Supporters Day Foundation Werkgroep Herkenning 2016

Earlier this year I wrote an article called ‘The healing power of Krieg’ which was published in the bulletin of the Foundation Werkgroep Herkenning (FWH). On December 3, 2016 I was invited to tell about Krieg at the Foundation’s annual supporters day. Being the son of a Dutch Waffen-SS volunteer this was a special occasion for me, and it proved to be a memorable day.

FWH (established in 1981) is a Dutch organization that aims to help children of parents and/or grandparents who were on the side of the occupying forces in the years between 1940 and 1945. The foundation promotes and offers help for people facing serious (emotional) problems because their parents or grandparents collaborated with the Nazis, and raises awareness among the general public for the problems this target group has to deal with. The theme of this year’s meeting was: Why are we so preoccupied with the past?

Together with my wife Hennie, my sister Margreet, singer Patries and film maker/creative partner Ronald we headed for Amersfoort, were the meeting took place. Krieg was scheduled for the morning session. We were warmly welcomed by the organisation and, after putting up my small gear (two acoustic guitars and a MacBook) and the chairmen’s introduction we took the stage.

HJ at supporters day FWH (secretary FWH)

obviously – on the connection with my father’s Nazi collaboration during the Second World War. This being the first time I was to speak extensively about this aspect of Krieg in public, I felt a little nervous. Being amongst people sharing the same ‘burden’ made it easier, but nevertheless, it felt a bit strange when I spoke some of the words out loud for the first time.

I wanted to link my father’s story with that of my granduncle during the performance. Using words, images and interspersed with tracks from the album I tried to show the relationship between the two war-stories, and my personal perspective on this. The Krieg songs, performed by Patries and myself, seemed to work very well in this context. The full text of my presentation can be found here.

Patries and HJ at supporters day FWH (secretary FWH)

On FWH’s website it is stated that ‘even today, many of these children, now adults, are faced with problems in their personal and/or social lives’. Preparing for the presentation I asked myself (again) the question what ‘problems’ I’m having with my fathers past. My instinctive answer is: None! But, looking at the effort I’m putting into the whole Krieg thing for one, is that really so?

We received positive reactions after the presentation. One attender spoke out appreciation by stating somewhat surprised this is also a way to deal with the past. Taking into account the tension I felt prier to the presentation, this came as relieve! But it also made clear that the above-mentioned statement is very much relevant. Apart from questions about and comments on ‘my story’ and the performance, people expressed their own experiences and struggles with the past. Hennie and Margreet also spoke about their view on the topic, and the way the Krieg project reflects on them. Hearing them speak about it here I found very brave, and it made me more conscious about the impact of what I’m doing on my family.

During lunch, where lively discussions about the topic continued, I was able to talk to the Foundation’s chairman. Hearing about her story and the broad knowledge she has on the subject was moving and very insightful. It made me realize the importance of learning about what happened to this group after the war and to stimulate open debate about it.

The afternoon session was for Emile van Rouveroy. Emile introduced and showed his film ‘Tot in het derde geslacht’ (To the third generation), a film about his struggle with his families collaboration, and the death of his brother Jan on the Eastern Front in 1943. Emile’s parents were convinced NSB-ers and three of his brothers served in the Waffen-SS. The film made great impact on the attenders. We got to learn many more stories and strategies how people cope with the past through the discussion that followed. Emile emphasizes the fact that he has ‘closed the door’ on the past with this movie. He seemed to advise others (he addressed me directly a few times) to do the same. One thing that struck me in particular was the fact that Emile refuses to ‘forgive’ his father for sending his sons to fight for the wrong cause. Although it’s an entirely different situation – my father was 18 years old at the time; Emile’s father was an established NSB-er with (young) adult children – I do not blame my father for anything. I perhaps could blame him for the way he endorsed my fascination with war, the way he tried to glorify the Waffen-SS and many more things, but I don’t. I mainly see the tragedy that resulted from the war and the way he tried to cope with it.

Click here to see Emile’s movie.

So, why are we so preoccupied with the past? It became clear that understanding, or accepting, the choices made by our ‘wrong’ (grand) parents, and looking for relieve by sharing the common burden are underlying desires. Other motivators seem to be rectification of historical misconception in public and/or academic understanding, and acknowledgement of the wrong being done to collaborators and their families in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Speaking for myself, I ask myself the question Kurt Meyer – Son of Generalmajor der Waffen-SS ‚Panzermeyer’ – raises in his memoires: At what point my attempts to put myself in ‘those days’ reach their limits? Does it lead to an absurd degree, while a necessary and at the same time decide judgment over that period is being made impossible?

Is see very well that ‘father Panzermeyer’ casts a longer shadow over his son’s life than ‘SS Grenadier Vermeulen’ does over mine, but I feel that I too need to take a stance on the subject in my artistic work. And perhaps especially now, whilst populism and extremism are gaining ground all around. I want to find a way to express my feelings about my father’s experiences during the war, and the impact of the phenomenon ‘collaboration’ on society at large and personal lives on to this day in my next Krieg project.

In the December issue of the FWH’s bulletin a meeting attender’s reaction is published.

(…) This time the program was different. In the morning and in the afternoon the subject of ‘children of wrong parents’ was being addressed in a creative and artistic way. The fact that at first a younger (Hendrik Jan) and secondly an elderly (Emile) came to speak gave the whole thing something extra! I’m writing this email because it has touched me. Regarding all the negative consequences on the lives of fellow-sufferers within the foundation this positive manner of dealing with a negative fact has given me a ‘boost’. 

For me, there is no greater reward than a reaction like this.