An experts’ view on the Second World War memory
In januarien-februari verbleef dr. Lennert Savenije samen met prof. dr. Evert van der Zweerde en een groep studenten van de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen een week in Sint-Petersburg. De studenten zijn onderdeel van een denktank van de Radboud Honours Academy en deden onderzoek naar het verschil in oorlogsbeleving tussen Nijmegen en Sint-Petersburg in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Lees het verslag van de studente over hun onderzoek.
Radboud Honours Academy
Remembering Urban Trauma:
Nijmegen and St Petersburg in the Second World War
An experts’ view on the Second World War memory
Niek van Ansem
Carien van Eekhout
North American Studies
North American Studies
Policy Report, 2019 - 2020
Interdisciplinary Honours Programme for Master’s Students
The Radboud Honours Academy offers talented and motivated students at Radboud University the opportunity to take an additional, challenging study programme. Students are selected based on their ambition, potential and study results.
In an interdisciplinary think tank of max. 10 students from various study programs, a think tank will conduct research on a topic that is linked to an external organization. Besides conducting research as a group, the think tank will reflect on group dynamics and follow training sessions in English writing and presenting. The additional knowledge and skills that students acquire during the programme are of great value to their personal and academic development, and for their further career. The extra study load is equivalent to 15 ECs.
This policy report contains a summary of a research project that was carried out in the academic year 2019-2020. For a more detailed description of our research and our findings, we refer to the more elaborate research report on this project. This project was carried out for the Netherlands Institute in St Petersburg (hereafter: the NIP). The NIP’s aim is to facilitate students’ research in either Russia or The Netherlands. The information we gathered during this project, enabled us to provide advice for students (or experts) who would like to conduct research on the Second World War specifically, in Russia (and The Netherlands). These recommendations can be found in the last two chapters and these can be used by the NIP to guide students during their (comparative) research project.
© Authors and Radboud Honours Academy, 2020 www.ru.nl/honoursacademy
On the 15th of May 1940, the Dutch army surrendered to Nazi Germany, a mere five days after the German invasion of the Netherlands began. In the years of occupation that followed, life in the small, Dutch border-town of Nijmegen was not much different from that in any other city in occupied territory. That was until the 22nd of February 1944, when Nijmegen was bombed by American aircraft; the bombing raid killed between 750-800 people, making it the second deadliest bombing raid in the Netherlands after the 1940 bombing on Rotterdam by German airplanes. To make matters worse, Nijmegen became a front city once the Allied forces launched Operation Market Garden in September 1944. The liberation of the city came at the cost of approximately 800 citizens’ lives (Rosendaal, 2009). By that time, the Soviet metropolis Leningrad (today: St Petersburg) had been liberated by the Red Army after having been besieged by the German Wehrmacht for 872 days. Leningrad's wartime experiences were traumatic from the very beginning: the death toll of the Leningrad blockade reached well over one million victims.
While, especially in terms of suffering, St Petersburg and Nijmegen are probably incomparable, the impact that the blockade and Allied bombing had on the respective cities can be compared. Both events simultaneously left great gaps in the cities’ histories while also supplementing these histories by adding to them the story of war on unprecedented scale. Notwithstanding the geopolitical aspects of the Second World War, the difference between a hostile invasion and blockade (St Petersburg) versus enemy occupation with Allied bombing (Nijmegen) is at the center of this research.
During this research project we specifically looked at the role of experts on these events in fulfilling their meaning-making role within the remembrance culture of respectively Russia and the Netherlands. In doing so, the following question was examined: How do experts approach the memory of urban trauma in Nijmegen and St Petersburg with regard to the Second World War?
The methods used to answer the research question, were thick descriptions (which divide the expressions of remembrance culture into three categories: monuments, museums and finally commemorative rituals, such as memorial events), expert interviews and a survey.
This policy brief provides a brief but concise summary of the findings based on the above methods and, based on these findings, provides recommendations for cases in which there is a need for similar comparative research as we have done. These recommendations are intended for both the NIP and the students/experts who visit the NIP.
