in the war museum one can almost touch WWII


Bunker Museum Schlei, SchiermonikoogSculpture by Lars van den Brink

In the German troops’ bunker 502 from 1942 on the grounds of EuroParc’s bungalow park in Dordrecht, the war, that is, World War II, is far away and close at the same time. Everyday life continues. On the menu for the twenty men is – it was expected – sauerkraut† The chef has written it on a sign.

The table is already set for the soldiers guarding and, if necessary, defending the adjacent rivers Hollandsch Diep and Dordtsche Kil and the strategically important Moerdijk bridge. The service is from the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. For the entertainment, there are magazines for the troops, Signal and Wehrmacht among other. The air is stuffy.

A machine gun (MP 40) is ready for use. A warning sign, ‘Attention, enemy is listening† Another, ‘Entry prohibited!† gas masks. A telephone exchange. British. A flag with a swastika. A periscope to explore the area and see the enemy. A barrel with beverage sinks

Twents War Museum, Vriezeveen Sculpture Lars van den Brink

Twents War Museum, VrezelveenSculpture by Lars van den Brink

Dolls, dressed as German soldiers and in between them at one point a 34-year-old ICT specialist from Dordrecht, who for years has been engaged in imitating reality in 502. Arnold Leevenson has worn a jacket from the German Wehrmacht to the picture by Lars van den Brink. He poses casually between the soldiers. It looks natural.

The bunker is a small museum, a diorama, where an aspect of life in World War II is depicted in detail. That’s exactly what Van den Brink suggested. His crucial question: is it possible to portray the war and imitate reality, including the horrors, in a diorama?

Victory Museum, Grootegast sculpture Lars van den Brink

Victory Museum, GrootegastSculpture by Lars van den Brink

His answer, a little skeptical: in part. Because an impression is only an impression, one must have been in the bunker at the time to know how it went; to smell the stench of twenty soldiers huddled together and feel their fear – the Allied bombers flew back and forth. After which Van den Brink decided to playfully disturb the image by posting a contemporary passer-by in the decor.

tangible reminder

He got the idea through a meeting with Erik Somers, a historian from the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Niod). Somers explored how Dutch museums shape the history of World War II, including the historical military aspects.

In 2014, he obtained his doctorate at the University of Amsterdam with his dissertation The war in the museum – memory and imagination† The trend according to him: For the sake of the younger generations, the memories are increasingly made tangible, as in the small bunker museum on the EuroParcs square in Dordrecht, a stone’s throw from the A16 between Rotterdam and Hazeldonk.

Twents War Museum, Vriezeveen Sculpture Lars van den Brink

Twents War Museum, VrezelveenSculpture by Lars van den Brink

The (incredibly ugly) keyword: ‘experience of authenticity’. Fantasy is not enough. The past must be felt, and the public demands ‘authenticity’ in the form of authentic objects in historical surroundings, Somers concluded.

That task has been fully handed over to Arnold Leevenson and another collector / volunteer from Dordrecht’s bunker museum, Nick Vermaat (65). Together with intellectual relatives, they dug out the bunker, after long discussions with the municipality of Dordrecht, managed to establish a museum and collected countless objects of German origin, via eBay and thanks to gifts and random finds.

That was how it was then, they say in their piles, for 95 per cent. To avoid possible misunderstandings: There is no trace of admiration for the occupier. The men only want to bring the story to life and tell this one story about the war, partly inspired by a Jewish grandmother (Leevenson) and a grandfather in the resistance movement (Vermaat).

Freedom Museum Groesbeek Sculpture Lars van den Brink

Freedom Museum GroesbeekSculpture by Lars van den Brink

They are not the only ones: 40 percent of the more than eighty Dutch war museums were only established after 2000. The total number of visitors has doubled since 1995. The war is still popular, even after all this time.

In Dordrecht, the war has become an innocent, one-dimensional diorama. Such was the case in 1942-1945 in the German crew bunker 502, and at the same time not at all.

Victory Museum, Grootegast sculpture Lars van den Brink

Victory Museum, GrootegastSculpture by Lars van den Brink

Leave a Comment