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Mama read Marx


Elke Weesje researched the experiences of those who, born between 1937-1952, grew up in a communist nest in the shadow of World War II and the Cold War. She makes clear the emotional rollercoaster in which communists and those close to them were caught, having first survived persecution during World War II, then enjoyed great popularity because of their consistent resistance, which, however, turned into aversion and suspicion within three years under the influence of the Cold War. With the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 as a tragic low point.


During her internship at the IISG, supervised by Margreet Schrevel, Weesjes came into contact with the history of Dutch communism and spoke to children who grew up in a communist family largely after World War II. She became fascinated by this second generation, which sought a path between the loyalty and admiration for their emotionally wounded communist parents, and the repulsion and hostility from society towards their parents that also radiated onto the children.


Weesje previously wrote an English-language dissertation in which she compared the experiences of the ‘cradle communist’, the children of communists in the Netherlands and Britain. Based on a series of interviews with 38 children of working-class rank-and-file members of the Dutch and British communist party. A relevant study that offers insight into how, in particular, the experiences of a Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, which never took place in England, influenced the different dealings with and positions of communists in both countries. Weesjes then decided to write a more accessible book, written in Dutch, in which she focused on the Dutch experience. This was a good choice, as it offers more space to place her interlocutors’ statements within their life stories and within the way communism was dealt with in the Netherlands during the Cold War.


Oral History offered her the opportunity to illuminate this history from a non-institutional perspective (of the child). Relevantly, after the first series of interviews, she returned to a number of interlocutors some 20 years later. She indicates that these then had more space or were better able to look back critically, although we don’t see much of that in her book. This is a shortcoming, as the book would have gained strength if Weesjes had mobilised more opposing voices from children of the time who – sooner or later – distanced themselves from communist ideology and criticised their communist parents’ upbringing.