The structure of the policy brief is as following: The first section contains a brief overview of the findings gathered in the form of thick descriptions, interviews with academics, and via a survey. Based on these findings several recommendations can be made. The recommendations can be found in the second section of the paper. The paper ends with a bibliography containing literature that we would recommend taking a look at, if you are interested in conducting similar research. For a more detailed description of the research project, we refer to the research rapport that is also available at the NIP.
In order to experience the remembrance culture first-hand, we carried out field research in the cities of St Petersburg and Nijmegen. In this paragraph a summary of our findings is given. In doing so, we will divide the expressions of remembrance culture into three categories: monuments, museums and finally commemorative rituals, such as memorial events.
When comparing the war monuments in both St Petersburg and Nijmegen, there are several conclusions to be drawn. One is that the monuments in St Petersburg are large in size, whereas this is not the case for Nijmegen. Moreover the monuments in St Petersburg are located in more prominent spots than in Nijmegen. The contrast between the two cities with regard to the monumental value of war cemeteries heeds particular attention: while the Piskariovskoye cemetery in St Petersburg is an enormous graveyard, which attracts the attention of a large number of tourists, the cemetery at the Graafseweg in Nijmegen looks like any other cemetery and is easy to miss when one is not aware of its existence. This arguably ties in with the observation that in Russian remembrance culture there is visibly larger focus on honoring its war heroes. Both military and civilian victims are treated as such in how they are portrayed in monuments. This is clearly different from the case of Nijmegen, where civilians are regarded more as victims of fate. It should also be mentioned that this difference relates to a cultural difference between the two countries, as for the Netherlands there are generally fewer and smaller statues than in Russia.
As for the museums, the comparison between St Petersburg and Nijmegen leaves us with a couple of insights. Firstly, there seems to be clear cases of taboos in Russia, when compared to the Netherlands. Harsh actions of the Soviet government against its own population remain sensitive topics that are left largely unaddressed by the most prominent museums in St Petersburg. The museums that do address these topics are harder to find and - in one case - face a certain degree of backlash for their efforts in addressing taboos. Furthermore, the Soviet government’s own share of war crimes is generally left unaddressed. This stands in heavily contrast with the quite prominent Vrijheid museum in Groesbeek near Nijmegen, which not only has a broad and ever-changing scope, but also feels relatively free to do so. In both St Petersburg and Nijmegen, museums are currently devoting significant attention to civilian suffering, but in Russia the focus on heroism is definitely still more pronounced. In the Netherlands this focus amounts to attention for “outside”-heroism by the Allied Powers. The general tendency is that this focus excludes the Russian Allies, which is something that the Vrijheidsmuseum tries to correct. A final observation is that the question of the Dutch attitude towards Germany in the 1930s is not much more investigated, than pre-war attitude in Russia. In both countries, this attitude seems to be an “uneasy” subject.
So far, museums and monuments have been discussed, but there are plenty of expressions of remembrance culture that fit in neither of these categories. These expressions include rituals, some of them combining the symbolism of monuments with the educational elements of museums. Both in St Petersburg and Nijmegen several commemorative rituals exist. Firstly, for St Petersburg, commemoration rituals included many grassroots-initiatives. There are large-scale state-organized memorial events, but most of them take place on the 9th of May. In Nijmegen, the anniversary of the bombardment of Nijmegen was organized by the municipality. It should be stated however that it is highly likely that there are also many grassroot events in Nijmegen. Another observation is that art plays an important role in the memorial rituals in both countries. In both St Petersburg and Nijmegen commemorative ceremonies rely significantly on the use of poems and music. In St Petersburg there seems to be a greater use of “high art,” such as literature and classical music, whereas in Nijmegen (and the Netherlands in general), popular art and amateur poetry seems to play a more important role. Finally, while in the grassroot-initiatives in St Petersburg there was a high degree of attention for civilian suffering, rituals in St Petersburg were slightly more focused on heroism than in Nijmegen.
