Students have launched an initiative to create a “monument of names” for UvA students and staff who fell victim to the Holocaust. "You can envisage adding names to the existing plaque or creating stumbling stones at faculty level to commemorate the victims.”
“The existing commemorative plaque is actually inadequate to do justice to the hundreds of UvA victims of the Nazi regime,” says German UvA student Navid Nail (26, master student Art & Performance Research Studies). “The plaque is too general and not explicit enough. You can see that other universities - the University of Groningen, the University of Utrecht and the Free University - have handled this better.”
Together with a group of other students, he proposes to “update” the existing plaque by explicitly mentioning the names of all UvA victims or to do something completely different. “For example, in the form of the Stolpersteine, the brass stumbling stones that are installed in the pavement in front of houses where deported victims of the Nazis lived in Amsterdam and other cities.”
The existing bronze commemorative plaque was unveiled on May 5, 1950 in the then-Aula of the UvA, the Oudemanhuispoort (OMP), where it still hangs today. The inscription reads: “The university community, revived in spiritual freedom, commemorates its members who fell in the fight for the fatherland.” At the time, this was the appropriate location for a commemorative plaque because the OMP housed the UvA administration and almost all the faculties.
“But now the Poort is no longer the right place for the commemorative plaque because the UvA board is no longer located there. In that respect, it would be better to move it to the Maagdenhuis,” says retired university historian Péjé Knegtmans, author of the book Een kwetsbaar centrum van de geest, about the war years of the UvA.
Knegtmans says he finds it “a very appealing idea” to add names to the plaque, although he thinks it will be difficult to determine which names should be added and which ones omitted. “When the idea for the existing plaque was conceived after the war, there were extensive discussions about whether names should be added. At the time, they could not decide which names should be added and which ones omitted,” says Knegtmans.
“Only students and staff or alumni, too? Only murdered Jews or also non-Jews who were in the resistance? In the end the choice was made for a general memorial and remembrance sign.” The fact that other universities now have memorials does not surprise Knegtmans. “It shouldn’t be forgotten that there were many more Jewish students and staff at the UvA than at the other universities, which made the discussion more complicated.”
But in 2022, this is no longer enough, says Navid Nail, who wants to revive the discussion with this initiative. His goal remains a monument including names, especially since other universities have also done this. Incidentally, he believes that remembrance can also be achieved by means of faculty stumbling stones. In that case, there would be several memorials spread throughout the UvA. Each UvA victim would receive a stone at the place where he or she worked or studied.
This would also mean that places that were not part of the UvA at the time, such as Science Park or the P.C. Hoofthuis, would not have any stones. “So be it,” because according to Nail, Stolpersteine may only be placed where the victim actually had their final residence.
Nail wants to conduct “serious research” into a better or different memorial in the coming period together with other students, researchers, alumni and other members of the UvA community. “The text on the plaque has also become problematic and is no longer appropriate in this day and age. Most victims probably did not fall in the battle ‘for the fatherland’ but were in many cases ‘simply’ murdered. Also, we want to call attention not just to the people who died, but also to those who fled, were betrayed or were in the camps.”