Supported by Europe for Citizens, Strand 1 European Remembrance
Smashing Times were delighted to implement Comet Lines – Freedom Trails of Europe, a yearlong, transnational project with four European partners from Ireland, Spain, Poland and Belgium.
The project 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 four partners are Smashing Times, Dublin, Ireland (lead partner); Theater & Reconciliation, Brussels, Belgium; University of Humanities and Economics (AHE), Lodz, Poland; and Iniciativas De Futuro Para Una Europa Social – IFESCOOP, Valencia, Spain.
Project Documents and Reports
- Smashing Times, Ireland – Comet Lines – Project Information
- Iniciativas de Futuro Para Una Europa Social, Spain – Comet Lines – Project Information
- University of Humanities and Economics (AHE), Poland – Comet Lines – Project Information
- Theater & Reconciliation, Belgium – Comet Lines – Project Information
‘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, including the children and relatives of those who worked on the escape lines and those who were saved, come together to walk parts of the routes of the original lines especially over the Pyrenees. 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 project gathered a range of stories of those involved in the escape lines and freedom trails of Europe, remembering the stories of ‘helpers’, escapees and evaders – those who either organised or used the escape lines of mainland Europe during WWII. The stories were used as inspiration to create a theatre workshop, performance and 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 (Le Réseau Comète) for escaped Allied soldiers and airmen. The Comet Line or Comète 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.
Established in 1940 in Brussels, the Comet Line provided a means of escape for Allied soldiers and airmen on the run in Nazi occupied Europe. The escapees were given food, clothing and false identity papers by members of the Resistance in countries such as Belgium, France and Spain and were then guided by a chain of ‘helpers’ taking them through France, over the Pyrenees into neutral Spain and finally to freedom through Gilbraltar. The network was established by De Jongh, a courageous 24-year-old Belgian woman who took enormous risks actively setting up and running the network with people from different nationalities and who herself personally escorted many of her charges out of France at risk to her own life. Dédée’s own hero was Edith Cavell, a British nurse shot in 1915 in Schaerbeek for helping troops escape from occupied Belgium into neutral Netherlands during the first World War.
Comet Lines – Freedom Trails of Europe 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.
Read the full Comet Lines book here
By focusing on stories of ‘helpers’ and escapees – those who either organised or used the escape lines of mainland Europe during WWII – the project explored what happens when intolerance and totalitarianism take over and democratic processes are denied and encourages debate on contemporary democratic achievements in Europe today.
The annual transnational work programme implemented for Comet Lines: Freedom Trails of Europe used creative and cultural processes including story-telling and performance to generate a shared remembrance of European history and to reach a wide range of European citizens at local, regional, national and transnational levels. The project promotes an understanding amongst young people and adults of the European union, it’s history, functions and diversity and the values it is built on, raising awareness of the importance of civic and democratic participation at EU level, fostering European citizenship and the active involvement of citizens in the construction of a stronger EU.
By exploring the causes of intolerance and totalitarianism and remembering stories of solidarity during WWII, the project raised awareness of how citizens can actively transcend borders and come together to combat intolerance and to promote a fair and equal society for all. The project linked with the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage by promoting awareness of intangible cultural heritage through the stories, values and principles of the Escape Lines and the people who worked and were saved by them. The stories for this project came from a range of countries representing a shared sense of belonging within Europe, linking local heritage to European memory and promoting intercultural dialogue and solidarity at a European level in the past and today.
Gender Equality is a fundamental principle of the EU and a key component for democracy and peace. Women’s rights are an essential component of universal human rights. Women are powerful drivers of change and this transnational project remembered promoted equality by remembering the role of both women and men in Europe and the power of the EU in promoting peace and gender equality for all. The stories of all genders are important as they highlight how solidarity encourages tolerance, mutual understanding, inter-cultural dialogue and reconciliation, all key values for building democracy, equality and peace today.
A key part of the project is to establish a transnational European network made up of different types of organisations including civil society organisations, local authorities, research institutions and youth and community groups. Links are made with all countries in Europe including the WWII Escape Lines Memorial Society from Great Britain to across Europe. With this wide breath of countries and cultures we can encourage remembrance, debate, and the sharing of common history and values. As lead partner Smashing Times were delighted to welcome over ten European partner organisations to Dublin for the final Comet Lines symposium presented as part of the inaugural Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival which took place in September 2019
Creative actions implemented by the project are two transnational partner exchanges; a communications and dissemination strategy; a transnational book (digital) with articles and stories of people from Ireland, Belgium, Poland and Spain who were involved in the escape lines and Resistance across Europe during WWII. The stories are used to inspire the creation of a theatre workshop model and performance implemented with panel discussions; and an international creative arts symposium bringing citizens together to remember the people who managed the escape lines during WWII and the solidarity that existed between citizens from countries including Great Britain, Poland, Belgium, Ireland, France and Spain.