This brings us to the intermediary conclusion of this paragraph. In Nijmegen civilian victims are predominantly treated as random victims of fate; their deaths are used as narrative devices to remind people of the senselessness of war, in order to propagate a never-again message. What is being honored about these victims is, therefore, not as much their alleged heroism, but predominantly their dreams and ambitions, that were forever erased by the horrors of war.
In comparison, in St Petersburg, both military and civilian victims are labelled as heroes. Their stories tend to be connected with a notion of national pride. Privately, Russian people express the same “never-again sentiment” when speaking about the importance of commemoration, but in public places of memory, the never-again motive is not as heavily present as in the Netherlands. In private, some Russian people even spoke of their discomfort with the highly militaristic focus of some memorial events, regarding this as promoting the wrong values.
These distinctions can be said to be quite logical when taking the context into account. While the people of Leningrad can be said to have endured the blockade, thereby slowing the Nazi advance and “sacrificing” themselves for the country, the people of Nijmegen can be categorized as more “passive” in their victimhood. Both the bombardment and the heavy fights during Operation Market Garden were relatively short strikes of disaster, that simply “happened” to the population. Because of the speed of events, there was no point where citizens could choose either to endure or not to endure, making their plight quite different from that of the besieged Leningraders. No objective was aided or facilitated by the suffering of Nijmegen and, therefore, the perspective of heroism makes less sense here. Elements of heroism do exist within Dutch remembrance culture, but this applies mostly to“outside”-heroes, which is significantly different from the nationalist heroism, focused on in Russian remembrance culture. In the next paragraph, these observations will be elaborated on in the interview-analysis.
In order to answer our research question, several academics were asked questions that deal with the way in which we currently remember, how one should remember and what topics have not been researched enough yet. What follows is a summary of our findings with regard to the interviews. A more detailed description of the interviews can be found in the research report.
The emphasis on the citizens’ narrative is a central theme in both the Russian as well as the Dutch interviews. Several Russian interviewees argue that whilst this does not apply to all museums, most museums tend to lack individual aspects and give a voice to the citizens. Whilst Russian experts would like to see a balance between heroism and suffering, Dutch experts would prefer for the Jewish community to receive more recognition, as they are often overshadowed by other great events such as Market Garden and the bombardment of Nijmegen.
Whereas their definition of “wrong” actions differs, experts from both Nijmegen and St Petersburg appear eager to bring these stories to the surface. Russian experts find it important that certain mistakes of the government become more apparent, such as the issues with food rationing, the connection with Moscow and the procrastination of liberation. Certain elements such as differences between ranks, the amount of food one received, disabled people and PTSD cases were not allowed to be critiqued. One of the Russian experts would like for these issues and personal traumas to receive more attention in the national narrative. Dutch experts would also like for certain faults to be recognized, although these are somewhat different from the Russian examples. One of the Dutch interviewees finds it important that the actions of civil servants, who often helped persecute the Jews, should receive more attention. The interviewee believes that mistakes of the ways in which the Netherlands commemorated the war should also be transparent.
Russian and Dutch experts both believe that it is unjust to depict the Germans as the sole villains of the war. Dutch experts argue that it is important to ask questions about the family situations, careers, upbringings and other important aspects of the German soldiers’ lives. One of the Dutch interviewees argues that it is important to incorporate and evaluate the role of other countries as well, such as the heroic image of the American soldier. The interviewee argues that one should be allowed to slightly damage the heroic image of the American liberators, as this creates a more accurate memory. Perhaps one could argue that this is also the case for the Russian soldiers, as by analyzing the evacuation process one may also damage the heroic image of the Red Army.
The commercialization of the memory of the Second World War, which takes place in both films and commemorative events, is a topic in both the Russian and Dutch interviews. Whilst this commercialization is primarily limited to films for the Russian case, the Netherlands appears to be more internationally oriented. Historical sites and national commemorative days strive to attract many tourists. The Dutch experts claim that this touristic element of commemoration allows for the story to reach a bigger audience. In general, one of the Dutch experts argues that not does he deem the Netherlands to be internationally oriented, he believes that the Netherlands should incorporate other countries within their own national narrative.
