While I write this my fellow countrymen will be silent for two minutes, cars will stop on the freeways, trains will stop on their tracks, all radio and TV stations will be silent. During these two minutes on May 4th we remember our victims of war. During these minutes I mainly think of the granddad I never knew. He was killed during World War II as a reprisal for a failed assassination attempt on a collaborator which left the collaborator’s son dead. Like my youngest uncle and my oldest nephew I was named after him. Maybe this explains the bond I feel with him. I know very little of him, it always felt like a taboo to me to talk about him. My grandma had a picture of him in her living room and it surprised my dad that I was the one that wanted that photo after she died. We never discussed it though. I kept it in a box with other mementos, during one of our moves the glass in the frame broke, I never had it replaced. I often thought about him, what kind of person he was, how his murder took place, what could have been. About a dozen years ago I told my dad how the secrecy surrounding my granddad affected me. He wrote me a letter explaining what had happened on the fateful evening. This knowledge did nothing to stop my wondering, it only made it worse. I started searching the internet and found some of the details I wrote above.

But there still was no closure. Knowledge was not the answer. I needed to do something to come to terms with this event that even though it happened long before I was born shaped me immensely. Not just the fact that a close relative was killed in war which much have fed my non-violent beliefs but also the ripple effect through my surviving relatives. My dad was 6 when it happened, my grandma was left with three sons and pregnant. There is no denying their character was shaped by this. My grandma really was the matriarch of the family, she never remarried and raised her four sons all by herself. She was strong, determined, caring, slow to complain and fun to be around. She learned me a lot about perseverance. She lived with us when she died of a brain aneurysm. She was buried where she had always known she would be buried, right next to her husband on the grave yard of the little church of their town.

Since having my granddad’s photo and having picked up photography seriously again I felt I could do something artistically to show my feelings. This idea has been percolating in my mind for many years now but now that we are moving back to the US my time to act on it was limited. So, a few weeks ago I finally went on my pilgrimage. I wanted to make a series of photographs: the street they named after my granddad, the monument with his name on it, the grave and the approximate spot where I thought he was killed. This last one was tricky and most open to interpretation and artistic expression. It was also the last one I shot. I had different ideas. Shoot what might have been his last view of the world, bring tape and create an outline where his body might have laid and many more. I brought equipment and props for all these ideas. But then reality hit. The road was totally different from what I had imagined. Instead of the normal rural farm road with a ditch on either side the road was lined with many trees. I just rode my bike down the road for a little while looking for inspiration when I passed this stump of a cut down tree. That was it! That stump among the tall trees represented the live that was cut short. Now just find a way to capture it. I did, the series by itself is not as poignant or telling as I would have liked but the process of creating it gave me closure and solace to an extend I had not expected.

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  • D_urlik

    so beautiful.

  • Liset

    Gert, ik ben geroerd. En wat een ware pelgrimstocht heb je gemaakt. Ik heb het er best vaak met Gerda over gehad, 2 week geleden nog. Over survivers-guild en onaffe geschiedenissen. Wat vindt Piet ervan, en je ooms? Zoveel onuitgesproken, zoveel geheimen. Ik wens je het allerbeste als je ( weer) naar Amerika gaat. Ik weet dat je je familie wat vertwijfeld achterlaat.