EASTory through their Eyes events in Pilsen

The Foundation’s second youth event of the EASTory through their Eyes project took place in Pilsen, Czechia, between 2 and 4 May. The three-day event involved a total of 90 students from Pilsen and its region and took place in the framework of the 2022 Liberation Festival.

After visiting Krakow last month, the EU-funded EASTory through their Eyes exhibition travelled to Pilsen, and it was on display at the Moving Station cultural centre. For three consecutive days, 2, 3 and 4 May, a youth event involved school groups from Pilsen city and region. During these days, the students could actively learn about Pilsen in WWII and the stories of people who experienced it, be it in the form of a diary or from the words of eyewitnesses.

The event included a theatre workshop based on the story of Věra Kohnová, a 12-year-old Pilsen citizen of Jewish origin who was deported and died in a concentration camp. Věra kept a diary, recounting life in Pilsen during the Nazi occupation. Students impersonated some of the scenes described in her diary, and noted down their impressions and feelings on a worksheet.

The day continued with a guided tour of Pilsen, including the house where Věra Kohnová and her family lived, now marked by four stolpersteine. In the afternoon, it was the turn of a very special meeting with two eyewitnesses of WWII: 92-year-old Richard Smola, one of the faces in the EASTory through their Eyes exhibition, and 86-year-old Pavel Hauzner. The eyewitnesses discussed their memories of war, life under the occupation, the liberation of Pilsen by the US Army on 6 May 1945 and the 1948 communist takeover in a lively and inspiring conversation.

The EASTory through their Eyes project continues with a youth event at the Bastogne War Museum (Belgium) on 17 May. You can now watch the recap video of the EASTory through their Eyes event in Krakow on our YouTube channel.

EASTory through their Eyes youth event in Krakow

On 13 April, the Home Army Museum in Krakow, Poland, was the scene of the first youth event of the EASTory through their Eyes project. The Home Army Museum preserves the memory of the Polish Underground State and resistance movement during WWII. It welcomed high school students from Krakow and representatives of the LRE Foundation and the Bastogne War Museum.

EASTory through their Eyes, funded by the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Commission, aims to educate about the various perspectives and experiences of WWII and its consequences in the East and West of Europe. Through the personal stories of people who lived through this period, it highlights the differences and commonalities between young people in different parts of Europe and the complexity of such history. The project is composed of a travelling and online exhibition, and four youth events in the partner cities.

The day started with a workshop titled “Fighting for freedom on many fronts between the West and the East – ways of resisting and finding oneself in the war reality”. The workshop shed light on the Polish Underground State, life under occupation and the contribution of Polish units to the liberation of Western Europe. The following visit to the permanent exhibition allowed students to deepen their knowledge of life during the occupation and reflect on the stories of resistance fighters, thanks to a vast collection of objects and pictures.

Later, a workshop led by the LRE Foundation was the occasion to discuss the multi-perspective approach to history and some of the stories featured in the EASTory through their Eyes travelling and digital exhibition. Students reflected on the multi-faceted experiences of WWII in the East and in the West and the life-changing decisions that young people had to make. Confronting the Polish experience with examples from the Bastogne War Museum allowed students to compare different national approaches to remembrance.

The EASTory through their Eyes exhibition is currently displayed at the Home Army Museum in Krakow. Other youth events and exhibition showcases will take place in Pilsen, Bastogne, and Berlin in the upcoming weeks.

LRE Foundation welcomes the Museum of Gdańsk to the network

The LRE Foundation is happy to announce the addition of the Museum of Gdańsk, Poland, to its network of members. A key institution in a city that is symbolic of the start of WWII, the Museum of Gdańsk is in charge of preserving some key WWII-related sites like Westerplatte.

The Museum of Gdańsk documents the history of the city from the Middle Ages to contemporary times. It manages several historical sites within the city, two of which are related to the outbreak of the Second World War – the Guardhouse n.1 at Westerplatte and the Polish Post Museum.

Both these locations were attacked by Nazi German troops on 1 September 1939, therefore they were among the first sites to be involved in the Second World War. While Guardhouse nr. 1 was the most important stronghold in defence of the Westerplatte peninsula, the Polish Post and Telegraph Office was a key building to be seized by the German troops. It is now a museum presenting the story of the Polish community in the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk) (1920-1939). Soon, a new, expanded exhibition will cover the basement of the building, where Polish defenders made their last stand.

