The Reluctant Historian

I need to give everyone who is reading this a little background on my interest in history and my research adventure. As a middle school student at Renbrook School I hated history. I thought it was boring. I remember challenging Mr. Reynolds in 6th grade. “Why do we have to learn about all this stuff that already happened? I want to spend more time with science. I want to know what is going to happen in my lifetime.” Mr. Reynolds answered with, “Heidi, one day you will figure it out.” I was mad. Really mad. I never liked history. I avoided it all through high school and college.

Fast forward to last summer when I decided I wanted to write my mom’s story but knew I needed to look up some of the facts behind her memories. I got started by haphazardly exploring the internet. One evening on Google I came across an interesting website:

www.joodsmonument.nl

This is a digital memorial of all the Dutch Jews who perished at the hands of the German’s during WWII. It gives information such as birth dates and locations as well as family relationships and deaths. Anyone can sign on and add information, pictures, etc. Mom’s Uncle Bobby did not survive the war. The information our family had about his death was based on family stories and hearsay, nothing substantial. I looked him up and this is what I found:

Vlucht en lot van het echtpaar Spier-Bendien
Zie voor het verhaal van de mislukte vlucht, de gevangenschap in Scheveningen en het lot van het echtpaar Spier-Bendien nu mijn artikel: Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld, ‘Gedenkteken voor slachtoffers en overlevenden. Het verhaal achter de ‘struikelsteen’ voor Bertram Polak (1918-1942)’, Tilburg. Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis, monumenten en cultuur 29 nr. 1 (2011) 3-14.
Graag zou ik in contact komen met nabestaanden van dit echtpaar.

Since I don’t speak Dutch I had to do a quick copy and paste into Google translate to find this (I cleaned up the translation a bit here):

Flight and fate of the couple Spier-Bendien
For the story of the failed flight, imprisonment in Scheveningen, and the fate of the couple Spier- Bendien see my article: Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld, “Memorial to victims and survivors. The story behind the ‘stumbling stone’ for Bertram Polak (1918-1942) ‘, Tilburg. Magazine 3-14. History, monuments and culture 29 No. 1 (2011)
I would like to get in touch with relatives of this couple.

That last sentence made me catch my breath. Why would someone want to talk to the relatives of my mother’s uncle? I was intrigued. I did some more “googling” and found out that Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld is a professor of sociology and holds the endowed chair of Culture in Brabant at the University of Tillburg in the Netherlands and is a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

I fired off an e-mail to Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld. I let him know I was the grand-niece of Franz Robert Spier and what I knew of his attempted escape from Europe. Within a week we had sent several e-mails back and forth. Arnoud-Jan sending me information he had and I sending him my family anecdotes and pictures.

I had opened a door into research that I had never imagined. I always thought history meant reading thick dusty books.

The basis of our shared interest is that my grand-uncle tried to escape Nazi occupied Holland in December 1941 with a few friends. One of those friends was Bertram Pollak, the young man whose family used to own Arnoud Jan’s house!

Here is a case of two people doing historical research for completely different reasons and the story we are trying to figure out – How did they try to escape? Who was there? Why were these particular people together? What happened to them? – completely overlaps! I never knew that history could be so interesting and exciting.

Why am I telling you all this now?
Next week I am having lunch with Arnoud-Jan, my mother, and Bertram’s nephew, Fred. I’ll let you know all about it.

Oh, if anyone sees Mr. Reynolds, tell him I finally figured it out.

3 thoughts on “The Reluctant Historian

  1. Lori says:

    This is like reading a mystery but I can’t stay up all night to finish the story because it hasn’t been discovered yet! Can’t wait to read the next post, which you have already written!

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