A message to our friends

You may have read the Vrij Nederland article of 22 February. Please read our  reaction on that article here and more broadly on our ABOUT page. We are shocked by the stories from VN. Our empathy and support go out to all those affected, the victims and their loved ones.

We want to share some personal thoughts, all of them connected to the question: how further?

This is for us a really existential moment in time. When we started with a ‘new’ Castrum Peregrini, more than 10 years ago, the ‘ancien regime’ had left us a dusty ruin. Wolfgang Frommel died in 1986 and his obscure circle had since disintegrated in rear-guard fighting. Gisèle was the one that stood as a rock of integrity in the swamps of loyalty. Meeting her and living with her sparked our enthusiasm to build something new and broadly relevant on her values, those values that had made her take in Frommel and his Jewish pupils during Nazi occupation, to dedicate her life to the arts, to use her means for the support of her friends and others in need. We realised that Frommel and his circle had always profited from Gisèle and yet have always side-lined her, to say the least. There was justice to be done. We not only felt we had to care for her as a person but also put our focus on her life and work in our activities. When the remaining circle of Wolfgang Frommels friends – with the former director of Castrum Peregrini in the initiative –  hijacked (literally!) the archive and put a lock on it we conducted a law suit for years to get it back and open it up for scholars. Openly writing history is only possible with open archives. Also, we abandoned the old logo of Castrum that symbolised the circle of Wolfgang Frommel and his publishing house. We outsourced the latter to a German publisher that would secure free and critical history writing. It was of more symbolic value to give away the George library. We have organised symposia about the problematic sides of Castrum Peregrini, have supported the critical documentary Herengracht 401 by Janina Pigaht (very worthwhile seeing!) and after Gisele’s death we initiated a critical and independently written biography of Gisèle which will be published at the Bezige Bij in September 2018. In it, Annet Mooij will also pay critical attention to the phenomenon of Frommel. We have nevertheless not been aware of any sexual abuse of minors! 

Frommel feels like a dark vortex – his presence is still a spectre, absent but palpable. Frommel was someone who wielded power through his cult of personality, ironically from the security of a small apartment. These are things to be discussed – difficult as they may be. Nowadays, we want history to be clean, like our super hero movies, where good and bad are clearly demarcated.  But of course there is always complexity. The question is how to speak about norms slowly adjusting and aberrant behaviour made possible through the subtle changing of a “social or collective temperature”. These are themes we must speak about connecting the past to present. We do this in our programming, but now there is an explicit link to the house. Understanding the house’s shadows, making them transparent, might bring light to the present and even become a beacon to the future. 

Last year, we have set up a research commission chaired by Rosemarie Buikema who wants to stimulate and supervise research about the history of Castrum Peregrini, and this might require different forms of scholarship and sensitivities – for example those versed in Holocaust studies, gender studies, sexual abuse, trauma, or those who grasp the dynamics of cults. Whatever is required, we will bring that scholarship on board. Castrum Peregrini wants to critically interrogate the past in order to learn from it, heal, do better and build a more compassionate future. This kind of approach is urgent in the present, not only for Castrum Peregrini, but for our society as a whole.

Somehow this moment, no matter how painful, is an opportunity to think about the past and present in more complex ways. Thinking about the term “foundation”, which Castrum Peregrini is, we believe we should take this head on, not to contain the past but instead struggle with it towards the future. Many museums grapple with collections acquired through colonialization, or decimation of indigenous people, Nazi acquisitions, slave trade and they have to find ways of talking about those legacies. Castrum Peregrini will seek advice from spaces that have experience in dealing with abuse. We will be making regular updates on our website that reflect Castrum Peregrinis’ searching for itself, and the reconciliation with the past both good (and there is plenty that is good) and bad and moreover, how we’re moving forward.

As a first step we focus our attention and our empathy on the victims that have been speaking up to find appropriate support in their coming to terms with trauma. It is of utmost importance that these stories come out.

We hope you can appreciate our thoughts that reflect a state of introspection and self-investigation rather than a clear answer. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have questions or want to speak,- or if you have advise or ideas!

Frans, Lars, Michael