RMA History Blog

An Unexpected Find: Linda Heuvelman-Grem

An Unexpected Find

By Linda Heuvelman-Grem

I didn’t expect to find it. It would be nice to say that I purposely sought this. But I didn’t… To be completely honest, I found it by coincidence. But isn’t it so that many researchers claim to have been ‘lucky’ every once in a while? Could I be this lucky? I feel so excited…and start reading again. The words in the document seem to mock my disbelief. I try to temper the feelings of excitement by saying to myself that it is just one source. A testimony. It’s confidential and I cannot use the names mentioned in this archival document. This cannot possibly be new information. It was here in these archives for years after having been registered and made accessible (albeit under certain conditions). Many people probably have read this and maybe this information is much less interesting as I think it is…But still…I had searched for clues for weeks now, without success. So, I decided to direct my research in another, more fruitful, direction. But here it is, unmistakably, this source… I look around and see the old distinguished man with the glasses, next to me, still struggling with finding a proper way of turning the pages of the fragile old newspaper, which he had asked an employee of the institute half an hour ago. The girl in front of me is rapidly typing on her laptop while listening to music through her earphones. Everything is the same as it was five minutes ago, except that it isn’t.

When I started this master, I set myself the goal of exploring archival material. It is difficult to regard yourself as a historian if you never actually have had historical material in your hands. And so I went to the archives for research. At first I felt like a kid who goes to school for the first time. I couldn’t find anything and the large cabinets filled with books were quite intimidating. Where on earth would I start? After a couple of days, I found my way in the archive. And, after a long day of researching, I usually managed to go home with the feeling of having accomplished something. In some instances that lasted until the moment I realized that I forgot to write something down that, with hindsight, should have been recorded. But that is another story ?

Here I am, sitting in the archives with this really exciting information, having already thought about one hundred things I could do with it. I start taking notes and, by the time I leave the building, it is already half past five. The weather is fine (for a change) and when I merge into the crowd of people, trying to avoid two clumsy cyclists and find my way to the station, I think about the man behind this testimony and his horrible ordeal. The contrast between his story and my walk to the station, in freedom, without fear and with food and drinks at practically every corner of the street, has a sobering effect on me. The next couple of days, I think about his testimony many times and I think about the people who recorded his testimony, the institute that managed to make sure that these documents didn’t get lost in the course of history and the scholars that have studied this historical period and have built on each other’s discoveries and insights. It is the wish to make a contribution to this, no matter how small, that made me choose this master. Of course, I’m hoping for many more (archival) findings to come.