In order to make students understand how people their age were faced with difficult moral choices during the Second World War, Radboud University (RU) has decided to open the educational escape room ‘University in resistance’ at the Valkhof Museum on Liberation Day. In doing so, a unique part of history is highlighted, namely the voluntary closing of the RU by the Rector Magnificus at that time, Bernard Hermesdorf.
Original text: Julia Mars
Translation: Ramadan Hasani
In April of 1943, students of all Dutch universities had to sign a declaration of loyalty, stating that students ‘will refrain from any action that is against the German Reich’. Hermesdorf, as the only rector in the Netherlands, refused to impose this declaration on his students. Supported by the other professors, Hermesdorf single-handedly shut down the university on April 11 1943.
‘One of the main goals of the educational escape room is to make young people realize what kind of moral dilemmas students at that time had to go through’, says fundraiser Eelco Keij, who came up with the idea with historians from the university. ‘Within a short period of time students had to decide whether they would sign up to the occupiers for the Arbeitseinsatz (forced labor), or whether they would go into hiding, with the risk that their loved ones or family would have to face the consequences.’ At the end of the educational escape room there will be an exposition which also connects to the present. ‘We want to pass on the realization that the war and these moral dilemmas may seem far away for us, but that in other places around the world people still face these difficult moral choices on a daily basis, which can sometimes make the difference between life and death.’
Awareness for history
One of those students was Jozef van Hövell van Wezeveld and Westerflier, president of the Nijmegen student organization Carolus Magnus. By accepting the presidency he put a lot on the line because the asssociation was forbidden by the occupier at that time. By solving puzzles and questions the escape room lets participants put themselves in the shoes of the friends of Van Hövell. Van Hövell van Wezeveld and Westerflier was an important link in the student resistance and regularly took part in resistance activities. On March 28 1944 he was arrested and almost a year later he died in concentration camp Neuengamme due to exhaustion.
To target the biggest possible demographic, the educational escape room will be available in Dutch, English and German. Tickets will be available online starting April 11, exactly 75 years after the shutdown of the university in 1943. Attendees up to the age of 25 will get a discount.