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NIOD bids farewell to Head of Research Peter Romijn

Published on 05 July 2022
On Wednesday 29 June, our colleague Professor Peter Romijn bid farewell to NIOD, having reached retirement age. He gave a valedictory speech during a festive afternoon at the BIMHUIS in Amsterdam. Director Martijn Eickhoff looks back on the speech and Peter’s career at NIOD.

In his well-attended valedictory lecture, Leven met de vijand [Living with the enemy], Peter Romijn reflected on the meaning of ‘the enemy’ in our thinking and action. The subject of his lecture was topical, in view of the war in Ukraine, but it also allowed him to look back on the most important themes in his wide-ranging academic oeuvre: collaboration and its punishment, maladministration, social mobilisation and demobilisation, the role of the Dutch in Srebrenica, the Holocaust in the Netherlands, and the Dutch attitude to the Indonesian Revolution.

Drawing on these themes, Romijn showed how researching the historical enemy always requires you to justify what you yourself stand for. Against this background, Romijn also reflected on his own experience of the public debate. Historical research, he noted, can revive or even reinforce old differences; it does not automatically lead to reconciliation and connection. ‘Professionalism’ is thus required from the historian, ‘in the form of expertise, experience and empathy’.

Four decades at NIOD

Romijn, who studied history in Groningen, has an impressive track record at NIOD. Over the almost forty years that he worked at NIOD, there was a rapid succession of new activities, positions and publications. The connections between them are clear. Romijn linked classic, Dutch-focused NIOD themes, such as war, occupation and collaboration, to questions about the functioning of public administration in times of crisis, whilst his focus became increasingly transnational and expanded to cover colonial frameworks and (mass) violence.

In 1985, Peter Romijn joined the academic staff of what was then the national institute for war documentation (RIOD). In the meantime, he continued to work on his dissertation (Snel, streng en rechtvaardig: de afrekening met de ‘foute’ Nederlanders), in which he studied the post-war trials of Dutch citizens who had supported the German occupying regime. He received his doctorate in 1989. Together with Jan Bank, he then edited the final volume of Leo de Jong’s History of the Netherlands in the Second World War (volume 14, 1991).

Head of Research and professor

In 1996, Romijn became the head of research and deputy director at NIOD. Between 1996 and 2002, Peter Romijn and his colleague Hans Blom had final responsibility for the investigation, commissioned by the Dutch Lower House, into the fall of the enclave of Srebrenica. In 2002, Romijn also became a professor in the University of Amsterdam’s Dutch History professorial-chair group, teaching the history of public administration in times of war and crisis. He supervised over twenty doctoral students and taught numerous students.

In 2006, Romijn published his book Burgemeesters in Oorlogstijd [Burgomasters in times of war], about local government in the Netherlands during the German occupation. In 2008, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) funded the major project on ‘Legacies of collaboration’, which Romijn established and carried out with colleague Ismee Tames, among others. The project investigated how the Dutch citizens who had been ‘wrong’ (i.e., collaborators) during the Second World War were integrated back into society or, by contrast, excluded.

Romijn tackled increasingly broad and international themes in his research, taking NIOD with him in the process. In 2010, NIOD merged with the Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), cementing the expansion of the classic NIOD frameworks at the institutional level. In 2018, the Expertise Centre Restitution, which conducts independent research into the looting and acquisition of cultural goods under the Nazi regime and in the colonial context, also became part of NIOD.

Politicians and administrators during the Indonesian War of Independence

The book De lange Tweede Wereldoorlog Nederland 1940-1949 [The long Second World War: the Netherlands 1940-1949], published in 2020, is a key milestone in Romijn’s oeuvre. He describes how both the Dutch and the population of the Indonesian Archipelago experienced occupation and repression, genocide and war crimes throughout the 1940s, and how their fates were inextricably linked. From 2017, Romijn took part in the joint research programme by the KITLV, NIMH and NIOD on Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950.

As part of the programme, Romijn and Remco Raben produced the book Talen van geweld. Stilte, informatie en misleiding in de Indonesische onafhankelijkheidsoorlog, 1945-1949 [Languages of violence: silence, information and deception in the Indonesian War of Independence, 1945-1949], which investigates how the war violence and the many infringements between 1945 and 1949 were discussed, concealed, communicated, manipulated, and used for political ends. How could the period between 1945 and 1949 see the emergence of a political and administrative culture in which large-scale violence against Indonesians was tolerated and even encouraged?

An international academic network

In the course of four decades, Peter Romijn built up an impressive international network, as shown by his contribution to various EU-funded projects, as well as his many fellowships and visiting lectureships. In 2014-2015 he was a Visiting Professor at the Friedrich Schiller Universität Jena; in 2013 he held the Queen Wilhelmina Chair for Dutch Studies at Columbia University in New York City; in 2012 he was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University Centre for European Studies in Canberra; in 2010 he was a Senior Visiting Fellow at Columbia University in New York; in 2006 he was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Modern European History Research Centre at Oxford University; and in 2003 and 2007 he was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Remarque Institute at New York University.

As the head of research and deputy director at NIOD, with his wealth of knowledge and ideas, and his generosity, network and collegiality, Romijn oversaw an interdisciplinary scholarly atmosphere in which researchers could flourish and inspire one another. As his colleagues at NIOD, we have long taken the consistently high quality of the resulting scholarly output almost as a given. We are grateful to Peter for this, and glad that we will continue to reap the benefits for many years to come.


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