Frisian war children


With the Frisian War Children project, the Resistance Museum Friesland has captured 15 stories on film of Frisians who experienced World War II as children. In addition to the authentic objects in the tangible collection, the Resistance Museum is using these stories to create a digital core “oral history” collection. This collection is also already a prelude to the Resistance Museum’s new presentation in the new Fries Museum.

Children of War contains personal memories of the Second World War in Sneek and South-West Friesland. The core of this book consists of thirteen short and three long testimonies from those directly involved. In words and images, it gives a personal insight into the life of a child during the war. These are not just stories about events in Sneek and South-West Friesland. They are above all poignant testimonies about tension and emotion, about fear and friendship. The many photographs come mostly from personal archives, bringing the stories even closer. The testimonies are placed in perspective with a historical reflection on far-reaching war events in Sneek and South-West Friesland, written by historian Meike Jongejan. The foreword is written by former mayor Bernhard Van Haersma Buma, son of mayor Sybrand Marinus van Haersma Buma, who died in a concentration camp during the war.

In the talking chair

Op de praatstoel – Verhalen uit Noordoost Friesland vanaf 1850

Historische Vereniging Noordoost Friesland, 2008

2008 marked the 20th anniversary of the North-East Friesland Historical Society. As part of this, 14 members went out to interview 31 elderly people.
These interviews cover all kinds of topics, such as the [disappeared] profession of the interviewees, village and city life of the past century and wartime experiences.
As they are not only told from their own experience, but also pass on stories from parents and grandparents and, in one case, great-grandparents, the book covers a time span of up to 150 years.
The interviews are supplemented by a number of ego documents, people’s own previously written accounts of part of their lives.
The 37 stories published in this book provide a beautiful and vivid portrait of life in the Northeast Friesland region over the past 100 years. Some of the stories are recorded in Frisian.
More than 200 photos, in the ± 300-page thick book provide a valuable addition and make the whole a fine reading and viewing book of one’s own area.
Members of the association and interested parties can pre-order the book until 1 March 2008 for just 15 euros + 3.35 postage. After 1 March, the book will cost slightly more + any postage. The book will be released in mid-April and will be presented at the members’ meeting on Saturday 19 April in Dokkum.

King on socks

Kening op sokken

Hylke Speerstra

Friese Pers Boekerij/Uitgeverij Noordboek,1983
ISBN: 9033001608


Hylke Speerstra consulted a dozen former handball players about what inspired them to start playing handball in the first half of the 20th century. This resulted in six portraits of handball players who played for “Master” in those days. Speerstra has written down the stories with a great sense of drama and sentiment, which will appeal to many readers. The writer has not limited himself to those who know the rules of the game, so that the non-bouncer can also get a taste of the atmosphere and humour of the game.

Visiting by skate


Op redens oer, schaatsverhalen

Hylke Speerstra

Bornmeer, 1984



Speerstra talks about the heroes of the ice: speed skaters, men and women, and also about some who took part in the Elfstedentocht. These trips are fascinatingly described; the way the struggle and perseverance on the toughest of them is sometimes breathtaking.


The great Frisian short track ice champions were world-famous in their own landscape. Names that live on. Men and women who in the early 20th century sometimes gathered a whole farm with land and cattle together. Yes, it was not just about honour; in poor times, sometimes it was even more about money.


As such, their stories also reflect the sharp social differences and acrimonious struggle for existence in the first half of the 20th century. Here are women and men who know about bending and cracking, about perseverance and – sometimes – the odd miss. At the request of some narrators, the first and second editions of the book did not mention their names. After consultation with the relatives in later printings, they are. Because they are heroes, they are an example for all Frisians, including today’s skate professionals.


Strong characters, and how strong they were in body and soul. The 15 people interviewed in 1982 would live to be over 88!



