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The silence of Maria Zachea

Het zwijgen van Maria Zachea – een ware familiegeschiedenis

Judith Koelemeijer

Atlas Contact, 2008

ISBN: 9789045011929

All 12 brothers and sisters – the first born in 1934, the last in 1953 – have their say, focusing on memories of the big family, the (sick) mother, the difficult father and the dead brother.

Judith Koelemeijer visited all her uncles and aunts (and her father) to hear their stories. This will no doubt have been with a cassette recorder. In the preface, Koelemeijer herself speaks of ‘a personal oral history’ in which she starts with the oldest and ends with the youngest.


Judith Koelemeijer became intrigued by the image of the silent mother – her grandmother – and went in search of her family’s history. She wondered what the 12 children thought about their mother as they sat opposite her night after night. What did they know about her? What did they actually know about each other? How did they look back on their shared childhood in the 1950s and 1960s?
Their stories are revealing. For however close they used to live together, the siblings appear to have hardly known each other. Everyone kept their worries to themselves and remained silent. And all 12, without knowing it from each other, keep completely different memories of how things were back then. In The Silence of Maria Zachea, they each tell their own story: the neat eldest daughters who married so late, the ‘professors’ who studied in town, the ‘workers’ who took over their father’s landscaping business, the ‘little ones’ who conquered freedom.

The Silence of Maria Zachea is not only the, for many, recognisable history of a large, Catholic family in times that were changing at lightning speed. It is also the contemporary story of 12 siblings who must decide together on the life and death of their silent mother – while anxiously trying to maintain harmony.