“Where are we going? All these people wear stars, just like us.” The two children lean against each other and look around fearfully. As they wait for more clarity between traffic noise and other worried Jews, a classmate walks across the street. They wave to each other . “See you tomorrow!”
The action takes place near the city of Visserplein and is played by four young actors: Titus Theunissen, Olivia Schmissart, Teuntje van Someren and Lis Basselier. Here they interpret the story of the twins Harold and Paul Duisend. The twins were 11 years old when they were arrested in July 1943 along with 5,242 other Jews in Amsterdam and taken to Auschwitz, where they were killed along with their parents.
This is one of the stories that young people in Against forgetting Theater des Dames. Each of them chose a Holocaust victim to study and turned the stories into a theatrical itinerary through the Jewish Quarter.
Theater "Na de Dam" has been performing since 2010 after National Remembrance Day on 4 May. Due to the growing interest, youth performances are now being staged on other commemorative dates associated with the Second World War. The initiative is also well received abroad; in countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy, young people act out performances on different days of remembrance.
This performance will take place after National Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Spiegel Monument in Wertheim Park. Spectators follow the young people from Wertheim Park past the houses where the victims lived and the dock workers to the National Holocaust Memorial, their final destination.
In various places, personal stories of Holocaust victims are told. Meanwhile, daily life continues in the background; Cars and trams pass by, it's cold and drizzling. Young people don't seem to care, and soft guitar music in the background draws the audience into the theatrical performance.
The Nat de Dam theater arose out of concerns about the expressiveness of memorial services. Not only is World War II moving further and further away from current generations, but because of abstract stories and dry history lessons, the connection and involvement of young people is becoming less and less. The fact that Dutch knowledge about the Holocaust is rapidly declining was also shown by a study published last week.
With the help of youth performances, the Theater Na des Dames wants to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and personal, so that young people can actively participate in the history of their environment. Before the performance, young people introduced themselves in character. How would they feel during the war? What would they do or think?
Girl with a white scarf
Performances also have a positive impact on the young people who play them, according to a 2022 study of Dutch participants. In particular, there has been a sharp increase in empathy and connection with the history of the area among the young actors. They indicated that they thought more about their freedom and were better at empathizing with stories of war.
Whether they have acting experience or not, young people can register as project actors. They are guided by theater figures in the study of the Holocaust, the creation and staging of the play. Olivia Smissart already had acting experience, and this project made a big impression on her. “I found that delving into the personal histories of the Holocaust was very intense, more intense than I expected. I am also a Jew, so I think this topic is very important and very close.”
Schmissart chose to interpret the story of Settela Steinbach, a Sinti girl now known as the "white headscarf girl" because of her photograph at the door of the train to Auschwitz. She researched the girl in books, libraries and on the Internet and wrote a monologue for a piece based on this. “I think that young people talk very little about the Holocaust, this is certainly not a very pleasant topic. But it is important that we do not forget these stories, we can learn a lot from history.”