Iisleafde – Anne Visser-van Keimpema (1893-1985) Himpens/Earnewâld

De deserteur – Hilbrand Rudolphy (1897-1989) De Gordyk

It ferbûn fan Beets – Pyt Dykstra (1895-1986) Nij Beets

De erflike ferplichting – Albert Koning (1907-1998) Nijetrine/Wolvegea

De faam fan Spaltenbrêge – Easger van der Meer (1889-1987) Grou/Akkrum

It geile iis – Bouke de Vries (1907-1988) Sint Nyk

De Alvestêderider – Abe de Vries (1907-1995) Dronryp/Parys

Sipke Castelein (1911-1995), Wergea/Warten

It koarte draachflak – Gepke Fokkema (1895-1986) Feanwâldsterwâl/Hurdegaryp

De fiifentweintich-gûne-rider – Piter Brouwer (1904-1985) Langwar/De Wylgen

It bline momint – Thys Klompmaker (1903-1987) Aldehaske

It wûnder fan Snikswaach – Jolle de Jong (1907-1989) Sniksweach

Jaap Slof (1902-2002) De Jouwer

Trije oan de stok – Marie de Groot (1911-1999) Wergea

Klompen – Pietsje Feitsma (1918-1991) Hilaard/It Hearrenfean



Hylke Speerstra

Friese Pers Boekerij/Uitgeverij Noordboek, 1996

ISBN: 9789033014734


Simmerlân (1996), in which Hylke Speerstra reported on the walking trips he made (then as editor-in-chief of the Leeuwarder Courant) through Friesland two summers in a row, was again written according to this procedure.

It Simmerlân, based on news that was too small to make the newspaper. ‘Then I spoke to people on the street. In no time, they turned completely inside out about their existence, about their loneliness.’


Simmerlân is a collection of 27 stories that Speerstra initially published as journalistic impressions in the Leeuwarder Courant, when he wandered through Friesland in the summers of 1994 and 1995. Those impressions – expanded and processed – were published as a book in 1996. One of those stories is called In dauwiete moarn yn Spears (A morning – wet with dew – in Spears). During that walk, Speerstra discovers that the time-honoured family farm was no longer there. He then muses briefly about Hantsje Jans: ‘Hy hat myn famylje erflik belêste mei it reedriden’ (He hereditarily burdened my family with skating).

On clogs through the dessa

Op klompen troch de dessa, Indiëgongers fertelle

Hylke Speerstra

Uitgeverij Bornmeer, 2014

ISBN: 9789056156237


Op klompen door de dessa, Indiëgangers vertellen

Hylke Speerstra

Olympus, 2015

ISBN: 9789046706251


In Op klompen door de dessa, Speerstra records a total of eighteen stories of Frisian ‘Indies-draftees’.

Speerstra is Friesland’s oral history specialist and one of the province’s most widely read authors. His fame will certainly have contributed to these men – most of them around 90 – wanting to share their experiences of the Indonesian war of independence (1945-1950).


On the Dutch action in the Dutch East Indies. A colonial war, most boys had no idea what awaited them. To Hylke Speerstra, they could finally tell their whole story.

The Dutch military action in the Dutch East Indies shortly after World War II was a colonial war. Op klompen door de dessa tells what that war meant for the men who had to do the dirty work. A few still think it was good, but most boys never got over their traumas. They literally trudged through the dessa on clogs – they had no idea what awaited them: guerrilla, executions, war, even though they had just emerged from that in the Netherlands. The men are now well into their eighties and finally want to tell their whole story. In Hylke Speerstra, they found someone who is a good listener and a master storyteller.


20150517-Waltzing Mathilda in Fries Landbouwmuseum

Heil om seil

J. Welles - Olieverfschilderij: het laden van turf in een skûtsje

Heil om seil

Hylke Speerstra

Friese Pers Boekerij/Uitgeverij Noordboek

ISBN: 9789033012464 

Speerstra made his debut in Friesian in 1968 with Heil om seil, a successful collection of bargee stories, which would be translated into Dutch three times. In it, he demonstrated for the first time the method by which he would become known: that of a journalist who writes stories, in which the facts he has collected are presented in a literary way. He himself referred to this as “new journalism” during an interview in 1999.