Entering an international network like the LRE Foundation will allow improved visibility of the remembrance sites in Gdańsk at a European level and work together with international parties and organisations.

“Poles living in the former Free City of Danzig, regardless of their occupation and of their citizenship, were the first to fight and the first to suffer during the outbreak of the Second World War. By joining the Liberation Route we commemorate their bravery and sacrifices made in those dark times. – tells Waldemar Ossowski, the director of the Museum of Gdańsk. – Although our Museum preserves objects and stories from a distant past, we consider sharing knowledge about the Second World War as our special responsibility. This is why we research the past, publish books, organize exhibitions and events open to the public either in the Museum of the Polish Post Office, Guardhouse no 1 at Westerplatte, while developing the Brunon Zwarra Remembrance Centre for the Poles of the Free City of Danzig.”

Rémi Praud, Managing Director of the LRE Foundation: “We are glad to welcome the Museum of Gdańsk to our network. We look forward to working together to promote the war heritage of the city of Gdańsk, and we hope that the Museum of Gdańsk will pave the way for other Polish WWII remembrance institutions to join us.”

EASTory through their Eyes online exhibition

The Eastory through their Eyes exhibition is now available online and presents the stories of twenty people who experienced World War II and its consequences in Eastern and Western Europe. The EU-funded project is composed of an exhibition and youth events.

The twenty profiles of the EASTory through their Eyes exhibition are women and men, civilians and militaries, and they belong to different ethnic and social groups. They sometimes fought on opposite sides or lived the profoundly different consequences of WWII in the East and West of Europe. The aim of presenting these diverse stories is to increase knowledge and stimulate mutual understanding and dialogue between young people from two areas of Europe that have long been divided but are now part of the European Union.

The online exhibition is available in six languages – English, French, German, Dutch, Polish, and Czech – at this link.

The EASTory through their Eyes exhibition is currently on display at the Bastogne War Museum (Belgium) and will then travel to the Home Army Museum Krakow (Poland), the City of Pilsen (Czechia) and the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst (Germany). Four youth events will be organised in these cities in the first half of 2022. During the events, local students will meet eyewitnesses, take part in workshops, and reflect on the stories and legacy of WWII for Europe.

EASTory through their Eyes is funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and is the second edition of History through their Eyes. For more information about the project, visit the dedicated page on our website.

EASTory through their Eyes workshop at the Freedom Museum

The events of the EASTory through their Eyes project, funded by the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union, officially began with a workshop for project partners at the Freedom Museum in Groesbeek, the Netherlands. On 9 November, representatives of the Bastogne War Museum (Belgium), the City of Pilsen (Czechia), the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst (Germany) and the Home Army Museum in Krakow (Poland) met in person for the first time to discuss the application of the multi-perspective approach to their work, exchange experiences, and learn from each other.

The Freedom Museum is a perfect case study of a multi-perspective, cross-border museum that presents the German and the Dutch perspective on the 20th century until the present, taking into account the experiences of other ethnic, social, or political groups and stimulating a deep reflection on the meaning and value of freedom.

The day began with a guided tour of the Freedom Museum by director Wiel Lenders and historian Ralph Trost. It continued with interventions from LRE historian Jory Brentjens, who discussed the approach of the LRE Foundation to history, events and research, and from Freedom Museum curator Rense Havinga, who presented the thorough historical work behind the creation of a multi-perspective museum. EASTory through their Eyes project partners then presented their work, institution and methodology, offering a broad view on WWII and the concept of liberation in the Eastern and Western European perspectives. To conclude the session, German historian Heiko Suhr discussed the evolution of the concept of liberation in Germany, moving from an individual to a collective national – and later European – memory. Sylvia Fleuren, city councillor of the Municipality of Berg en Dal, where the Freedom Museum is located, greeted the project partners, speakers and other workshop attendees.

The EASTory through their Eyes project is composed of a travelling exhibition and a series of youth events. The travelling exhibition presents personal stories of young people from the East and the West of Europe, and it was displayed in Groesbeek for the first time. It will then travel to the Bastogne War Museum, in Belgium, where the first youth event will take place on 10 December 2021. The other youth events will be organised in Krakow, Pilsen, and Berlin in the first half of 2022.