While the Russian experts would like to see the years after the war gain more attention, Dutch experts would prefer to see the period prior to the war be discussed more. In terms of education, both Russian and Dutch experts acknowledge the importance of teaching the younger generation of the war. However, one of the Russian experts emphasizes that this should be done in a careful manner in order to avoid traumatizing the children. On top of that, another Russian expert argues that he would like for the schoolbooks to change.
The expert believes that school books should focus upon different cities and the division between the government’s management and the citizens’ social suffering. Dutch experts would like for schools to relate contemporary issues, such as the current refugee crisis, to the Second World War. It is without a doubt that although Russian and Dutch experts slightly differ in their precise opinion on what elements should receive more attention, both Russian and Dutch experts have a lot in common.
In both Russia and the Netherlands, an interview was conducted with an expert who had been a professor for a longer amount of time. These experts consequently were regarded as authorities on the subject and, therefore, had a greater degree of influence. Professor Lomagin spoke about an open letter of his being published in a Russian newspaper, in which he criticized a prominent museum (personal communication, interviewee, 30th January 2020) whereas the Dutch professor had been asked to pre-read a memorial speech by a national cabinet-minister (personal communication, Lennert Savenije, 22th February 2020). Another example is that of a Dutch journalist who had also been the editor of his newspaper for a significant amount of time, allowing him to partly draft his own research agenda. These are examples of access that was not available to younger researchers, who mostly worked “behind the scenes” or relied on publishing in academic journals.
The importance of distinguishing between different “instruments” of influence becomes apparent when taking into account that carrier groups are engaged in representative struggles of meaning-making. Their success depends on the extent to which they appeal to a general audience. Taking this into consideration, it can be pointed out that a column in a newspaper or a speech at a memorial event appeal to a wider audience, when compared to an academic publication that is read mostly by the academic community. It would go too far to state that academic publications cannot have a lasting impact on general remembrance culture. Academic publications can still receive significant media-attention and in one instance - encountered during this project - an academic publication had been used as the basis for a book that saw commercial publication.
In conclusion, higher-status experts have a greater variety of tools at their disposal and can more easily get their point across than experts who have only just started their careers. Status and the instruments of influence that come with them, can therefore be said to be more influential on successful meaning-making, than challenges or obstructions during the research process.
For both countries and cities there are subjects that generally remain controversial or remain uneasy matters. Consequently, these topics receive less attention by popular media, museums and researchers. The fact that these subjects exist and are underlit, is not significantly due to practical challenges or obstruction during the research process, since the research challenges that were discussed do not go beyond the challenges that any researcher might face. To a larger extent, these subjects remain difficult to discuss because of the public upheaval they can cause. Public reaction, however, in some cases can also contribute to the process of providing meaning and perspective.
This function of carrier groups is also fulfilled by many of the interviewed experts themselves. Most experts showcase the desire to correct shortcomings of the conventional narrative and use their position by writing open letters and columns or taking advisory positions. The extent to which individual experts engage in these carrier group “activities” differs, depending on the length oftheir careers and, consequently, the size of their networks. These status-factors influence the tools that experts have at their disposal, in order to influence remembrance culture.
In order to investigate whether the opinions of experts could be generalized to a broader group, a survey was administered. This survey was spread mainly amongst Dutch and Russian students from various disciplines. In line with the semi-structured interviews, we were interested in participants’ perception on the remembrance culture of the blockade and the bombardment, the research process around the events and whether there were any underlit topics related to them. Most of the findings concerning research practices and remembrance culture from the survey align with the conclusions drawn from the interviews. Similar to the interviewees, also participants from both nations thought it was important to conduct research on the two events and commemorate them. Research topics investigated so far by participants which were related to the Leningrad blockade were amongst others: remembrance culture, military strategies and tactics, impact of literature written during the blockade on the Russian people, Food shortages and hunger during the blockade. Topics concerning the bombardment of Nijmegen were amongst others: remembrance of the event, the downplaying of the bombardment after the war and to this day, the reason behind and results of the bombing, and the victims of the bombing. Both Leningrad experts and Russian survey participants were not completely satisfied with the approach to the commemoration activities concerning the blockade.
