By Mary Moynihan, Writer and Artistic Director, Smashing Times
Smashing Times have recently completed a European transnational project called Comet Lines – The Freedom Trails of Europe. The project was implemented by four European partners from Ireland, Spain, Poland and Belgium and used creative processes of theatre workshops, performances, film and new digital technologies to promote a remembrance of European history with a focus on ‘Escape Lines’ during WWII. The project partners are Smashing Times (lead), Theater & Reconciliation, Brussels, Belgium; University of Humanities and Economics (AHE), Lodz, Poland and Iniciativas De Futuro Para Una Europa Social – IFESCOOP, Valencia, Spain. The project was supported by Europe for Citizens under Strand One: European Remembrance, with support in Ireland from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Communicating Europe Initiative.
Escape Lines were secret World War II networks set up to assist Allied soldiers and citizens leave Nazi-occupied territory during WWII. Today the Escape Lines are remembered as ‘Freedom Trails’ where citizens from across Europe and beyond come together to walk parts of the routes of the original lines. The aim is to remember and honour those who risked and in many cases lost their lives to help others be free.
The Comet Lines gathered a series of stories of those involved in the escape lines and freedom trails of Europe during WWII. The stories were used as inspiration to create a theatre workshop, a play, and a creative arts symposium, using the stories and activities as a catalyst for bringing people together to raise awareness of the power of European solidarity and the role of the EU to promote peace, democracy, and gender equality today. The project remembers the stories of both men and women who set up and worked the escape lines including Belgium woman Countess Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh (1916-2007), nickname Dédée, who set up the Comet line which is estimated to have repatriated some 800 Allied servicemen, who themselves were aided by over 3,000 civilians, 700 of whom were arrested, and some 290 shot dead or died during deportation.
Smashing Times will shortly be launching a book in digital format with the stories of those people from Ireland, Belgium, Poland and Spain who were involved in the Escape Lines and Resistance across Europe during WWII. The stories highlight the solidarity that existed between ordinary citizens from countries including Great Britain, Poland, Belgium, Ireland, France and Spain during WWII.
What is extraordinary about the stories is the way in which ordinary people risked their lives for apparent strangers, showing solidarity and courage in times of extreme adversity. The following is an excerpt from Shadow of My Soul by Mary Moynihan, a play of remembrance reflecting on extraordinary stories of ordinary people in resistance during a time of darkness when people dared to hope for a future out there. ‘I never cried in front of the Nazis, I only cried at night. They stole my sleep but they never took my freedom or my life’ – words inspired by Andrée ‘Nadine’ Dumont, a member of the Comet Escape Line in Belgium during WWII.
DEEDEE: In every camp there were spontaneous gestures of kindness.
NADINE: A man who spends endless days climbing the endless stairs of the Mauthausen quarry and still finds time at night to risk torture and death to bring his Jewish friend a spoonful of jam.
BOB: Two men, a helper and an airman, drown trying to cross the Pyrenees and the Nazis dump their bodies in the village square as a warning to locals. If anyone buries them they will be shot. The next morning the two bodies are covered entirely in flowers.
DEEDEE: My beautiful friend Francia who lost her life in Ravensbruck, pushing a cart full of dead bodies along a dirt track. She died giving her life and home to strangers. The last safe refuge on the road to freedom.
NADINE: There is a shadow in my soul. I will not forget my friends who died in the camps. My papa, Frederic de Jongh, Francia, and many others.
BOB: I survived thanks to the bravery of many people, and to the courage of my friends Deedee and Nadine. I was a stranger to you. You gave me your food, your home, your friendship, you risk your life for my safety. What more can a person ask of a fellow human?
NADINE: What else can a person do for a fellow human?
Europe Day 2020 takes place on 9 May and is held every year to celebrate peace and unity in Europe. In 2020 as part of the Europe for Citizens programme promoting European Remembrance and civic participation at a European level, Smashing Times will present EU 1979: A People’s Parliament remembering the 1979 European parliamentary elections through a celebration of the stories and names of the 67 powerful women MEP’s elected at that time. We will also present Arts, Fascism and Democracy featuring a multi-disciplinary cabaret-style performance inspired by the stories of artists standing up to Fascism during and after the Spanish Civil War and WWII. Those artists include Käthe Kollwitz, a German artist who worked with painting, printmaking and sculpture; Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director Federico García Lorca and our very own Samuel Beckett. Both works will feature in the Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival planned for October 2020 at the Samuel Beckett Theatre.