The Dutch government has said it will make a ‘generous gesture’ to honour Surinamese author, activist and resistance fighter Anton de Kom, who died in a Nazi concentration camp weeks before it was freed by the allied forces.
De Kom came to the Netherlands in 1920 where he found a country ignorant about its colonial history. His lectures and articles about Suriname soon earned him the reputation of a left-wing troublemaker, a reputation further cemented when, on his return to Suriname, he started documenting black workers’ dire working conditions.
Labelled a ‘communist agitator’, he and his family were shipped back to the Netherlands where he was effectively barred from employment.
When war broke out, De Kom started working for the underground press until he was arrested in 1944. He died a short time later in Sandbostel concentration camp. His body was buried in a mass grave and his remains were only identified in 1960 when the grave was excavated.
De Kom’s children and relatives have welcomed foreign minister Stef Blok’s promise. ‘What is important for the family is that his honour is restored. De Kom stood for justice and honesty and a different relationship between the Netherlands and Suriname. He is not the villain he was sometimes made out to be,’ Carl Haarnack, chair of the Anton de Kom foundation told broadcaster NOS.
A new edition of De Kom’ life’s work We slaves of Suriname (1934) became a bestseller last year, and the renewed attention for his life and work is a logical result of the Black Lives Matter movement, Haarnack said.
Last year De Kom became the first Surinamer to be included into the canon of Dutch history. ‘Anton de Kom is an important figure in colonial history. But he is also a father and grandfather and it is important that the minister acknowledges that his treatment at the hands of the authorities was not as it should have been, Haarnack said.
Blok has said he would like to talk to De Kom’s relatives about ways to honour De Kom, perhaps by establishing a study fund for students from Suriname.
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