It can also be said that the majority of respondents remark various taboos which were in parallel to what experts mentioned in the interviews for the Leningrad case. Some examples of these underlit topics from Russian participants were: cannibalism, food supply, lack of research, how and why the blockade was possible, who could be blamed for it and what was the role of the Soviet state, the persecution of citizens during the siege by the Soviet secret state, actions leading up to the blockade, the consequences of the blockade and why some officials did not experience any hunger nor cold. Contrary to the Dutch interviewees, most of the Dutch survey respondents did agree with the commemoration activities of the bombardment of Nijmegen. In line with this, the majority of Dutch respondents did not perceive any underlit or sensitive topics concerning the bombardment of Nijmegen. Those participants who did perceive underlit topics gave examples such as avoidance of discussing the negative actions committed by the Allied forces, the lack of attention to the bombing in general (especially outside Nijmegen), the untruthful explanation of the bombing as a mistake, the reason of the bombing and its death tolls. A more elaborate explanation of the survey responses can be found in the research report.
As an expert or student aiming to conduct research on historical events in Russia there are several things to take into account when starting your field research in Russia. The following paragraph contains the lessons we have learned during our own field research, which might give you a headstart when starting your own research project. The bibliography that follows after this paragraph can be seen as a list of suggestions of what to read, when examining subject matter relating to the Leningrad blockade - and perhaps even to Dutch cases that you would like to compare.
When arriving in St Petersburg, you will instantly see things that catch your attention, especially when you come from a small country like the Netherlands: large streets, huge monuments, and a certain taste for militarism when it comes to commemorating events like the Leningrad Blockade. You should bear in mind that it requires a closer look (also at your own bias) in order to objectively carry out your research. One way to do this might be to think of Russian remembrance culture and your ownremembrance culture as both having “pros” and “cons.” Try to perceive what you see in terms of which parts of Russian culture you would like to “take home with you,” and which parts of your own culture you would like to introduce to native Russians.
We cannot discuss our own views on these pros and cons without stressing that we compared two cases that are different in many respects. For instance, while the Netherlands were occupied for most of the war, Russia was never completely conquered by Nazi Germany. As from Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the latter two countries were constantly at war until Germany’s defeat in 1945. When regarding the cases of St Petersburg and Nijmegen, an important difference is that Leningrad was besieged for almost three years, whereas the bombardment of Nijmegen was a matter of minutes. Furthermore, Nijmegen’s violent liberation also lasted relatively short when compared to the Leningrad blockade. Finally, the death toll of the Leningrad blockade was much higher than in Nijmegen, even when taking the different cities’ sizes into account. These historical factors account for some of the differences among remembrance cultures that we will now discuss.
Firstly, Russian remembrance culture definitely focuses more on heroism. Both soldiers and citizens are perceived as heroes by many of the people we spoke to, and they are portrayed as such in monuments and during commemorative rituals. Remembering the blockade and its victims, therefore, happens in a highly solemn and respectful way. This stands in contrast with Dutch remembrance culture, which - in comparison - approaches remembrance of the war in a more laconic manner. This is not to say that people generally take commemorating less seriously, but it tends to be done in a less communal way than in Russia. A Dutch person may privately deem it highly valuable to think of deceased ancestors/relatives during the national minute of silence to remember Dutch war victims on the 4th of May. Yet, the same person may simultaneously attribute less value to communal commemoration events than a Russian would do. To Russian people this attitude may seem disrespectful and it can certainly be argued that the Dutch can learn a thing or two from the Russians and their respect for war victims. In the Netherlands, Dutch soldiers who fought (and died) for their country are still sometimes talked about as if they posed as little more than “toy soldiers” against the overwhelmingly more powerful German Wehrmacht. This has much to with the fact that the Netherlands was liberated by foreign powers - the Americans, the Canadians and the British - who are, therefore, the subject of heroism in Dutch remembrance culture. Besides the resistance fighters, the Dutch generally do not treat their war victims as heroes, but rather as “victims of fate” who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. An example of this is the narrative-style during the 76th commemoration of the bombardment of Nijmegen, which discussed the deceased citizens as innocent victims whose hopes and dreams were crushed by the randomness of war.
