As I roam the internet daily for interesting World War II-related histories I come across a lot of photos. Usually, I save them, but I never really do anything with them. After reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others last week, an essay on war photography, I thought it would be interesting to pick out fifteen photographs from my collection that I find beautiful or startling.
I’d had the date marked on my calendar for weeks: 16 and 17 September, Market Garden weekend. On 17 September, 1944, many a Dutch citizen in the south of the country looked up to the sky to see ‘falling angels’, aka Allied paratroopers, taking part in the largest airborne operation of the entire war.
Some months ago, I was asked to contribute an article to TXT Magazine, an academic publication from the University of Leiden’s Book and Digital Media Studies department, which generally focuses on the creation, dissemination and adaptation of books and texts as objects. The theme of this issue was ‘navigating seas of text’. I knew I wanted to write about something World War II-related – naturally – and dove into my reading, finally settling on writing about the role of three American librarians during the war. I relished the opportunity to do research on and write about some cool ladies and about the importance of books during the conflict, and it’s very exciting to see it in print at last! I have scanned it in and it’s available to read under the cut.
Lately, in the context of Remembrance Day here in the Netherlands, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the different ways in which World War II is being remembered today. For us, being occupied by Nazi Germany during the war has become a foundation myth of our identity, and most Dutch novels, films, and even musicals (Soldier of Orange, based on the book of the same name) about the war centre around the two main protagonists in that myth: the evil collaborators and the virtuous members of the resistance. You can even pretend to be a member of the underground press in an escape room in Nijmegen, racing against the clock to escape discovery by the Nazis.
You may remember that around the end of last year, I visited the town of Bastogne with two friends. Being big fans of HBO’s Band of Brothers, we wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve together in the same vicinity as the paratroopers did over 70 years ago: in the Ardennes, site of the Battle of the Bulge. I wrote a report about this very special trip here.
Last week I spent a beautiful weekend in the seaside town of Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales. I took the train up to Cartmarthen and there transferred to a bus, which took in a beautiful part of the coastline on its way to Aberystwyth. I had been told that it’s probably the most “Welsh” town there is. It reminded me of Brighton, mostly because of the sunny weather and the candy-coloured houses, but yes, it was undeniably Welsh: the red Welsh dragon was ubiquitous. I even saw somebody wearing suspenders with the Welsh flag on them!as it’s closer to the north than Swansea, there is a higher number of people who speak Welsh. Signs and menus were nearly all bilingual.
A few weeks ago I was in Berlin on a lightning visit, accompanying a friend who was passing through on her way to a conference. I spent half a day there by myself and took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Die Schwarzen Jahre: Geschichte einer Sammlung. 1933 – 1945 at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. It was an excellent overview of a topic that interests me very much, the Nazis’ famous exhibition of degenerate art (Entartete Kunst) that called for an attack on modernist art, mostly expressionist and abstract pieces. The Bahnhof Museum displayed artworks from the original exhibition, and provided a context by featuring works that were made after the war as a response to Nazism, works that exemplified the Nazi standards of art, and works that had been made in secret and were only shown to the public after the war ended. It was extraordinary to me how arbitrary the criteria that deemed a piece to be degenerate seemed to be. I took a few photographs in the city (sadly there were no cameras allowed inside the museum); Berlin at this time of year is decked out in turquoise and gold.