Dealing with a complex past

After the publication of the biography of the life of Gisèle (1912-2013), the mental and sexual abuse in the circle around Castrum Peregrini’s co-founder Wolfgang Frommel (1902-1986) and Gisèle’s apparent looking away has been broadly covered in the press. It is shocking for us and the people whom we worked with in the last ten years to be confronted with this painful part of the history of Herengracht 401. Nevertheless, we believe that it is good that these stories are now in the open, and hope it helps victims to come to terms with their painful memories.

For us it means a new starting point in dealing with a complex past that is made up of both lives that were saved and lives that were damaged. As so often, history is neither white nor black. Good and bad coexist and form part of the human condition. The historic persons of Castrum Peregrini need to be seen in that light as well. Seven years ago, we asked Annet Mooij to write a biography about the life of Gisèle, because we were – and we still are – convinced that she deserves it. This superbly written book shows the fascinating context of her life, the many layers of her personality that she could maintain and the countless fascinating episodes of a life full of love and struggle. Sadly the focus on Wolfgang Frommel and his disciples – who have abused Gisèle’s care shamelessly – overshadows the richness of her personality, which Mooij describes. We recommend reading the book to comprehend the complexity of a fascinating life that was both a fairy-tale and a harsh reality.

The biography is now a major reference for us to tell the story of Herengracht 401. Both aspects of that past, the good ones next to the awful ones need to be remembered. Raising awareness about the human condition in all its complexity will stay the motivation for all our activities. We will dedicate the near future to find the right and suitable way to commemorate abuse alongside saving lives. We will do this together with individuals and institutions. Victims were and are invited to speak with us.  

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