This is the story of a beloved Dutch Queen, a devastating World War, and a beautiful little park on Aruba.
The island of Aruba has been part of the Dutch community for nearly 400 years and is now an equal partner within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For centuries the loyal citizens of Aruba have shown a deep and abiding devotion to the Dutch royal family naming schools, streets, and public buildings in their honor. The island’s capital city, Oranjestad, is named for the Royal House of Orange. The Queen is the head of state and her birthday is celebrated here as a national holiday. Clearly the people of Aruba have a special place in their hearts for the Dutch royals and none is held in more esteem than the late Queen Wilhelmina.
"Sir Winston Churchill so admired Wilhelmina that he called her “the only real man among the governments in exile”
Wilhelmina Helena Paulina Maria, Princess of Orange-Nassau, was only 10 years old when she inherited the throne on the death of her father, Willem III, in 1890. Her mother, Queen Emma, ruled as Regent until Wilhelmina was formally crowned as Queen in 1898 after reaching her 18th birthday. She reigned for the next 50 years through good times and bad, but it was the events of World War II, which brought such great suffering to the Dutch people, that proved her to be an extraordinary monarch. Despite Holland’s longstanding neutrality, Adolf Hitler ordered a brutal attack on the country in May 1940, forcing the Queen and her ministers to flee before a Nazi onslaught that would enslave their homeland for the next five years.
Queen Wilhelmina set up a government in exile in London encouraging her countrymen in late night broadcasts on Radio Oranje. She would refer to Hitler as “the arch-enemy of mankind”. In exile, she came to be a symbol of Dutch freedom and her photograph became an icon of resistance. Sir Winston Churchill so admired Wilhelmina that he called her “the only real man among the governments in exile”. She appealed to her colonial subjects throughout the world, including those on Aruba, to do all they could to aid the Allies in their struggle against Nazi tyranny.
The Queen’s appeal on behalf of the Allied cause was well received and the people of Aruba would make vitally important contributions to the war effort. The oil refineries here produced billions of gallons of fuel for the Allied forces, an astonishing 30% of all they used during the entire conflict. After five long years of Nazi oppression, Holland was liberated and Wilhelmina returned to her country in 1945 working tirelessly to rebuild her devastated kingdom. Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948 in favor of her daughter, Queen Juliana. Currently, Wilhelmina’s granddaughter, Queen Beatrix, occupies the throne. Queen Wilhelmina, who led her people through the trials of World War II, died in 1962 at the age of 82 and was buried in the royal family crypt in Delft.
The deep affection felt by the people of Aruba for Queen Wilhelmina inspired them to create a delightful little park in her honor. The centerpiece of these beautiful grounds is a statue of the beloved Queen in full state robes, paid for by donations from the citizens of Aruba. Italian sculptor Arnaldo Lualdi was commissioned to carve a life-size statue of the Queen from white Carrara marble. The completed work, weighing about two and a half tons, was transported free of charge by the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company from Europe to its permanent home on Aruba.
was officially dedicated by Queen Juliana, who unveiled the statue of her mother in a ceremony during her visit to Aruba in 1955. The park is an oasis of tranquility sitting just beyond the bustle of commercial activity and the steady stream of traffic in downtown Oranjestad. This little urban gem comprises four lovely acres of carefully tended grounds, manicured lawns, blossoming shade trees, and flowering shrubs. The beautifully carved statue of Queen Wilhelmina presides over the space from the center of the common on an impressive 15-ton pedestal. The Queen is flanked by the flag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on one side and by the flag of Aruba on the other. To the left, colorful fishing boats bob in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
The park is situated next to the Renaissance Ocean Suites and is easy to find. So, if you ever have the urge to hobnob with royalty, stop by and spend a few moments with Queen Wilhelmina and see her charming park for yourself.