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Interview with A.J.M. (Ton) Strik

Опубликовано: 13.12.2019

A.J.M. (Ton) Strik followed a military career. He has been assigned in several national and international NATO positions. Since his retirement from military in the rank of Brigadier-General (April 2008) he took on the position as professor on Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Applied Science in Leeuwarden (NL) for 6 years. Now he is consultant for international strategic and security relations. Futhermore, he works as a guest lecturer at the State University of St. Petersburg (Department of International Relations), in the NOHA programme (Network on Humanitarian Action) of the University of Groningen (Netherlands) and at the University Gadja Mada of Yogyakarta (Indonesia).


In this interview, he shared with us his thoughts about some images of the Second World War, which can connect people of one and/or different generations.




Guest lecturer
at the State University of St. Petersburg (Department of International Relations),
in the NOHA programme (Network on Humanitarian Action) of the University of Groningen (Netherlands),
at the University Gadja Mada of Yogyakarta (Indonesia)
Connection with different generations

I was born in 1951 in the Netherlands, so I feel my connection with the generation of people born after the Second World War. The people who have participated in that war raised me in my junior times. So initially, I feel some link with my friends, my parents, and even my grandparents, who were partly involved in my upbringing when I was a child, and then, on a more general level, I understand that this link is not only with them but also with their generations. Anyway, I feel this connection through all these experiences, which are a part of our history.

Is World War II the main event for your generation?
The Second World War is the main event not for my generation (as I was born after the war), but for the generation of my parents. When I was born my father was 35, my mother was 27. Because of the war and its consequences, they had to wait for seven-eight years before they could marry. Partly because of circumstances, they were not favorable enough – no work, no money, no housing – all of these already had an impact. But also because of the feelings coming from the war into their life – the feelings, which have not been yet overcome, which later have been passed over to the younger generation that has not experienced that event. 
A special story in Ton’s family 
Well, what I know about that situation is that there is a special story in our family about it. After the war, the younger and only brother of my mother was sent as a conscript soldier to the Dutch-Indie Colony for 6 months. My parents were going to marry at that time but my mother decided to wait until her brother would come back. However, actually, he was allowed to return after three and a half years and she waited for him all that time, and only then got married. 
The best way of studying the past

