A plaque and a play: TU Delft and World War II

This article was first published in TU Delta on November 17, 2014. To read about TU Delft’s World War II history, log on to delta.tudelft.nl

A plaque in honour of Frans van Hasselt and the first student strike. Photo: Charline Busson

A plaque in honour of Frans van Hasselt and the first student strike. Photo: Charline Busson

On September 2, 2014 at Oostplantsoen, Delft, a small gathering of people watched as a plaque was unveiled. The plaque commemorates a day 74 years ago: November 23, 1940. The day Frans van Hasselt, a student at TU Delft, gave the speech that inspired the first student strike in the Netherlands against the Nazis.

The Faculty of Civil Engineering at the time, today the building has been refurbished as houses. However, the staircase and foyer remain largely untouched, owing to their historical importance. A fact that Nini Jonker and Raya Faludi, the duo responsible for the memorial, learnt when they read ‘Loyaliteit in Verdrukking’ (‘Loyalty in Tribulation’). A book by historian Onno Sinke, it recreates life in TU Delft during World War II.

Who was Frans van Hasselt?
In 1940, all Jewish personnel were suspended from Dutch universities. Among them was a professor named Joseph Jitta, who was very popular with the students. On November 23, hundreds of students gathered in the building to pay tribute to Jitta, but he wasn’t even allowed to give a last lecture. That’s when charismatic 27-year-old Frans van Hasselt, president of the study association of Civil Engineering, stood on the staircase and spoke out against the suspension. While he didn’t encourage students to go on strike, his words were a call to action for students present there. Over the next two days they spread the word and, on November 25, the first student strike took place.

“He made his speech right here, at this staircase. To us it felt like such a shame that there was nothing to mark its significance,” said Jonker. As residents of the building, she and Faludi decided to do something about it. They approached Sinke and the monuments committee, eventually deciding on a commemorative plaque. Delft-based masons Schols en Hart donated the inscribed tablet that was laid into the wall.

While the unveiling was attended by the Mayor of Delft, due to miscommunications no one from the university could be present. However, this was not first commemorative event held in Van Hasselt’s name. “When the book launched in 2012, a Frans van Hasselt lecture was held, but, nothing since. A similar protest took place in Leiden at the time and every year someone is ele cted to hold the Cleveringa chair (the name of the professor who protested) and there are a series of lectures in the Netherlands and abroad to ensure that people continue to learn from the past,” said Sinke.

Though there is a hall named after Van Hasselt, not many students know his role in the resistance, or the fact that he was arrested in 1941 and sent to a concentration camp in 1942. Hasselt died at the age of 29.

Loyalty and Tribulation
The idea for the book came about when former students who had been around during the war realised that current students had no idea about the university’s history. The university and the club of former members of the Delftsch Studenten Corps, a student association in Delft, approached Sinke in 2010. He then began his research, spending hours in university archives, with diaries, photographs and records and interviewing as many people as possible. “The tricky part was trying to grasp the emotion. People usually stick to the facts when they talk to you and I really wanted to understand what it meant to be a student then.”

Unfortunately for international students, the book is only available in Dutch and Sinke says there are no plans for a translation at the moment. However, Bauke Steenhuisen, an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of TBM is working on a play based on Sinke’s book. Scheduled for May 2015, the play will also be in Dutch. “But, we are planning to have some kind of subtitles or programme with translated dialogues,” said Steenhuisen.

TU Delft & WWII – The play
The play, ‘Getekend’, will be a joint production between different faculties and a theatre troupe. A professional playwright has been commissioned to write a script. “Our play is not just about Frans van Hasselt, but looks at other issues as well, the conflicts of the time, the morality of being an engineer and the choices one makes as an engineer for instance.” explained Steenhuisen. The play will also deal with the Loyalty Agreement that students of Dutch universities had to sign with the Nazis. “This damaged the relationship between students and professors at the time. This was not necessarily a proud moment historically and there are areas people were uncomfortable with being brought up again.”

However, the idea is not to make the play a history lesson. “We will recreate student life at the time. There will even be romance and ball dancing, and some lancing as well,” said Steenhuisen. Their decision to keep the play in Dutch stems from a desire to be inclusive to the elder generation. “There are a lot of people outside the university, an older generation, to whom this story would have resonance. We didn’t want to alienate them. But, we are looking into how we can ensure that the international students are not left out either,” he said.

Read the complete article here. 

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