The more laconic attitude within Dutch remembrance culture, however, can also be said to have its advantages. Compared to Russia, there is less of an aura of sacredness around the war within Dutch remembrance culture. Because of this, controversial and uneasy topics are more easily and openly dealt with. In doing this, using these topics for their commercial value is not shunned: commercialization is rather embraced as a way to effectively educate people about different aspects of the war. Examples of this include museum expositions on the esthetic (and manipulative) appeal of Nazi design and on the international nature of the SS - both of which attracted widespread (media) attention. Besides museum expositions, however, there are also plenty of tv shows that address these topics - sometimes even in unconventional ways, such as gameshows. Openness is the key word here, since there are also museums in St Petersburg - such as the Anna Akhmatova museum - that do address controversial and uneasy topics. In St Petersburg, however, this happened in a considerably more secretive manner than we were used to in the Netherlands. It is this openness in the Dutch public discussion about the Second World War that results in more opportunities for the general public to deepen their knowledge about the war. Of course, this does not entail that these opportunities are automatically taken by all Dutch individuals. Nevertheless, openness can be considered a large advantage of the more laconic attitude towards the war within Dutch remembrance culture.
2.2. Do’s and don’ts when doing (comparative) research in Russia
Research in the field of memory studies can benefit considerably from comparative research designs, since comparisons can highlight certain characteristics of a case that might otherwise go unnoticed. This particularly applied to our comparison of Nijmegen and St Petersburg. There is nothing as revealing about one’s personal bias than experiencing a significantly different culture. Some aspects of our own culture appeared to be less normal than we thought when comparing it to a significantly different culture. Comparative research - while certainly recommendable - is not without its challenges. Therefore, the following recommendations address some do’s and don’ts when doing comparative research in Russia.
Try to look for equivalents in both countries that you research.
Doing comparative research can be a quite overwhelming exercise. As the information piles up, it becomes easy to lose track of what you are trying to achieve. Therefore: try to maintain the balance when gathering data. When you have spoken to a professor who is an expert on a Russian city you’re doing research on, look for a similar expert in the other city/country. When you have discovered a museum that takes an unconventional approach in St Petersburg, try to look for an equally unconventional museum in the other city. That way you will already be comparing while mapping your research, making later comparison easier.
Remain focused on similarities and differences between the cases.
Another thing to keep in mind to not get lost during the research project, is to remember that when doing comparative research, essentially all you have to do is look for similarities and differences. When observing during your field research, ask yourself the question if what you see is similar or different from what you observed in the other city. In doing this, do not be satisfied with the obvious answers. Answers to this question might be obvious, but you have to make an effort to get to the bottom of something, as soon as it proves to be of interest. Try to categorize your findings by relating them to theoretical concepts (for this research project, “stakeholders” served as such a theoretical category, including for instance museum directors who wanted to attract an audience for their expositions).
Be prepared in terms of knowledge and contacts.
In order to not be overwhelmed by what you encounter during your field research, it is advisable to read up on the most relevant subjects. This way you will be able to immediately relate what you observe to what you already read about it, instead of having to look up information in response to what you observe. Furthermore, it is advisable to be prepared in terms of contacts. During our field research, we encountered opportunities we would not have had, if it was not for the help of native Russians. The NIP can offer you a lot of help in finding such contacts, but also try to look within your own surroundings if there are any people from the place you intend to visit.