Of course, all these stories and memories about the war - you store them somewhere deep down. Even if you have never experienced them yourself, the link is there. They are not only historical facts but how they are remembered by the next generation, how they are taught to it.
I have passed some of the stories to my children, not yet to my grandchildren, as they are too young. I think that if your children are too young, these repeated stories will be in their mindset for a long time so they will not believe the factual history part.
In my opinion, the best way of studying the past is both listening to the stories of witnesses and reading history books.
Parents’ stories against historical facts
From the stories of my parents I have built images of what they saw, how it influenced them. I listened and found it fascinating because I was interested in history. I read many books. Some of them had facts that were sometimes not the same as my parents told me. What they told me was their personal experience.
One example: at the end of the war there was an air attack by the Allied airforces on the city, which was located close to the place where my parents lived then. I read in several books that it had a huge impact on the city. My parents never thought about it in that way because they lived 10 kilometers away from the city. My parents never told me negative stories about that because it was a mistake and part of the war. They were not in that city during the attack.
If the stories of my parents and historical facts are contradicting, I will go for a second book or another source because when they are confronting, I should decide whether my parents are right and the scholars are wrong or vice versa.
Nevertheless, I realize that my parents might have changed the stories based on their experience.
The first time I found that the facts were correct and the story of my parents was wrong, I came to another challenge, another crucial question: "Why have my parents changed the story?" 
Some strong events might have had such an impact that they hid it or did not like to talk about it. I can remember my mother only once told me about just two days after the war. Somewhere on the road in the village they found a person who was executed. It was clear because the person was executed after the war, he should have been a collaborator. She never told me about it again. It was a small village where everyone knew everyone. I was too young and never came back to her to speak about this story.
My father told me once: «I have to admit, that now I feel sorry I have not discussed more with you». However, for me it is OK. When my parents told me these stories, I could feel that certain parts or elements they might not have liked to discuss. Therefore for the question «Why have my parents changed the story?» I have two answers. The first is that they lived both in a rather quiet area and they were rather lucky going through the war. While from the other point of view, there might have happened things that they pushed away completely and did not want to tell me, to bother me with them. Although I was really interested in history, I promised myself not to ask more.
Enforced labour
Other stories of my parents that I can recall are about how the people in the Netherlands were compelled to labour during the war. My father and his friends, they had to work as laborers. It was in 1942 or something like that. The Germans were simply picking out young men from the street for enforced labour. My father was in a group that had to build an airfield. This airfield just still exists. The labourers had to work on the airfield and stayed in the houses of people – very often collaborators – from the nearby village. A large part of work was actually made with groups of four men, so they tried to delay the progress as much as possible. They had to be careful because the Germans were watching. In fact, this situation describes how important the organization is. That leads me to some other ideas.
Actually, my father was born in a family with 11 children: 4 girls, 7 boys. He was number three. During the war, the oldest one always could stay at home. Number two, three and four were taken to Germany. At the last moment, my father found a job at a factory, that was producing shoes for export to Germany and for the German army. The Germans did not want to destroy the factory, and therefore he was in safety more or less. Two of his other brothers had to work and live in the center of Germany, and it was very risky. When one of them was on leave, he slipped away. He was hiding somewhere in the Netherlands, in a faraway swamp area. The other one had to go back as he could have been found. For him it was quite tricky what to do. Should he try to escape, should he just follow?… I feel it was a hard decision for him. What is more, it was so for most people.
It is very easy to discuss, to judge people in that period. But what would you do if you were in that situation? If you are honest, you do not know. You think you are brave and you might not be such a brave person. Then actually, I move one step forward. If I take the present situation, there are some conflicts and injustice in the world that I should react upon now. As maybe my grandchildren in 20 or 50 years will ask me: "Hey, why did not you react?"
An important role of organization
So with respect to the Second World War the process of judging people is now going on in the Netherlands as different stories of the wartime are more and more really written down: stories of collaborators and their children who had a really bad time after the war; stories of Jews, only a small part of whom returned to their destroyed homes after concentration camps.
How to judge people in the Netherlands during the Second World War? The police, the factories were all functioning. I think that everyone was functioning. There was no real underground or resistance movement. There was some resistance but not in the way that has been possible in the Russian area – huge units in the forest that no one could find – as the Netherlands is too small and much more organized. For clarification, I can mention the fact that from all the Jews in the Netherlands 95% were captured and transported to the concentration camps. It is the only country, which achieved such a result. Why? Because we are super-organized. Every individual was registered and known, therefore easy to be located. And because many of the police were helpful to the Nazi supporting government at that time..."they were just doing their duty".
Circumstances of meeting ("how my father met my mother")
As I have already said, my parents were lucky. They have lived in a rather quiet area – one of the small villages where no racial conflicts took place.
When the American, British, Canadian and the Polish army reached the Netherlands in 1944 they reached the village where my mother was living and this is the story how my father met my mother. Since that village became a front line, the people had to be evacuated. The family of my mother was evacuated to the place where my father lived at that time. That is how they got 2-3 families in one house. It was nice for a couple of days but for a couple of weeks it was a bit difficult. Anyway, later, when the people could return, they had to restart their life. I know my father made some little jobs for Canadian militaries like making coffee and cleaning. All factories were closed at that time and he tried to find any possible way to get some money.
The story of the stolen bicycle
When the Germans left the Netherlands, they took many things with them, including bicycles of the residents. Even now, there are stories about the Germans who rode the Dutch bicycles while retreating. Those are the tales, which will go on until we might have another war. Maybe it is strange. Over the last centuries, we had wars with the Spanish, then with the British, after with the French and finally with the Germans. I will never think about an English guy as being my enemy, or Spanish, or French. I won’t think about a German guy as being my enemy as well, but something like "your grandfather might have been an enemy of my grandfather" will still exist. To a German I could easily say "I cannot blame you, I will not blame you, but it is a part of the history and you should understand that". I do not have this feeling to the British, French or Spanish. So, the story of the stolen bicycle will be gone after the next war.
Preferences in the field of art
As for some associations with my generation that I have in the field of art, I think that my generation is linked to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as they were breaking with the old situation and singing about new opportunities.
Among writers, I prefer new Dutch authors, not the ones of the old school. Actually, I like reading history books that help me to understand where we come from and how people use power.
Turning to films, I should mention such classics as «The longest day» (direct. Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald and Darryl F. Zanuck; based on Cornelius Ryan's 1959 book The Longest Day - transcriptor’s note). To be honest, of course I give preference to those films, which do not end very badly. At the same time, I realize that a sad movie usually describes the unvarnished real life, so that it definitely must be seen as well.
Concerning pieces of painting, I do not really like pictures of modern artists since I would rather choose something more realistic.
Main image of Ton’s generation
When it comes to the main, fundamental feeling, image of my generation, I think that it is the feeling that nearly everything is possible in life and only does depend on your effort. We are a growing nation and society. Everything will be better and nicer. After the misery of the pre-war situation and the war there was an active and prosperity improving mindset in the nation. My father earned only 40 guldens (= 20 euros) when I was born. My parents had no opportunity to go to secondary school. I know my parents could have done better and would have had a better life if they had a chance. While bringing me up, my parents pushed the idea that you should take every opportunity. They sent me and my siblings to secondary school. More prosperity was reachable, but there was no luxury: you still had to do something, it was not for free. You had to do it but it was reachable. I think that is the feeling, which my generation has, the feeling based on the experience and the stories of our parents.

Interviewer: Lyudmila Artamoshkina

Transcript of audio recording of the interview: Lyubava Putylya

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