Report from the Liberation Route Europe trails launch event

Under the watchful eye of six American veterans visiting Berlin after serving there in 1945, the LRE Foundation launched its international network of hiking trails on 22 July in the Allied Museum. “We are taking a pledge with you”, said managing director Rémi Praud, in the reassurance that the Liberation Route Europe’s mission and purpose will be fulfilled. “We will continue to grow with our partners across Europe to keep your stories alive as Liberation Route is creating the largest WWII memorial in Europe.”

The day started in the German-Russian Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst, where Rémi Praud, together with deputy director Jurriaan de Mol, and Margot Blank, curator of the museum, welcomed the special guests and a handful of international journalists in the Kapitulationssaal. “In this historic room, the High Command of the German Wehrmacht signed the unconditional surrender in front of representatives of the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain, and France on the night of 8-9 May 1945”, explained Blank, while her words were at times overwhelmed by the creaking of the antique wooden floor.

After a visit to the permanent exhibition documenting the war of conquest and annihilation led by the German Reich against the Soviet Union from both perspectives, and a lunch in the museum garden, it was time to move from Berlin East to the Allied Museum in Southwest Berlin, where American troops were stationed right after the war.

The director of the Allied Museum, Mr. Jürgen Lillteicher, welcomed the group, and the veterans toured the grounds under the inspiring guidance of curator Bernd von Kostka, who told compelling anecdotes while gazing at an original British candy bomber, a spy tunnel, and the original Checkpoint Charlie. 

From the original ‘outpost theatre’ of the US troops, hosts Praud and de Mol opened the launch event at 15:00, live-streamed on the Foundation’s channels. “We dreamed of our own Camino de Compostela” [the famous Spanish pilgrimage], smiled founder de Mol, explaining how it all started in 2008 as a regional initiative in the Netherlands. “Already then, we knew it belonged to a far bigger story”.  Ten years later, Liberation Route Europe was an extensive international network certified by the Council of Europe. “But we were still missing a very tangible aspect”, Praud continues, “We wanted to really connect those sights. Now you can follow in the footsteps of history with your own feet. And by bicycle, as well, in the future”, he smiled.

De Mol pointed out that the Liberation Route Europe hiking trail network is unique and has the direct support of the German government and the vfonds (Dutch Foundation for Peace, Freedom and Veteran Support). One of the people making this possible is German MP and LRE Foundation’s patron, Martin Schulz. In his introductory message, Schulz said: “To commemorate is a duty, especially of my generation, the first one in Europe born, and – I hope – until death, living in freedom, democracy and a kind of liberty no generation before has known.”

More personal messages from LRE supporters and partners followed, as well as from Daniel Libeskind, architect and designer of the ‘Vectors of Memory’, the special trail markers on the Liberation Route Europe trails. The Director-General of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andreas Görgen, had a special message for hikers: “Go for it. Put on your shoes and experience the wonderful landscapes you are walking in. Go back home and contribute to freedom, to peace and to what will be the grand task of the 21st century: diversity and sustainability.” Attending guests and viewers were taken on a virtual hike along the Liberation Route Europe in Portsmouth, Normandy, the Ardennes, the Hürtgen forest, the Netherlands, and ultimately in Berlin.

For the veterans, the trip to Berlin is, without exception, very meaningful. “The target of my unit was Berlin”, says 95-year-old sergeant William Bill Casassa. “We fought up to the Elbe river. That was the end of the fighting for the entire American army. It took me 76 years to get back – to get to Berlin”. He referred to the American war cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. “That’s where our guys are. I hope future generations visit places like that and learn about what happened.”

LRE Foundation Chairman, Ed Kronenburg, closed the launch event with a special message for the veterans and for the future: “We have to continue to tell the stories you have told us. Your stories provide hope, strength and graciousness in times of uncertainty”. “We have to inspire the younger generations and teach them the values of freedom, democracy, and equality and the need to defend these values. We have to fight for them on a daily basis.”

New Greek member makes the LRE Foundation present in 11 countries

The LRE Foundation is happy to announce that, from 1 July 2021, it has members in eleven countries of Europe. The signature of a membership agreement with Pass Partout – a tourism marketing organisation based in Thessaloniki, Greece – marks a step further in the inclusion of Southern Europe in the Foundation’s activities. 

