Biographies of Dutch Brigadistas Online
“It was always rumored that my uncle fought in Spain, but now we finally know for sure. I’ve had an amazing number of touching reactions of that type,” Yvonne Scholten says, “especially from family members.” Scholten, a Dutch journalist, is the driving force behind a new biographical dictionary of Dutch volunteers in Spain that was launched in July at www.spanjestrijders.nl, a site hosted by the prestigious International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.
Among the more than 30,000 volunteers who joined the International Brigades were more than 700 Dutch men and women, including Piet Laros, who made his way to Paris on bicycle to catch the train to Spain and head up the Dutch company The Seven Provinces, and the writer Jef Last, whose The Spanish Tragedy was translated into English in 1939 and recently reissued by Routledge.
The rapidly expanding site provides the complete list of known names, and, so far, around 200 short biographies, along with other materials such as photographs and letters, assembled by Scholten and her team. “The site fills a real gap,” Scholten says. “The Spanish Civil War has been largely forgotten in the Netherlands, and hardly anyone remembers the volunteers. We wanted to give these people a face, and to tell something about their lives and outlook on the world. What drove many of the Dutch volunteers to help stop fascism in its tracks was the stories they heard from the many German refugees who’d fled to the Netherlands since 1933.”
Scholten has published biographies of Fanny Schoonheyt, the only Dutch women to see battle action during the Spanish Civil War, and Bart van der Schelling, a Dutch painter and opera singer who left for Spain from New York City and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. (She has written about both Van der Schelling and Schoonheyt for The Volunteer.)
The dictionary project has been funded through a foundation created by veterans’ family members, including Giny Klatser, Hetty van Hall, and Rien Dijkstra; a crowdfunding campaign; and support from the Foundation for Democracy and Media.