This can greatly help you in establishing informal contacts, before you leave to do field research. In relation to this, learning a bit of Russian is definitely recommendable (and also a lot of fun!). We experienced ourselves how even a few words in Russian can be a great icebreaker for a conversation: it can change the nature of the conversation from highly formal to more loose (and - therefore - perhaps more informative).
Try not to be “laconic” when dealing with Russians and their WWII remembrance culture.
Don’t put the impact of the “Great Patriotic War” into perspective while discussing it with Russians/Peterburgians and take this as self-evident. Many Russians that are alive today have probably been impacted in some way on a personal level by the human tragedy of this war. Therefore, try not to perceive Russian remembrance culture from a “laconic” Dutchperspective.
Don’t take Russian interest in your national history as a given.
Be aware that the Netherlands and Dutch history (of the Second World War) are not as important to others as they might be to you. The Russians that we encountered were almost all students or experts on the Second World War, yet they were probably not accustomed to being interested in Dutch wartime culture. If you want to engage in a discussion about the Dutch side of the war, you will have to put things in perspective and find ways to make ‘the small tragedies’ in the Netherlands relatable for Russians. In general, there might not be too much curiosity for a Dutch account of the war, although there are exceptions, such as the people attending the “Dutch evening” at the NIP.
Don’t take your own bias for granted (when doing comparative research).
From our own experience, we can say that as a Dutch researcher in Russia you might experience a form of the Calimero-complex. By this we mean that being from a small country, you might be a bit too distrustful and skeptical of the historical narrative of such a giant country as Russia - simply because of a tendency to distrust large countries.
In addition, not all nations share a similar interest in international relations as Dutch academia do, especially not those nations that are, or used to be, a major power. Be also aware of the Western perspective that prevails in Dutch academia, versus a significantly different perspective that Russians connect to history. These notions might be frustrating to a Dutch researcher of Russia when experiencing them in real life, and might cloud any objective judgement.
Regarding further research we have to distinguish between researching the Second World War, in general, and the comparative cases of Nijmegen and St Petersburg preceding, during, and after the war. Nevertheless, the more general observations concerning the war can often be applied to the two cities. Hence, the recommendations regarding the war itself can also apply to possibilities for further research with respect to both cities.
With regard to the war itself, we recommend to emphasize civilians’ narratives, since the bulk of research and attention thus far has focused primarily on the military and political history of the war; even the attention paid to the Holocaust does not cover the social history genre sufficiently. This is true for academic research, but also for remembrance culture, and relates, for example, to museums, monuments, and popular culture.
Also, the relationship and differences between government and individuals provides for interesting research topics. It serves to recognize differences between the government narrative that is presented in certain areas of study, for example regarding government-funded museums versus that of civilians, which is presented via “independent” grassroots-initiatives. This might lead a researcher to distinguish, for example, between the history of a nation’s politically important region, such as Amsterdam in the Netherlands or St Petersburg in Russia versus less populous cities such as Nijmegen, or even rural areas in general. On a micro-level, this also applies to areas within areas, for example less-developed neighborhoods in cities, or neighborhoods in which there reside people with one specific ethnicity or other divergent identity.
Regarding identities, destruction by war returns as a more general theme in research, and clearly differs depending on what is remembered and what not. For example, the destruction of Nijmegen still has consequences for the manner in which the city and its people regard themselves, and the Leningrad blockade definitely influences its contemporary inhabitants.
Yet, whereas St Petersburg’s identity with regard to the war is pervaded of pride, because it withstood the siege for so long and its inhabitants experienced horrific daily scenes, the long-lasting silence with regard to the destruction of Nijmegen together with its liberation by foreign actors ensures that the city’s identity with regard to the war is not necessarily one of pride and self-esteem. Furthermore, besides the pride and forgetfulness, there is also the more tangible loss caused by destruction, such as torn-apart families, architectural loss, and what we defined in general as “urban trauma.”
