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Coal pits

Productiehuis De Chinezen
Time period: 1900-1992
Number of interviews: 13
Accessibility: by appointment via
Period of interviews: 2022

In Coal Pits, a number of carefully selected ex-miners dig deep into their memories, where they have stored a wealth of colourful stories about the mine. In juicy and plastic fashion, they tell moving, funny and exciting anecdotes about the dangerous and unhealthy work ‘in the pit’, about daily life in the cités, about the struggle for social rights, the arrival of the ‘guest workers’ and about the rise and fall of heavy industry in Limburg.


The series mainly lets workers have their say: men (and women) who grew up in poverty, usually had not studied and hoped for a better future by working in the pit.

Their stories form the basis of the series and are complemented by historical film material from various archives and atmospheric images of the still-existing industrial architecture and the original miners’ committees of the time.

The series is timely. Not only because it is 30 years since the last Limburg coal mine, that of Heusden-Zolder, was closed. But also because the generation that can still tell the story of the mines from their own experience is disappearing. This is shown, among other things, by the unfortunate fact that four of the 13 key witnesses have died since the filming.


Most of the witnesses are in their 70s and 80s, some even well into their 90s. These are the names:

Agostino Mele – 83 years old
Franco Mirisola – 69 years old
Ismail Erdogdu – 72 years old
Jan Kocur (+) – 79 years
Jean De Schutter – 76 years
Jean Peeters – 69 years
Louis Snoeks (+) – 91 years
Mai Van Houdt – 82 years
Mil Coenen – 63 years
Rocco Berterame (+) – 95 years
Sandrettin Koçak – 80 years
Sophie Gruszowski – 76 years
Stephan Bratus (+) – 96 years

The episodes
Three episodes cover the many facets of underground life, a fourth deals with life above ground and the fifth outlines the story of the closure of the mines.

Episode 1 – Underground
In the first episode, the coal miners take us into the mysterious world underground. In smells and colours, they recount their work and habits among the stones and dust.

Episode 2 – On life and death
In the second episode, the coal pits highlight the dangers of working in the mines. They reminisce about exciting moments and tricky situations that fortunately usually ended well for them. Although that was not the case for everyone.

Episode 3 – The promised land
There was a shortage of hands in the mines. Workers were therefore recruited from other countries. This third episode tells about the experiences of the newcomers in our country and sketches the multicoloured camaraderie underground.

Episode 4 – The cité
In the fourth episode, the coal pits take us to the cité. After all, the mine was much more than the dark corridors underground. Family life above ground was also completely controlled and organised by the mine, in districts and neighbourhoods where the miners lived together.

Episode 5 – The closure
The final episode looks back at the closure of the mines in Limburg. The coal miners recall the actions and strikes they undertook and outline the feeling they still struggle with to this day.

Oral history of the mining region

Mijnwerkers die afdalen in de mijn van Zwartberg. Op de voorgrond een kolenwagentje.(1927) - Nels en Thill
Number of interviews: 43
Accessibility: Contact


Number of interviews: 43

Number of persons: 49

More detailed description of the interview in the heritage database:

Accessibility: contact

Since its creation in 2007, the Heritage Unit has initiated or supported many projects in and about the Mining Region. In preparation for a publication, an exhibition or another heritage event, oral sources were often collected. Each one of them interesting testimonies that shed light on one or more aspects of the past of the Belgian Limburg Mining Region!

The counter has now reached more than 200 oral sources!


Because we do not want to lose this wealth of information (for example for scientific research), we are currently busy opening up these sources through the library of Genk.


In a first phase, we will make the interviews available that we have recorded ourselves, independently of a project. Since 2011, we annually commission several interviews of persons with an interesting story.


In 2011, Erfgoedcel Mijn-Erfgoed started recording interviews from the mining area. These interviews are important testimonies of elderly people who can add to the shared memory of the Limburg mining region. These testimonies are not collected via a project, but they provide a valuable contribution to the heritage in the Mining Region that, together with the witnesses, is in danger of disappearing.

Since 2011, a few people have been interviewed each year. In the meantime, the counter has reached 43 interviews with 49 people, good for about 50 hours of visual material!

Expo Sluitertijd


Naar aanleiding van 100 jaar steenkoolproductie in de Limburgse Mijnstreek en 25 jaar sluiting van de laatste steenkoolmijn van de Benelux, werkte Erfgoedcel Mijn-Erfgoed in 2017, in samenwerking met persfotograaf Tony Van Galen, de rondreizende expo ‘Sluitertijd’ uit. Deze tentoonstelling, met een 35-tal foto’s van Tony Van Galen, geeft een sfeerbeeld van de periode van de mijnstakingen en -sluitingen van de jaren 1980 en 1990. Ook werden enkele interviews afgenomen van personen die op de foto’s stonden.