The Resistance Museum in Amsterdam (Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam) wants to expand its space and add a children’s museum, because it has reached the growth limits of the current building. This expansion would help to accommodate the 16,000 school children that visit the museum in groups every year.
The location of the new children’s museum is an adjoining run-down business premises with a surface area of around 300 m2. The museum wants to renovate this in a sustainable fashion, add an extra floor and create a new exhibition for children in the 9 to 14 age range, who visit either in a school group or with their families.
The children’s museum will focus on the experiences of children during the occupation. These were children who were confronted with the persecution of the Jews, shortages, the forced labour suffered by their parents and brothers and the violence of war. The young visitors will be encouraged to empathise and think about the past and the present.
This expansion will allow the Resistance Museum to:
The stichting Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam (the Resistance Museum Amsterdam foundation) was set up by former members of the resistance movement in 1984. The museum curates a large collection of authentic materials. The permanent exhibition covers the Dutch population, who were faced with unexpected choices and dilemmas due to the loss of national independence and democratic law. A separate section of the museum tells of the experiences of the population in the former Dutch colonies.
The museum has grown into a much-valued museum, with almost 58,000 visitors in 2010, including almost 16,000 school children on group visits from right across the Netherlands.
The purpose of the museum is to inform, especially the young visitors – and largely from socially less advantaged and non-western immigrant origins – about the most dramatic episode in recent history and to make them think. Remembering World War Two can contribute to tolerance, democracy and social cohesion in today’s society.
A teacher at a ‘black school’ from Amsterdam-Zeeburg wrote to the museum after a visit that: "all the differences between Jews and Muslims disappeared…. In my group, where almost all children are Muslims, with all the usual feelings of hatred that sometimes come to the fore, that was a ‘golden moment’. In 2002 and 2003, the historical news journal Historisch Nieuwsblad nominated the Resistance Museum as the best history museum in the Netherlands. The jury report stated: "An entertaining, touching and educational story about the Netherlands during World War Two. ... We have visited a perfect museum." In 2005, French professor Christophe de Voogd wrote an essay about the cultural heritage of Amsterdam: "The Dutch Resistance Museum (...) merits great admiration - especially considering its modest operating budget - for its wealth of documentation, its clear chronological itinerary and its remarkable explanatory notes: a delight for historians, as well for less scholarly visitors that encourages serious contemplation about mankind, since being placed in the situation of that time by spatial arrangement makes one wonder constantly: What would I have done under such circumstances."
On the website www.tripadvisor.com foreign visitors regularly write recommendations about the Resistance Museum. Some examples:
“Good chronological overview of the Dutch resistance during WWII. Chilling statements, informative displays, don't forget to put this museum on your to do list!”
“In my five-and-counting years of travel I can count on one hand the number of museums that I have literally lost track of time while touring and this is one of them. An excellent experience and one that demands many repeat visits.”
"Dovetailing nicely with a visit to the Anne Frank House, the Resistance Museum also provides an excellent overview of one of the signature moments in the country’s history. The walking tour between the two attractions is in my mind an integral part of the Resistance Museum experience."
Lack of space
The steady growth in the Resistance Museum’s visitor numbers has a downside. The current museum lacks space. It cannot accommodate more than 50 school children at a time. The museum has to turn down many school groups during the busy spring period, at a time when the attention given to World War Two in schools is on the increase. Individual visitors are also disturbed by the school groups. The museum also needs more trainees and volunteers to assist the growing number of visitors but lacks the necessary office space and work places.
In order to partly compensate for the lack of space and at the same time make the educational aspect more attractive for the youngest age group, the Resistance Museum regularly organises children’s exhibitions: special exhibitions with interactive game elements, in which the young visitors go in search of answers to challenging questions. Pupils and teachers are enthusiastic and have given the children’s exhibitions an average mark of between 8 and 9 out of 10. Since many schools plan their trips a long time ahead, many teachers have asked for a permanent exhibition for children aged 9 to 14 years of age.
A unique opportunity for expansion
The museum staff had wanted for quite some time to expand the museum by adding a children’s section for 9 to 14-year olds, when the opportunity arose to acquire a site next to the museum. It was a one-off opportunity the Museum simply could not and did not let pass.
The available part of the former garage has a surface area of around 320 m2. The ground floor would become largely museum space, while the floor above would house the necessary additional facilities required for a visit to the children’s museum: a group reception room, a space for museum teachers and offices for the educational department. The well-known architect Hand Ruijssenaars has drawn up the renovation plan.
Form and content
The children’s museum starts with a time machine – a surprising way to get from the present day to the time of war. The visitors then find themselves in a different world: a place somewhere in the Netherlands in the 1940s: a square with houses, a shop and a school. Airplanes making a buzzing noise pass overhead every 30 minutes. Every now and then an air-raid alarm sounds. There are windows and holes in the wall and doors everywhere that may or may not open.
The children’s museum has four main themes/houses, with the focus on different perspectives: adaptation and life goes on (the spectator), persecution (the victim), collaboration (the perpetrator) and resistance. Each main space has its own atmosphere and focuses on the story of one child. The young visitors become closely involved in the experiences of these four children.
The museum will use various educational formats. With a logical connection to the time of occupation in the Netherlands, the museum raises the subject of war in other countries and makes the link between the world of those days and the world of the young visitors themselves, where exclusion, conflict (solution) and standing up for your opinions also play a role.
Audience and planning
The children’s museum is expected to open its doors in October 17, 2013. The children’s museum is permanent and therefore has a duration of at least seven years. At least 15,000 children – both in school groups and with their families – and 2,000 accompanying adults will visit the children’s museum each year.
The realisation of the children’s museum requires a total, one-off investment of just over EUR 3.3 million. A cost estimate is included in the addenda. To cover the investment sum, the museum has appealed to various public and government organisations, private funds and private individuals. The Amsterdam city council, the Health, Welfare and Sport and various private funds have pledged a total of just over EUR 2.4 million. In May 2010, the museum launched an intensive fund raising campaign to complete the financing.
VMA, June 2011