Speerstra has been compared to Geert Mak, who is similarly engaged in chronicling oral history in the Dutch-speaking world. For Heil om seil, he conducted interviews with all kinds of skippers, salvagers, dredgers and tuggers.

Naked and bare before the doctor

Neaken en bleat foar de dokter,  ferhalen út ‘e sprekkeamer

Hylke Speerstra

Uitgeverij Bornmeer, 2006

ISBN: 9789056151348

In his second book, Neaken en bleat foar de dokter (Naked and bare before the doctor) (1978), Speerstra applied the oral history method: it was written based on interviews with doctors and veterinarians.


Speerstra has written down the memories of 15 Frisian doctors, including a surgeon, a dentist and a veterinarian. It has become a readable, exciting book that captures a beautiful piece of folk life. It takes place entirely in the countryside. The stories are anecdotal, funny and often very sensitive, in a natural, idiomatic language. Thus, the great social contrasts experienced by the doctors-in-rest are also touchingly drawn.

It Heidenskip

De Oerpolder, het boerenleven achter de dijken

Hylke Speerstra

Olympus, 2006

ISBN: 9789025429775

Speerstra’s major project, which he began in 2002, was to describe nineteenth-century life in It Heidenskip, a small village community southeast of the Frisian town of Workum. To this end, he held interviews with more than two hundred residents, former residents and others involved and studied (family) archives and old diaries, among other things. He supplemented the missing facts with fiction. The result was De oerpolder, which was presented to great interest on 8 June 2006 in It Heidenskip’s Hervormde Kerk.

In this book, Speerstra sketches the harsh rural life of the time, in which the often poverty-stricken farm workers and their children were almost entirely dependent on their farmers, who themselves had to endure the whims of the landowners from whom they leased their farms – while all could be affected by, for example, water disasters, cholera and livestock diseases. De oerpolder was marketed in a Dutch translation with the same title in 2007.

About his motives for writing De oerpolder and his working methods, Speerstra explained in the book’s epilogue: “It is a way of shaping a reality that is as close as possible to the real thing. At the same time, it is a search for the farmer’s child that I myself was and remain. It is the peculiar longing for the place where my ancestors grew up, tried to survive and hoped to find an existence; it is the yearning for a sphere of life that I loved, sometimes feared, that sometimes oppressed me, that I would eventually leave. Because the tough ground apparently asked too much and gave back too little. And because another world and future attracted me.”

Cruel Paradise

It wrede Paradys, Libbensferhalen fan Fryske folksferhuzers

Hylke Speerstra

Friese Pers, 2000

ISBN: 9789033011030

On the eve of the big Frisian reunion Simmer 2000, Speerstra published his book It wrede paradys, with which he would become widely known. In this book, he recorded the life stories of Dutch Frisians who, most of them due to poverty in the years after World War II, emigrated to countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and South Africa. Besides success stories, the book also featured the life histories of “people who traded the tragedy of the old country for the tragedy of the new”. Speerstra gave a picture not only of existence in the Friesland that the land movers left, but also of that in the countries where they built a new life, often with great difficulty.

Psychologist Douwe Draaisma wrote in The Academic Book Guide about the book and the land movers it features: “They have colourful stories to tell. A psychologist might add that Speerstra has benefited from the ‘reminiscence effect’: from around sixty or seventy, the very memories of events during adolescence seem to take on a new freshness. Many of the stories take on a special glow because they are told by people who are now older than the parents who had to let them go.”

Jabik Veenbaas also felt that some chapters read like “little psychological novellas”. Although a few critics felt that It cruel paradys contained predictable elements, the book is nevertheless considered an important work of documentary journalism. In 2000, it appeared in a Dutch translation under the title Het wrede paradijs: het levensverhaal van de emigrant. Both the Frisian and Dutch editions had sold about 30,000 copies each by April 2005. In the same year, an English translation was also released under the title Cruel Paradise. A second edition of Cruel Paradise was published in 2018.