Ghosts of War, Then and Now: A composite photo, created by photographer and historical consultant Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, of factory workers on the stoop of a house in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
The past is always with us. We might think we've evolved beyond it, grown more sophisticated or grounded in the present, but it is there, every day, in our ordinary lives.
In the streets we walk, the stairs we step down in the morning, the shopping plazas we cross.
No one understands this more than Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, an amazing historical consultant based in the Netherlands, who through her remarkable photographic artistry has managed to merge the some of the most horrific memories of the past century with the mundane present.
Through her photographic art, which melds today's images of familiar places—mostly set in Amsterdam—with images of 70-years-ago Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Teeuwisse creates a haunting, visceral body of work that will never, ever leave you alone. Once seen, her work simply will not be easily forgotten.
The photograph that opened this post, for example, was a mash-up the two below, taken at a site she identifies as Nieuwe looierstraat, Amsterdam. The older picture was part of a serendipitous discovery, she explains on her Flickr page:
The old photo was part of a bunch of negatives I found on a fleamarket, I have been trying to find out more about the person who made the photos and the people in them. The owner worked in a factory, or even owned it. He took this photo of some of the workers in the factory sometime during World War two.
Above, then. Below, now. Nieuwe Looierstraat, Amsterdam. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All Rights Reserved.
She's more than just a photographer; through her work she's also become something of an amateur detective. She says
One of the wartime photos I found compared to the location today. I didn't know the location but when making the photo on the Reguliersgracht I decided to walk around and then discovered the other location as well. This is where the photo was taken, Nieuwe Looierstraat Amsterdam.
This photo might help me find out what factory these people really worked for and where it was.
Yes, a detective and an artist with an expertise in history. The results of this amazing combination can be found below the fold.
Beware. There are photos that will haunt you—oh, not gruesome, trust me. It's another sort of haunting entirely.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
The 1945 Dam Square shooting is one of the most painful and brutal experiences Amsterdam underwent during the World War. Wikipedia explains:
On 7 May 1945, two days after German capitulation, thousands of Dutch people were waiting for the liberators to arrive on the Dam square in Amsterdam. In the Grose Club members of the Kriegsmarine watched as the crowd below their balcony grew and people danced and cheered. The Germans then placed a machinegun on the balcony and started shooting into the crowds. The motives behind the shooting have remained unclear.
The shooting finally came to an end after a member of the resistance climbed into the tower of the royal palace and started shooting onto the balcony and into the Club. At that moment, a German officer together with a Resistance commander found their way into the Club and convinced the men to surrender. At the brink of peace, 120 people were badly injured and 22 pronounced dead.
Teeuwisse, who'd found photos taken in Dam Square in the aftermath of the 1945 shooting, decided to visit the square today, snap some images and create some composites and comparisons. Below is one of her creations.
Then and now: Young Scout heroes in 1945 with modern tourists today, Dam Square, Amsterdam. Department store Peek & Cloppenburg was in the same location, both then and now. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
The Scouts pictured here, Teeuwisse explains, may have been risking their lives. The Nazis had outlawed the scouting movement during the occupation, and these three young people had donned their uniforms while the Germans were still in charge of the city just days after German surrender. It appears the 1945 photo was taken in the immediate aftermath of the Dam Square shooting, Teeuwisse points out, given that hats and shoes are still scattered on the ground as the crowd fled for their lives.
During the occupation the square also was the site of an SS recruitment office, which lends itself to a chilling overlay treatment today:
Dam Square, Amsterdam, then and now. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
Different views—and different emphases—are found when the photographer, instead of imposing one shot atop another in creative overlay, shows the historic and modern side by side.
On the left, a medic helps a wounded man to safety in the aftermath of the Dam Square shooting. Note the abandoned hats and gloves, blood on the pavement and the baby stroller in the background. On the right, the same scene in Dam Square today. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
On the left, weapons being collected in Dam Square, Amsterdam, 1945. On the right, the same scene in Dam Square today. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
Two months after the Dam Square shooting, with liberation forces arriving, the city had a true celebration of the ending of the horrors of the war years. The survivors celebrated in the streets with parades, and photos were taken that allowed Teeuwisse to capture the celebratory at last, and not just the tragic. Below are several shots in which she used her composite method to merge then and now, in the June 29, 1945 parade in the Vijzelstraat, Amsterdam.
Then and now, underground Communist press marching in Liberation Parade, June 29, 1945, Amsterdam. Note the wearing of gas masks. Teeuwisse advises that the banner carried is frm "De Waarheld," the communist underground paper. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
The same liberation parade, with unidentified marchers, Vijzelstraat, Amsterdam 1945. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All rights reserved.
Teeuwisse's past/present artwork, for the most part, does not focus on parades or massacres in public squares. The majority of her work focuses on ordinary street scenes, places we can calmly walk across now, while being made more aware of the historical context of the everyday. Below, for example, is the central station in Amsterdam during the German occupation, contrasted with the same bright scene today.
Central station Amsterdam during the German occupation in World War II. Photo used with permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse. All Rights Reserved.
What makes Amsterdam such an interesting artistic choice as a scene for this project is the city's undeniably vibrant and flashy modernism. Tourists today flock to the metropolis for a reason—the city is teeming with coffeeshops and colorful pharmacies, musicians and street artists, bicyclists and backpackers and small funky markets. The youth hitting the streets there today often have no idea as they wander that the landscapes they pass through hold a dark and tragic history, and that "ghosts" are ever-present.
The body of Teeuwisse's work truly bridges this mysterious realm of art and history, lovingly making real for modern folks what feels like a distant and unrelatable past. I encourage readers to visit her full body of work online. Her complete Ghosts of History Flickr collection is awe-inspiring, and her historical consultancy site is well worth a visit.
All rights reserved on all photos. Used here with the express permission of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse.