover of three Vectors of Memory to the three speakers, culminating with closing remarks from Rémi Praud. Additionally, attendees had the privilege of hearing D-Day Veteran Mervyn Kersh’s reflections, interviewed by Ben Mayne, LRE UK Director.  As a sign of gratitude for Mr. Kersh’s continuous support of the LRE activities, he also received a Vector of Memory.  

Reflecting on the milestone, Rémi Praud says: “As I am looking back at the ten years of the existence of LRE, I feel a great sense of pride in what we have achieved. I am confident that together we will achieve even more in the future. I am extremely thankful to all our members, partners and funders, as well as team members who contributed to our work during the past decade.” 

As the journey of Liberation Route Europe enters its second decade, the LRE Foundation remains committed to fostering new ways to experience and connect remembrance sites, history and personal stories throughout the European landscape.   

For more information on the project and the hiking trails have a look at www.liberationroute.com  

The “On the Routes of Liberation: The Sicilian Campaign of 1943” exhibition at Abbaye aux Dames, Caen 

We are thrilled to announce the opening of the exhibition “On the Routes of Liberation: The Sicilian Campaign of 1943.” organized jointly by Normandy Region, the LRE Foundation and LRE Italy. This exhibition explores this important chapter in the story of the liberation of Europe, linking the historic landings in Sicily in July 1943 to the Normandy landings in June 1944, and highlighting their interconnected paths to freedom. 

The exhibition provides an in-depth look at the strategic, operational, and human dimensions of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Featuring historical content, photographs, videos, and maps, visitors will gain insights into the preparation, execution, and aftermath of the Sicilian campaign, emphasizing its role as a steppingstone to the Normandy landings.  

As Rémi Praud, Managing Director of the LRE Foundation, points out: “This exhibition plays a vital role in connecting stories from different parts of Europe and providing a chance to learn from each other. This dialogue is precisely what we aim for at the LRE Foundation.” 

As we commemorate the legacy of these major events, the exhibition invites reflection on the enduring significance of the Sicilian and Normandy landings in the broader context of World War II and their collective contribution to shaping a liberated Europe. 

The exhibition will be open until the 6th of October at Abbaye aux Dames, Caen, France.