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Dynamics of Memory: WWII Heritage & Memory in the Netherlands in an International Context


Prof. Frank van Vree & Prof. Rob van der Laarse

Members of the research group

D.A. Duindam MA
dr. S.F. Kruizinga
prof.dr. R. v.d. Laarse
Erik Somers
ir. P.M. Veer
prof.dr. F.P.I.M. van Vree
dr. B.T. Wallet
drs. C.C. Wesselink
External Members:
D. Hondius (VU)
E. Captain (UU/Committee 4-5 May)
E. Somers (NIOD)
G. Jones (VU)
I. van Ooijen (VU)
K. Ribbens (NIOD/Erasmus University)
R. Futselaar (NIOD)
R. Hijink (independent researcher)
R. van Ginkel (FMG UvA)

Description of the research programme of the research group

The research group addresses the ways in which the memory of the Second World War has developed and shall possibly develop in the future as well as which position material and immaterial remains should have within this. The Second World War took place more than 60 years ago. However, the memories of this in the broadest sense of the word are still alive and well in social circles as equally in politics and culture. Interest in the War among younger generations has diminished less than people thought possible 20 to 30 years ago. The significance attached to these events has also changed over the years. After 1945 the war has been remembered, portrayed an experienced very differently by different population groups. These changes also reflect how we deal with the surviving material and non-material remains, the heritage of the war.
The generative question behind this research program is: Which patterns can be unraveled in the history of the memory, which impulses have continually fed the remembrance culture right up until this day? Consequently, Dynamics of Memory is not aimed at investigating the history of the Second World War but rather the post-war remembrance culture in the broadest sense of the word. With the passing of generations and the immense changes taking place in society (increasing ethnic diversity and globalization) and in particular the cultural media (digitization, visualization), the heritage from the Second World War will enter a new phase. With this the 'guardians' of the heritage – government, heritage remembrance and educational organizations, archives and museums, but also artists and filmmakers – will be confronted with new questions such as what must an open air museum or remembrance site do with the new generations that come to their gates, generations brought up in a world that revolves around 'authentic experiences'?
The themes tackled are related to diverse aspects of the historic culture: war films, youth education, museum presentations, sites of remembrance, the passing on of stories from one generation to the next, dealing with the heritage of victims and perpetrators, and the history of the remembrance communities in the former Dutch colonies. These themes will always be studied in relationship to each other and in the light of developments elsewhere in Europe.

Envisaged results

Monthly seminars and lectures, 3 PhD dissertations, 7 edited volumes, conferences, grant proposals for future research. The program is a collaboration between NWO's Division for the Humanities and the following organizations and funds: Kamp Westerbork, the Gevangenismuseum [Prison Museum], the Jewish Historical Museum, Kamp Amersfoort, Kamp Vught, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (War Victims and Memories Unit), the Ministry of Security and Justice (Custodial Institutions Agency), the Mondriaan Foundation, SNS Reaal Fonds, the Province of North Brabant and the Rothschild Foundation Europe.

Work plan and time schedule

The group is an NWO research line hosted at the UvA since 2007 (penvoerderschap). The activities of the first program (Heritage and Memory, financed by the Ministry of VWS, 2007-2010) have resulted in a number of publications:

