Primary school pupils interview older people about the history of war in their neighbourhood

January 9, 2018 |  Minka Bos

Getting to know someone’s personal experience of an historical event by meeting them can be a richer learning experience than reading about the event in a book. 

 In this blog, Minka Bos, Director of In Mijn Buurt (In My Neighbourhood), Amsterdam, shares the inspiration behind an intergenerational initiative which promotes this idea.

In mijn Buurt (In My Neighbourhood an intergenerational learning project – red) organises meetings between older adults and primary school pupils who are living in the same neighbourhood.  What is significant is that the older adults have had first-hand experience of key historical events.  By bringing different generations of local residents together to share stories about the past, new, young ‘Heritage Holders’ are created.

Huub Liebrand (83) shared his story with these boys

As a journalist I have had the privilege of visit a diverse group of people in their home. These interviews have helped me to understand the other person better. I believe that sharing a vulnerable, sometimes painful personal story ensures deep connection between people.  I wanted to share this insight with the children in my neighbourhood. These children mainly have migrant parents and my goal is to bring them in contact with the history of the district. Both the children and the older people have learned and continue to learn so much through these meetings.

The interviews take place in the older person’s living room. The topics being discussed are: ‘My neighbourhood during World War 2’, ‘Migration to my neighbourhood’ and ‘Traces of Dutch colonial past in my neighbourhood’. It is not about who was wrong or who was right.  Instead, the children come to realise that what happened in the past, the decisions of ‘the other’, which took place in their neighbourhood, are actually recognizable and maybe even similar to experiences they have had.

Meeting the other provides openness, understanding and empathy. 11 year-old Emre, who interviewed an older man whose family was betrayed during World War 2 puts it like this: “At this moment I think I would never be a traitor. But what if there is a war going on, and my family and I have nothing to eat or drink; and the only way to get some food, would be to betray someone? I am not sure what I would do.”

This older lady visited the children in their classroom

In the six week educational program the children develop life skills: researching, interviewing and making a speech. The goal of the visits are explained to the older people. They are also provided with aftercare and are invited for the final presentation where the children tell their stories. Every year around 1000 pupils meet up in the living rooms of older adults. Selected children obtain the title ‘Heritage Holder’: they vow to take responsibility for the story and to share it with the world. In Amsterdam there are currently 150 Heritage Holders.

Last year, then 13 year-old Yasmine shared the story of 92 year-old Hennie Wiese at a special commemoration event on May 5th. Standing outside, on a bridge, she shared the war memories she had heard from her old neighbour when she was 10 years old. Yasmine shared Wiese’s personal story of the Second World War as if it was her own, with the 7000 people that crossed the bridge that day.

You can watch her on this video: Erfgoeddrager Yasmine on Vimeo

Contact Minka Bos directly at