Regarding this trauma, uneasy questions always return, both on the government level as on the civilian level. With respect to the war itself, the manner in which the Soviet government handled the situation in Leningrad deserves further attention. The relationship between the Leningrad government and the central government in Moscow, for example, or the manner in which Leningrad’s government handled food rationing and the evacuation process of its own inhabitants. On the civilian level, the conduct of civilians in St Petersburg remains an uneasy question, especially because it de- legitimizes the dominant heroic narrative. The circumstances of almost three years of besiegement naturally entail a fight to survive, individually but also between civilians. Hence, academic and eye- witness sources have established certain “wrongdoings” by civilians in Leningrad, such as theoccurrence of cannibalism and theft. These, and perhaps more, can be summarized by the theme of “ethics of war,” and deserve to be examined further.
The notion of ethics brings us to a more practical topic that returned often during our trip to St Petersburg, namely the question of how to teach trauma to schoolchildren. The in-school museums we visited, but also our St Petersburg guide, emphasized the importance of presenting a more inclusive narrative regarding the blockade, yet hesitated to approve an inclusive story in, for example, school curriculums. This relates to the broader question of how to teach children about war and suffering, which is a topic that is not exclusively reserved for classrooms, but should also be included when talking about, and researching, pedagogy in the domestic sphere. Finally, this upbringing includes educating both children and adults about the story of the Second World War, including that of the pre-war and post-war years. We therefore recommend not to be oblivious of the manner in which history has been presented to you, and to be aware of your own biases, which differ depending on the individual researcher.
Relating to Russian remembrance culture:
Etkind, A. (2009). Post-Soviet hauntology: Cultural memory of the Soviet terror. Constellations, 16(1).
Kirschenbaum, L. A. (4 September 2006). The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941–1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments. Cambridge University Press. p. 232, 239, 255. ISBN 978-1-139-46065-1.
Van den Engel, F. & Vreriks, J. (Producent). Gorter, J. (Regisseur). (2017). De rode ziel (Film). Amsterdam, Nederland. Zeppers Film.
On the Leningrad blockade:
Bidlack, R. & Lomagin (2012). The Leningrad Blockade, 1941-1944: A New Documentary History
from the Soviet Archives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Reid, Anna (2011), Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941–1944, Bloomsbury
Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8027-7882-6.
On personal eyewitness-accounts of the Leningrad blockade:
Adamovich, A. & Granin, D. (1982). Blokadnaja Kniga (A Book Of The Blockade). Moscow: Raduga
Van den Engel, F. & De Koning, M. (Producent). Gorter, J. (Regisseur). (2011). 900 Dagen (Film). Amsterdam, Nederland. Zeppers Film / IKON.
Relating to Dutch remembrance culture:
Burke, W. (2017). Images of Occupation in Dutch Film: Memory, Myth, and the Cultural Legacy of War. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
De Haan, I. (1997). Na de Ondergang: De herinnering aan de Jodenvervolging in Nederland, 1945-1995. Den Haag: SDU Uitgevers.
Ginkel van, R. (2011). Rondom de stilte. Herdenkingscultuur in Nederland. Amsterdam.
On the war years in The Netherlands:
Heijden, C. van der (2001). Grijs verleden: Nederland en de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Amsterdam:
De Zwarte, I. (2019). De Hongerwinter. Prometheus (an English translation is expected to be published this year).
On the war years in Nijmegen:
Janssen, B. (2005). De pijn die blijft: Ooggetuigen van het bombardement van Nijmegen, 22 februari
1944. Nijmegen: Vantilt Publishers.
Janssen, B. (2019). Het verdriet van Nijmegen 1940-1945: slachtoffers van de Tweede Wereldoorlog.
Nijmegen: Vantilt Publishers.
Rosendaal, J. (2009). The destruction of Nijmegen, 1944: American bombs and German fire . Nijmegen: Vantilt Publishers.
Savenije, L. (2018). Nijmegen: Collaboratie en verzet, een stad in oorlogstijd. Nijmegen: Vantilt Publishers.