  • Conference The Dynamics of War Heritage, Memory and Remembrance, Amsterdam 18-19 December 2007
  • Proceedings published: Frank van Vree & Rob van der Laarse, De dynamiek van de herinnering. Nederland en de Tweede Wereldoorlog in een internationaal perspectief, Bert Bakker Amsterdam 2009, illustrated, 327 pp
  • Youth and War. A History of Teaching and Education. Postdoc project by dr. Dienke Hondius (VU)
  • Book published: Dienke Hondius, Oorlogslessen. Onderwijs sinds 1945, Bert Bakker Amsterdam 2010, illustrated, 382 pp
  • Traces Oversea. War Heritage and Memory in Indonesia, Surinam and the Antilles. Postdoc project by dr. Esther Captain and dr Guno Jones (UvA)
  • Book published: Esther Captain and Guno Jones, Oorlogserfgoed Overzee. De erfenis van de Tweede Wereldoorlog in Aruba, Curaçao en Suriname, Bert Bakker Amsterdam 2010, illustrated, 433 pp
  • Transformation of rituals. A Study on the History and Meaning of Remembrance. Postdoc project by dr Rob van Ginkel (NIOD/UvA)
  • Book published: Rob van Ginkel, Rondom de stilte. Herdenkingscultuur in Nederland, Bert Bakker Amsterdam 2011, illustrated, 843 pp

Currently active and future programs include several smaller research projects:

  • Memory and recovering: the Jewish communities in the Netherlands. This postdoc research (co-financed by the Jewish Historical Museum and the Rothschild Foundation) deals with postwar Jewish life, and will result into a monograph as well as a contribution to an exhibition. Researcher: dr Bart Wallet (UvA)
  • The Future of War Heritage. This postdoc project (co-financed by the VWS Ministry) aims to present a state of affairs as well as an overview of expected future patterns with regard to war museums and heritage in The Netherlands. Research leader: dr Kees Ribbens (NIOD)
  • Hollandsche Schouwburg as a lieu de mémoire. The aim of this PhD project (co-financed by the Jewish Historical Museum and SNS Reaal) is to write a history of the theatre, before and during the war, its role in the history of the nazi persecution of the Jews and its subsequent development into a site of remembrance. The project will also deal will the plans for its reconstruction. Researcher: David Duindam (PhD UvA)
  • Imprisoned under German occupation. This postdoc project (co-financed by the Nationaal Gevangenis Museum and the Ministry of Justice) deals with the question how and to what extent the prisons in the Netherlands were part of state-sponsored terror under national-socialist rule and aims to portray the human relations involved. This will result in a monograph as well as an exhibition. Researcher: dr Ralf Futselaar (NIOD)
  • The Camps in the Netherlands as contested sites. This PhD project (co-financed by the former concentration camps Vught, Westerbork and Amersfoort and the Province of North Brabant) deals with the complex history of these camps as sites of memory and remembrance for various groups, living there during and after the war, in very different circumstances. This will result in a dissertation and an exhibition. Researcher: Iris van Ooijen (VU, PhD candidate)
  • Artists of the Kultuurkamer. History and collective memory 1930-2010. This PhD-project (financed by UvA) deals both with the artists and organizations who sided with national socialism and fascism or were under the suspicion they had, as well as the way their art was received and dealt with after 1945. PhD Researcher: Claartje Wesselink (UvA)
  • Occupation and Resistance in a Museum Context. PhD project (financed by the Fries Museum and the UvA). The aim of this is project is both to write a history of the various museums in this field as well to analyze current and future developments of war museums, particularly with a regional function. The Resistance Museum Friesland, part of the Frisian Museum, will serve as case study. PhD Researcher: Erik Somers (UvA/NIOD)


Societal relevance

Although the Second World War is sixty-five years behind us now, memories of this epoch are still vivid and alive, not only in education and research, but above all in politics, ethics and art, in the Netherlands, as elsewhere. However, the meanings conferred upon these events have dramatically changed since 1945. In the public sphere memory culture – be it dominant or alternative – is created to a large extent by professionals, in education and research, media, literature, cinema and museums, but also through a deliberate politics of memory, by national and local administrations and institutes. For this reason, this research project is closely related to policy and science. With a systematic and more wide-ranging approach it is possible to (1) Achieve greater scientific depth, (2) Support the policy of organizations in this area at a fundamental level, (3) Perform case studies which throw light on a variety of scarcely studied themes. Moreover, the first program achieved considerable societal impact and a diverse audience with a wide range of publications. The continued program will benefit from and extent these previous network and awareness raised by these publications.