In the spring of 2010, in the run up to the 65th anniversary of the liberation of The Netherlands from Nazi occupation on May 5, 1945, we started to spontaneously receive written stories about the war in The Netherlands from readers of our Dutch language monthly, ‘Maandblad de Krant’. ‘Publish these,’ the authors said, ‘we are the last people who can pass on these important stories.’
So we decided to print them because they are valuable stories which contain powerful lessons about a horrific past, that one day may have to be relived if the memories are not kept alive.
Then came the requests to print these stories in English, to ensure that the Canadian and American children and grandchildren of the older immigrants, who had written these stories, would be able to read them. ‘Okay,’ our publisher, Tom Bijvoet said in an editorial in De Krant, ‘we can do that, I heard these stories during my youth, I think they were formative and helped me understand how fortunate I am to have been born where I was, when I was. However, we can only do that with your help. If we do this, we need enough stories to fill a separate 28 page English language commemorative issue of the paper. So please, send us your memories!’
Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for. We expected to have to scramble to fill the 28 pages. We need not have worried, we received more than 200 submissions with personal memories of World War II in The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. The problem we faced was how to select representative memories from all those stories. All the experiences were unique, all were worth publishing, but we did not have room for more than about one fifth of what we received. So we printed a selection and pledged to the people who submitted these memories that we would try to find a way to have all of their stories told. That resulted in plans for a series of small books, which we called ‘The Dutch in Wartime: Survivors Remember’ each containing a number of the memories that we received, grouped thematically. The series is now reaching completion and the final result is a series of nine books, each about 100 pages long.
One of the reasons we received so many stories is of course that war is universal for those suffering under its consequences. Maybe the most revealing part of this project for us was the realization that there is no choice in the experience of war and oppression. Eight million people lived in The Netherlands in 1940 and of those eight million every single one was touched in one way or another. War is not an elective, once it is there, it is there for everyone. These books, by and large, are not about the heroes and the villains of the war. Stories about them are important too and many of them have been told since 1945. But in this series we focus on ordinary people, young adults, teenagers, children even, who had to live through an extraordinary time – people you can immediately identify with.
Even now, long after the deadline for submissions has closed, stories, memories keep trickling in. It is too late to include them in the books. But we will continue to publish them, right here on this website.
On a final note we would like to urge readers not to forget, as we read these stories, that similar memories are being made right now, in many locations around the world. A sad reflection upon a sad state of affairs. But every story may help in its own little way to prevent some of these new memories from arising.
Our thanks goes out to all the contributors who took part in the project and urged us to keep these memories alive.