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Forced labour during World War II

Sub-study 1 – Labour deployment


An estimated 500,000 to 630,000 Dutch men worked compulsorily in Germany during World War II. During this Arbeitseinsatz, civilians were compulsorily employed to keep the German economy running, while German men served in the army. Forced labour is thus a part of history involving many Dutch families. Yet this history is not part of Dutch, European, or global collective memory. As a result, it is plausible that the subject is not alive among a broad public, but is within affected families.
The question is what memories live on within families under these circumstances and what the impact of the memories is into the third generation.


The research project ‘War and freedom in three generations’ will run from 2021 to 2025. One or two sub-studies will be carried out each year. Each sub-study focuses on a different memory community within which five families are interviewed each time. The interviews cover three different generations; in addition to the war generation itself, representatives from the second and third generations are also spoken to separately.

With this study, the committee aims to investigate how memories of (grand)parents’ wartime past carry over to subsequent generations and how family stories form in practice.

Does social awareness and collective handling of a particular war past (e.g. recognition, denial, concealment or disinterest) influence the memories of the different generations and the family stories that are passed on? Do these war memories influence views on or perceptions of freedom? And how do younger generations position themselves within this memory landscape?


Sub-study 2: ‘Dutch East Indies/Indonesia’

The Japanese occupation in 1942 brought an abrupt end to Dutch colonial rule in the Indonesian archipelago. Part of the population was interned, taken prisoner of war or employed as forced laborers, and many tried to survive in (very) relative freedom. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, several conflicts and developments followed that were important for the migration of part of the population to the Netherlands, including the Indonesian revolution, the New Guinea issue but also the anti-communist violence in the mid-1960s. The first generation of eyewitnesses to this history is leaving us, there is room among younger generations for a new look at the colonial past and attention to the diversity of (war) experiences in the Indonesian archipelago. What does this transition mean for the way memories are passed on intergenerationally and for the effect of the war past in the present?


Sub-study 3: ‘Roma and Sinti
Currently in progress

Sub-study 4: ‘Veterans
Currently being carried out by the Dutch Veterans Institute (NLVi)

Sub-study 5: ‘Jewish families
Currently in preparation