The project culminated in an International Symposium on Thursday 19 September 2019 held as part of the inaugural Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival hosted by Smashing Times and Frontline Defenders in Dublin, Ireland and attended by over 300 arts and civil society organisations from across Europe and members of the public. There were three main events held on Thursday 19 October, conducted by the four partners as part of the Comet Line: Freedom Trails of Europe project.
The first event of the International Symposium was ‘Freedom Trails of Europe: Intersections between the Arts, Equality, Human Rights’ held on 19 September, 10am-1pm at the Samuel Beckett Theatre. This event featured panel discussions, theatre workshops, and song. Helen McEntee, Minister for European Affairs, TD Meath East, Ireland, presented a keynote speech on the role of the EU and European solidarity to promote democracy, equality and peace today, with reference to the founding of the EU after WWII and how, in times of crisis, European citizens can come together to transcend borders and combat intolerance.
The panel of speakers included John Morgan, Lawyer and Secretary, Basque Pyrenees Freedom Trails Association (BPFTA); festival curator Mary Moynihan, Writer, Theatre and Film-Maker, and Artistic Director, Smashing Times who spoke about arts, creativity and human rights, linking the arts within a EU context to democracy, equality and peace. Frédérique Lecomte, Director, Theater & Reconciliation, Belgium and the Congo spoke about her work using creative processes to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation in the Congo.
Following the panel talks, participants then took part in a series of workshops involving citizens in fun activities to promote remembrance and awareness raising in relation to stories of solidarity during WWII and the role and benefits of the EU today for promoting democracy, equality and peace. Facilitators were Tamar Keane, Kamila Witerska, Frédérique Lecomte, Larissa Manley, and Michael McCabe. The moderator was Dil Wickremasinghe, a journalist and human rights activist and the event ended with a rousing rendition of a song of Revolutionary Change by Fernando Benavente, IFESCOOP, Valencia, Spain.
The second event on 19 September was a full-length workshop presented by Frédérique Lecomte, Director of Belgian company Theater & Reconciliation. Frédérique showcased and discussed her extraordinary work that she had developed using creative processes to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation in the Congo and demonstrated the new Remembrance Through Theatre workshop model developed as part of the Comet Lines: Freedom Trails of Europe project.
The third event Escape Routes and Freedom Trails – European Solidarity between Nations, 19 September 7.30pm, took place at the Samuel Beckett Theatre and was a fantastic evening of theatre, film, music and panel discussions celebrating and remembering extraordinary stories of Irish and European men and women involved in the Resistance and in ‘escape lines. The event remembered the escape lines and freedom trails as well as modern day experiences of human rights defenders working on civilian rescue operations in Southern Europe (Greece, Italy, etc) today.
The evening began with a powerful theatre performance Shadow of My Soul by Mary Moynihan, directed by Dr Eric Weitz and performed by Carla Ryan, Megan O’Malley and Michael Bates, with research by John Morgan, lawyer and co-founder of the Basque Pyrenees Freedom Trails Association (BPFTA). Shadow of My Soul remembers stories of Irish and European women and men involved in the Resistance and in escape lines – secret World War II networks set up to assist Allied soldiers and citizens leave Nazi occupied territory during WWII. This is 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, Member of the Comet Escape Line in Belgium during WWII.
The play was followed by a screening of a new film documentary Réseau Sans Nom by Basque film company Bira Productions; followed by a panel discussion with invited guest speakers celebrating and remembering Escape Lines and Freedom Trails. Audience members heard about courageous Belgium woman and human rights defender Andrée de Jongh, who set up the Comet Line that saved over 800 Allied service men as well as courageous Irish men and women active during WWII including Katherine Anne McCarthy, Mary Cummins, Catherine Crean, Margaret Kelly and Samuel Beckett.
Artists and speakers for this unique event included Mary Moynihan, writer, theatre and film-maker, Artistic Director of Smashing Times; John Morgan, Dublin lawyer and co-founder of the Basque Pyrenees Freedom Trails’ Association (BPFTA); Eneko Aizpurua, award-winning writer, Basque Country, and Trinity graduate Seán Binder, from Cork, an Aid Worker who spent over 100 days in a Greek jail arising from his work volunteering with refugees.
A musical highlight of the evening was a performance of Don’t See Any Lines by singer/songwriter Hilary Bow featuring Hilary Bow and Liam Ó MaonlaÍ on vocals. The single Don’t See Any Lines was released on World Refugee Day (20 June 2019) by Cork Singer/Songwriter Hilary Bow.
Overall, Comet Lines – Freedom Trails of Europe was a huge success reaching a wide range of citizens across Europe and the project partners extend a special thanks to Europe for Citizens for supporting this innovative work.
If you would like further information about this project please contact
Smashing Times, Coleraine House, Coleraine Street, Dublin 7
• Tel: +353 (0)1 865 6613
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