The street better known as Wijk 4 and 5 was renamed just after WWII as an homage to war hero Pieter Brouwer. He was an active member of the underground movement that helped refugees and took people in hiding in his large shop/house. When it became dangerous he could hide people in a specially built double wall, beneath the groceries stock. When there was less danger the people in hiding could move more freely as the house was very large. Pieter, or Piet was involved in many underground activities: helping crashed fighter plane pilots, getting tickets for food etc,…
Pieter Brouwer, then only 24 years old was arrested in October 1944. When other members of the underground association offered to liberate him he replied that it was not necessary since they could possibly not hold anything against him. When he was arrested he was asked about a hiding place in his house which was turned upside down for proof, without any result. But, in wartime other rules apply and so Pieter was taken to camp Amersfoort.
Soon he was put on the last transport out of Holland from to Nazi-Germany where he ended up in concentration camp Wöbbelin. Soon thereafter he was freed from the camp by the Americans. He wrote a letter to his wife Nellie Brouwer-Metz. ‘On the 2nd of may we were freed from a terrible camp’. This letter was received June ’45 and Nellie expected her husband back real soon. She held on waiting for him a long time before realizing that he would never return again. Pieter had died from dysentery, only a few days after he was set free. The people in camp Wöbbelin were in a very bad condition and a lot of the prisoners died real soon. Eight months later Nellie received the notice from the Red Cross that he had died at the camp and was buried in a mass grave near by Wöbbelin.
For this project I set out to look for namesakes of Pieter Brouwer. He and his wife Nellie didn’t have children yet (they were both in their 20s when the war broke out). Pieter Brouwer himself was named after his grandfather. Most of the people I portrayed were also named after this grandfather. Except for Pieternella Brouwer. The unexpected outcome of this project was that this woman was directly named after Pieter Brouwer and his wife Nellie. When I started this project my expectation was that I would only find Pieters or Piets (i.e. males).
During the project I also found out that my own grandfather used to be Pieter Brouwer’s best friend. Before the war they went out on bike-holidays. In old family albums of my grandfather you can see them on their bikes, playing, and interestingly, shaving each other in their tents (they were growing up).
When the Germans decreed to always carry an identity card my grandfather was ordered to photograph the inhabitants of Urk. He did this together with Pieter Brouwer. The best of the portraits they made ended up in photo albums. These photo albums are well known in Urk. They contain beautiful portraits of Urkers, sometimes even wearing traditional clothing. Urk was then still an island in the Zuiderzee. Unfortunately a lot of the photo’s were taken from the albums by relatives of the portrayed. “Ah, that’s my granny, or grandfather, I will just take that photo with me and show it to my family”.
In the footsteps of my grandfather, this also became a personal search.
In 2015 I photographed the namesakes of Pieter Brouwer. Who was he, what would he have been doing in this time? Are you Pieter Brouwer?
This series is part of the 12 photographers-12 streets-12 provinces of De Fotoweek 2015: www.defotoweek.nl