It has been far too long since our last news update. This is all due to the unprecedented events surrounding the publication of Kind van het Ereveld (‘Child of the Field of Honour’), the publicity, organising grave visits, lectures, and many other activities. Below is a summary of what happened over the past few months.
On 3 May 2012 nine relatives of soldiers visited the Russian Field of Honour for the very first time. Four children, four grandchildren and one cousin of soldiers were united with their father, grandfather or uncle, whom had been missing for over sixty years.
67 years after the Second World War Lidia Yakovleva, Alla Revenok and Valentin and Yevgeny Kunytsin finally stood face to face with the graves of their fathers. It was an emotional reunion that put an end to decades of uncertainty and rumours.
They also visited the former prisoner-of-war camp in the German town of Hemer, where over 100 of the Russians buried in Leusden were held captive, and Lüdenscheid, where they died in a makeshift hospital in American hands. They were visibly moved by the visit.
Their visit was made possible by the contribution of grave adopters and sponsors (the Wilhelmina E. Jansen Foundation, the Dela Foundation, the Rotaryclubs Amersfoort, Amersfoort Regio and Amersfoort West, the Monuta Charity Fund and the Friedensgruppe Lüdenscheid) and partners (Besseling Travel, Restaurant Oud Leusden, Golden Tulip Amersfoort, the city government of Lüdenscheid and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Moscow).
Above all we are very grateful to all the host families, who voluntarily and selflessly opened their homes to guests from a foreign country on an emotional mission. Their commitment was again outstanding and their presence was a consolation.
On 20 April 2012 Dali Asanishvili visited the Netherlands. In cooperation with the city of Beverwijk and Cor Bart a special remembrance ceremony was held at the fort on Sint Aagtendijk. On that day 67 years ago, 16 Georgians were killed by German troops at the fort, including Dali’s father Arsen Asanishvili. The next day Dali visited the Russian Field of Honour.
Last year we invited children and grandchildren and because the health of the surviving children of soldiers leaves much to be desired, it is unclear if any relatives will visit the graves this year. For as long as it is possible we will prioritise the children of soldiers, though there are several grandchildren who attach great importance to saying goodbye to their grandfather.
Research and tracing relatives
By now, we have traced the relatives of 188 Soviet soldiers buried in Leusden and informed them about the fate of their missing father, grandfather or uncle. The last mile is the hardest: the available sources have all but been exhausted, traces often come to nothing and time is running out.
This is all the more reason to spend even more time on researching and tracing relatives. In November Remco Reiding visited the International Tracing Service for a final time to look for personal and address information using new analyses. In several cases this has led to a positive identification and the possibility of tracing relatives.
Even more significant was the access granted to the archives of the Krankenbuchlager in Berlin, which contains cabinets full of medical archives from thousands of wartime hospitals and Lazaretts with details on millions of people. Over a hundred soldiers that are buried in Leusden were found in the archives. Sometimes with additional information and sometimes not. Sometimes the relatives had already been traced.
Not in all cases was there enough new information to start a search for relatives, but the identity of ten Russian soldiers has now been established. In the coming months their relatives will be traced and, if possible, invited to visit the grave in Leusden.
Kind van het Ereveld was presented on 9 April 2012, the day on which 70 years earlier 77 Soviet POWs were shot near Amersfoort concentration camp. The book was very well received and is in its third print run: more than 3500 copies have already been sold.
Not only the book itself, but the exposure it generated have contributed to a much greater public awareness for the Russian Field of Honour. The book was featured on the Pauw & Witteman talkshow and broadcaster NCRV even made a documentary about tracing relatives and the visit by children of soldiers buried in Leusden. Both shows can be viewed on the book’s website (www.kindvanhetereveld.nl). You will also find a list of other publications. Be sure to leave a comment and recommend the book and website to your acquaintances.
More good news: right now we are working on a Russian translation of the book, in the expectation that this year a Russian audience can learn about the Russian Field of Honour and the 865 Soviet Russians buried in the Netherlands.
The enormous interest in Kind van het Ereveld has led to many new grave adopters. A year ago only 190 graves had been assigned, now 340 soldiers have been adopted. On 3 May 2012 flowers were placed on all the graves by the nine relatives who had visited the grave of their father, grandfather and uncle earlier that day. They experienced at first hand that we have not forgotten their family members and their comrades.
We are, of course, grateful for the increased interest, because they in part make the foundation’s activities possible. Yet we realise that we have a long way to go before all 865 graves are adopted.