75 years later, people are still very deep in their experience of liberation, that is fascinating.
In conversation with the last eyewitnesses of the liberation, 75 years ago, that is quite special for two people in their twenties. Apart from the age difference, journalists Geart van der Pol and Maarten van Gestel also came across something else: the interviewees were not used to talking about emotions. They just had to keep going. “But now it all comes up again.”
The last eyewitnesses of the liberation could all have been their grandfathers and grandmothers. Journalists Geart van der Pol and Maarten Van Gestel, both 24, have so far interviewed 30 people who experienced the liberation 75 years ago. “The oldest person we spoke with so far was a woman from 102,” says Maarten van Gestel. “He still lives in the house where she let people go into hiding during the war. Only two floors lower, because she is less agile. ”
They make 75 personal stories in total, based on the anniversary number. It is part of the My Liberation project, in which the Volkskrant pays attention to the period that our country was liberated from the German rulers. The stories take place in all corners of the Netherlands and are published in the order that those same areas were liberated at the time. The first story will be online on 12 September, about Mesch in South Limburg.
What was it like for you to interview these people?
Van der Pol: “I expected that I would have to win more people’s trust. That they would think: is there going to be such a brat in the early 20’s, who will question me about what it was like during the war? But I did not find that attitude. Perhaps also because we come with an open mind. ”
Van Gestel: “We were warmly welcomed everywhere with something delicious. Not just coffee or tea, but also cookies, bonbons and always cake in Limburg. ”
Van der Pol nods: “Fruit pie.”
Brabander Van Gestel corrects the Frisian Van der Pol: “Yes,” custard “then hey? You notice that it means a lot to them to tell their story. ”
Van der Pol is coordinator of the project. He has been fascinated by the Second World War all his life. Previously, as a graduation project for de Volkskrant, he made a cross-media production about a resistance fighter. His interest began in the back seat with his pake and beppe, who told him and his brother stories about the war. “They said they used to secretly have a radio at home, because that was not allowed during the war. As children we found that very exciting. That war is such a big event and actually so recently. I find that special.
In March, newspapers and online asked whether people wanted to share their liberation stories. The response was overwhelming, says Van der Pol: more than two hundred impressive responses from eyewitnesses, or their children. Van Gestel was asked to do a large part of the interviews. There were so many good entries that they had to make a strict selection.
Van der Pol: “Really only stories with a very clear link to the liberation. Otherwise we would be tempted to bring along very beautiful war stories. We noticed that the liberation period was one of the most dangerous periods of the war. For many Dutch people, daily life continued during the war, but not during the liberation. There was suddenly a lot of military violence again. Many accidents happened in that chaos. ”
The ambition is to paint a picture of what it felt like to experience it. That is why they must be personal stories. Events that made a deep impression on the young eyewitnesses. There are horrible experiences, such as bombing. Or impressive moments such as the rolling in of American tanks. But the experience of the liberation was also in the small things, say Van der Pol and Van Gestel. Like the story of the man who, as a boy, was disappointed that his beautiful orange party hat had fallen into the gravy for Liberation Day.
That is intense.
Van der Pol: “That is also fragile and vulnerable. But they offer it. So you have to dare to keep asking questions, but you have to do it empathically. You do run through someone’s private life. ”
Van Gestel: “That’s why we take extra space and time to let those people tell their entire story. We can do an interview of 1.5 to 2 hours, even if it is only a short part. And if they then ask me if I want coffee and tell them something about the village or their grandchildren, I also think: why not. I drove all the way here.