Jolien De VuystAngela Van Gorp

'I will tell you what a refugee story is': Reconstructing (post-)memories of refugee experiences during the First World War


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In popular media, humanitarian accounts and registers, Belgian refugees were well-documented. However, this article argues that those sources often have a dehumanizing effect or deprive the refugee of its agency. Oral history and postmemories are important sources that allow to include refugees' perspectives and the particularity of their experiences. With that aim descendants of Belgian refugees in Birmingham were interviewed. We have inquired how the refugee stories and family histories were transmitted inter-generationally, how the descendants (re-)constructed and (re-)interpreted their family history, and what the personal significance of those memories was for the descendants today. Although the three cases under scrutiny are not representative for all Belgian refugees, the article concludes that the inter-generational transmission followed a unique pattem. This transmission as weil as the (re-)construction and (re-)interpretation are subject to several contextual influences. lt is also demonstrated that the descendants are still strongly emotionally engaged with this family history and in some cases even expressed an interventionist voice.