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Breaking the Mirror Dutch Television and the History of the Second World War Chris Vos The public memory of the Second World War certainly stays alive. In the United States, the fiftieth anniversary of the ending of the war was marked by a controversy about an exhibition on the Enola Gay; in France, there was and is a bitter dispute about the "Vichy Republic"; and in Germany, the publication of Daniel Goldhagen's study Hitler's Willing Executioners provoked a public uproar about the alleged participation of common German citizens in the Holocaust. Indeed, especially in countries that were occupied by the Germans, the memory ofthe war seems to be a continuing focal point for public discussion. It is hardly surprising that in the Netherlands, occupied by the Germans between 1940 and 1945, there has also been an ongoing concern with the Second World War. The "Occupation," as this period simply is called, is the subject of many books, plays, public discussions, films, and television programs . Many of these reflections can be looked upon as a form of "wrestling" with the past, attempting to reconcile a dark period with the centrist liberal traditions that are honored by Dutch society. Television seems to be especially dominant in this process: literally hundreds of television documentaries were dedicated to the war, and many evoked strong discussions in Dutch society. This essay analyzes the role of Dutch television in the remembrance of the war, with an emphasis on the first twenty-five years of the medium. In this period, the public image ofthe war was subjected to fundamental changes, and these are both reflected and stimulated by the way television treated the war. This analysis principally concentrates on three important television documen- 124 I Chris Vos taries, which will serve as examples of the shifting trends that can be seen in the audiovisual history of the Second World War on Dutch television. Historical documentary production in the Netherlands has been strongly dominated by the war. For instance, between 1951 and 1990 more than 1,100 documentaries were produced on Dutch history. One-third of them (about 330) address the Occupation, making the war the number one subject—a clear sign of the traumatic nature of the war experience. Another phenomenon is also striking at first sight: as the war recedes into the past, historical interest in it is clearly growing, reflected in a sharply rising number of these documentaries over the years.1 Dutch television started in 1951, six years after the end ofthe war, in a time that was characterized by a minimal interest in the war. Immediately after the war there was a strong upsurge of plays, books, film documentaries, and even feature films about the war, but this interest soon subsided. By 1951, the dominant issues of the day were the beginnings of the Cold War, the rebuilding of the devastated country, and the colonial conflict in Indonesia. Within this atmosphere there was not much room to look back at the war. Survivors of the camps had noticed that there was not much interest in their stories. For instance, it was hard to find a publisher for Anne Frank's diary. When at last it was published, it remained obscure until late in the 1950s, becoming a success only after a Broadway stage hit and an American movie release in the Netherlands. Television shared this silence. In thefifties,very few documentaries were produced about the war. These documentaries, usually aired on memorial days (which in the Netherlands take place in early May), for the most part borrowed their terminology and atmosphere from the rituals of the memorial service: a strong emphasis on the heroism of the Resistance, on the martyrs fallen for their country, and on the lessons for today's society. One aspect of these early documentaries is particularly intriguing in the Dutch context. In the Netherlands, broadcasting was managed not by a national network but by special interest groups rooted in the so-called "pillars" of Dutch society.2 There were—and to some extent still are—for instance, Catholic, Protestant, and socialist broadcasting networks. These networks needed to proclaim their identities, and for this reason the documentary became one of the more important and prestigious categories of Dutch television . It formed the "voice" of the pillar, a focal point for its identity. Television as a whole was strongly felt to be a medium that could function as a carrier for the ideology of the pillar, which could be...


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