Pass Partout works closely with the region of Central Macedonia, in the north of Greece, and creates remembrance tourism campaigns that promote the region’s contemporary history. In World War II, Central Macedonia was occupied between 1941 and 1944, with major suffering for the population. The memory of the Holocaust is particularly relevant in Thessaloniki, a city with a large Jewish presence and history. 

Thanks to this cooperation, the LRE Foundation will promote and highlight the WWII history and sites of the Central Macedonia region and the remembrance tourism offer in the region. 

“We are delighted and honoured to be the first Greek member of a certified network which presents and promotes the war museums, military cemeteries, battlefields and memorial sites”, says Sofia Bournatzi, owner of Pass Partout. “In Central Macedonia, Greece, the memorials tell stories from the Greek War of Independence in 1821 until the country’s liberation in 1944. In the land of Aristotle and Alexander the Great, modern history is equally significant. We look forward to sharing these stories with the LRE Foundation audience by being active members of an organisation that works to preserve our heritage.” 

“Expanding the organisation to more countries of Europe is a long-term goal for the LRE Foundation”, says Rémi Praud, Managing Director of the LRE Foundation. “Southern, Central and Eastern Europe are a priority. We are pleased to add Greece to the LRE Foundation’s map of WWII remembrance and work with Pass Partout to promote the sites in Central Macedonia. We hope this is a first step to further expand our network in Greece.” 

LRE Foundation & FFRandonnée launch partnership in France

The LRE Foundation (LREF) and the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRandonnée) are proud to announce the signing of a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) and a joint partnership to develop almost 3.000 km of liberation-themed hiking routes throughout France.

As part of a larger pan-European project, the Liberation Route Hiking Trails are a new sustainable way to experience the Liberation Route Europe, a certified Cultural Route of the Council of Europe. The trails form a traceable link between the main regions along the Allied Forces’ advance between 1943 and 1945, stretching nearly 10.000km. The routes pass numerous historical locations and tell stories from a multitude of perspectives. For this project, the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind has designed a symbolic family of trail markers called the ‘Vectors of Memory’ that will honour people, places, and stories found throughout the European landscape.

For FFRandonnée and president Brigitte Soulary, “This project is a real opportunity to contribute to the promotion and development of our network of GR® and GR® de Pays hiking routes for both the general public and the surrounding regions. It is also a recognition of the work our volunteer surveyors who work daily on these paths. The potential economic benefits for all the regions as well as the departmental and regional committees of the Federation are among the objectives we aim to achieve by becoming a partner in this project.”

“The launch of this partnership with FFRandonnée is the culmination of many years of discussions and hard work to make the Liberation Route Hiking Trails a reality in France,” expressed Rémi Praud, Managing Director of the LRE Foundation. “FFRandonnée is a dedicated and energetic supporter of this initiative. We are very excited to formalise our partnership and jointly to develop the project in France in the years to come.”

The German Federal Government supports the LRE Foundation again in 2021

The LRE Foundation is proud to be supported by the German Federal Government for the second year in a row. In December 2020, the German Bundestag decided to renew its support to the LRE Foundation and the development of the Liberation Route Europe trails. The signature of the grant took place today, 21 May 2021, at the German Embassy in the Hague, at the presence of Deputy Head of Mission, Ingrid Jung, and LRE Foundation Deputy Director, Jurriaan de Mol.

The grant will make possible the further development of the Liberation Route Europe trails, which will form a traceable link between the main regions along the Allied Forces’ advance across Europe, stretching nearly 10.000km. The routes will pass numerous historical locations and tell stories told from a multitude of perspectives that were important in the last phase of World War II.

The Liberation Route Europe trails will be launched very soon, together with a new web-app and travel planner. Later in 2021, the first Vectors of Memory will be placed, and a mobile app will enable visitors to hike, walk and cycle the Liberation Route Europe.

LRE Foundation Deputy Director, Jurriaan de Mol, said: “We are very happy to receive substantial financial support from the German Federal Government again in 2021. The German government has renewed its commitment to upholding the LRE Foundation’s mission, values and initiatives. We are extremely proud of this landmark decision.”

Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in the Hague, Ingrid Jung, spoke about the reasons behind the decision of supporting the LRE Foundation and the Liberation Route Europe’s trails project during the LRE Forum in February. Listen to her inspiring words at this link.