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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.


The Cold War

Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE)

Reinwardt Academie, cultureel erfgoed


Graduation research using the oral history method
Britt van der Kolk en Bloeme van Bennekom

The Cold War is still relatively recent. It was a period of fear, uncertainty and nuclear threat. Everyone experienced this period differently. New political parties emerged and special bunkers were built to protect the population in times of attack. But what about the remains of this period? According to the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), too little attention is still paid to heritage from the Cold War. Not just to the bunkers, but also to the stories. A special project highlights this period.




Defense Harbor


Oud-militairen vertellen, soms voor het allereerst, over hun ervaringen rondom deze geheime haven aan de Rijn.

De Defensiehaven was onderdeel van de IJssellinie: een waterlinie uit de Koude Oorlog die het land moest beschermen tegen een mogelijke invasie van de Sovjet Unie. De IJssellinie en daarmee de Arnhemse haven waren tot het einde van de Koude Oorlog uiterst geheim. Verhalen over deze tijd zijn daarom heel schaars.

Cold War

Casemate at Arnhem, part of the IJssel Line © MartinD/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0


Number of interviews: 31

During the Cold War, there was a threat of land invasion from the East. In Gelderland, the hostility between East (Soviet Union) and West (United States) left impressions. Witnesses tell about this special period (1945-1989) in oral history interviews.

The special, which ties in with the theme of the Erfgoedfestival 2020, contains stories that were recorded by the Werkgroep Oral History Gelderland.

Also included are stories from the municipality of Arnhem’s project on the Defensiehaven. The Defensiehaven was part of the IJssellinie: a defensive structure that was kept secret as much as possible until it was dismantled in the 1960s and beyond.