Norman Burkett: Frits de Zwerver
ArtWay Visual Meditation 2 May 2021
Norman Burkett: Frits de Zwerver
Reformed Resistance in World War II
by Albert Hengelaar
For all those who gave us a future.
Caption on the bust
Since 1995 there has been a war memorial representing village pastor Slomp in Heemse in the Dutch province of Overijssel. The person thus commemorated had to die first, because he himself did not wish to be recognized and distinguished for his work.
This preacher from Heemse, also known as Frits de Zwerver (Frits the Wanderer), has become a legendary resistance hero. When we visited Heemse shortly after the unveiling of the monument in 1995, we met elderly villagers who had been in the pastor’s catechism class. With us was an artist friend, daughter of a Canadian war hero. Social dynamics ensued, resulting in genuine emotions as the Heemse citizens full of enthusiasm started to tell stories about the pastor.
The bust gives a striking likeness of Slomp, uncompromising and empathetic. His aversion to accolades was also taken into consideration as three other local heroes are commemorated on a boulder next to the monument. One of them, Heine Bolks, had a Dutch father and a German mother.
Slomp saw early on that Nazism was not good. Heemse is located near the German border and across the border there are Reformed believers who belong to the same church as their fellow Christians in the Netherlands. From them Slomp had already heard during the first half of the 1930s how social manipulation was taking place in Germany. The parents complained that they no longer had control over their children.
Already before the war Slomp was busy helping Jewish immigrants from Germany. During the occupation he campaigned from the pulpit, which was definitely not without danger, and at illegal gatherings he called people to resist. He became the leader of the largest resistance organisation in the Netherlands, survived imprisonment and was later liberated from prison by resistance fighters. It was moving to read in the diary (published in 2020) of the resistance widow, Pietertje te Rietstap, that he came to comfort her after the war.
Slomp’s bust is immediately reminiscent of the famed pictures from Prague in 1968 and Beijing in 1989. Exposed chests in front of a tank. Vulnerable humans against rampant evil. It seems an impossible task, but this Reformed pastor showed what is necessary when you are called by the biblical command to justice and love of neighbour. The monument in Heemse gives this call a fitting place.
Norman Burkett: Frits de Zwerver (Frits the Wanderer), 1995, bronze, apart from the pedestal approximately half a meter, Hardenberg (Heemse), NL.
Frits de Zwerver. As part of the 50th commemoration of the end of the Second World War the Rotary Club Hardenberg took the initiative to establish a bust in memory of Rev. F. Slomp (1898-1978), who was a pastor during the war years in Heemse-Hardenberg. He was the founder and leader of the 'National Organisation for Assistance to People in Hiding' (the LO-LKP; www.lo-lkp.nl) and was known under the pseudonym 'Frits the Wanderer.' The most eye-catching result of his activities was an efficiently functioning national network of addresses for people who needed to hide for the German occupiers of the Netherlands. NIOD, the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, calculated that the network accommodated 350,000 people in hiding, out of a total population of 9 million!
Norman H. Burkett (Dublin, 1942) is an Irish sculptor and painter. Burkett studied from 1971 until 1974 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He received the Elizabeth Greenshields Scholarship Award, which enabled him to reside in Canada in 1975. After his return, he settled in the Netherlands. He is a figurative sculptor. He also paints and draws. www.burkett.nl
Albert Hengelaar is treasurer of Stichting ArtWay (ArtWay Foundation). His daily work concerns representing the World Evangelical Alliance at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, especially at the Human Rights Council.
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