March 6, 2009 / 5:42 PM / 10 years ago

Relive Dutch life under Nazi rule in "The Bunker"

AMSTERDAM (Reuters Life!) - Standing in a dark room you hear a boy desperately knocking on a door and begging you to hide him from Nazi soldiers. Would you risk your life to help?

This is the type of dilemma that confronts visitors to Amsterdam’s World War Two exhibition “The Bunker,” which has just opened its doors to the public in the Dutch capital.

Just one in six living Dutch citizens experienced World War Two, in which more than 100,000 Dutch Jews perished, and “The Bunker” aims to remind people of the perils they faced.

“By literally putting people in situations that their fellow citizens faced during Wold War Two, we hope to let history come alive,” said John Sijmonsbergen of Anno, an organization that aims to teach people about Dutch history.

The building, about eight by eight meters (yards) wide and five meters high, is covered with images of concrete walls, making it look like a wartime bunker and is located in the center of Amsterdam next to city hall.

“Research shows that historical knowledge among the Dutch is poor. This building’s shape draws attention. People who normally do not visit a museum will now come and learn about the war,” Sijmonsbergen said.

Visitors learn about the desperate choices that were foisted on men and women during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, which made friendship with a Jew a life-threatening choice.

“I never knew that the choices people had to make during the war were so much harder than they are now,” 11-year old Colin de Gouw said, who was visiting the bunker with his class. “Especially because your life could be on the line.”

About 500 people per day visit the bunker and some 40,000 people have visited the exhibition as it passed through three other Dutch cities, host Alexander Hemker said. When faced with the dilemmas, half or more of the visitors choose to help Jews or stay friends with a Jew, contrasting with less than one percent of the population who helped Jews or fought the Nazis during the war, Sijmonsbergen said.

“Before visiting, the pupils gave politically correct answers, but now they’re not so sure anymore whether they’ll dare to do the right thing,” said 41-year primary school teacher Lilian Dobbe.

The bunker will be open to visitors in Amsterdam until April 8. Its website (in Dutch) is:

Writing by Elke Bun and Gilbert Kreijger, editing by Paul Casciato

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