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3 Oct 2014
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One Child's War

Sytze van der Zee was born in 1939 in Holland. In 1940, his father joined the NSB, the Dutch equivalent of the Nazi party. Sytze talks about the consequences of his father’s political choice on the whole family...

"At the end of the war, there was a kind of threat - people were signalling that we would have to pay for what we did - what my father did. I was just 5 years old." Although Sytze’s father left the NSB in 1942, his decision to join it in the first place had a profound effect on the lives of Sytze, his two brothers, sister ,and mother. During the German occupation of the Netherlands, the vast majority of Dutch people were more or less neutral, they had neither supported nor resisted the Germans, "But after the war," says Sytze, "suddenly everybody had been in the Resistance! And at that moment I was the enemy..." Sytze’s father was sent to a camp for a year, as were others who’d been associated with the NSB. Feelings of anger and frustration were directed at the children of NSB parents. Instead of being a joyful occasion, liberation was a frightening and miserable time for the van der Zee family who were left hungry and penniless, and social outcasts. The children bore the brunt of their father’s political choice, "We children were excluded from the end of war celebrations," says Sytze, "We were excluded from eveything." People didn’t say hello, shops refused my mother..."

At school the ‘NSB’ children were picked on relentlessly. Sytze became a rather violent child in his attempts to defend himself, and the subject was totally taboo at home. "I had a bad relationship into my twenties with my parents," says Sytze, "I didn’t have any respect for my father or mother." But Sytze and his brothers and sister needed to know why their father had made this decision because they'd had to endure such a hard time after the war.

Sytze went on to a edit a left-wing newspaper, and travel extensively as a foreign correspondent. It was only 8 years ago, when Sytze father was 89, that father and son managed to discuss the subject and Syzte’s father could tell him of his regret at joining the NSB. The consequences of his decision rumbled on until 1985, when the last family to shun the van der Zee’s socially eventually agreed to shake hands - 40 years after the war.

What had been hardest of all for Sytze was not the fact that his parents had been associated with the NSB, but their subsequent refusal to discuss it. It wasn’t until after his parents’ death that Sytze wrote a book, 'Potgieterlaan 7', as an attempt to understand his own childhood, his feelings of shame, and to explode the uncomfortable myth that all Dutch people were on the right side.

As a child did your parents or guardian make a political or maybe religious decision which made a difference to your life?
What kind of impact did it have?
How do you feel about it now - does it still affect you?

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