Everyday emotions in difficult times: war diary inspires Haarlem children

Miep Diesel kept a diary during her teenage years in Haarlem-Noord. She did this from November 1942 to May 1945. In other words, a war diary. But the emotions she entrusted to the paper are timeless, as became clear on Friday afternoon at the presentation of the Miep Diesel Writing Competition.

Photo: Nikkie, Sarah and Malaika are the winners of the writing competition. – NH News/Maikel Ineke

The students of groups 7 and 8 of the Haarlem Sint Bavoschool-Reviusstraat hardly need to be told to be quiet as they cross the study room of the North Holland Archives. They quietly take a seat on the chairs that have been prepared in the adjacent Janskerk. There is no lack of motivation and involvement during and after the writing competition organized by the Miep Diesel Foundation and the North Holland Archives.

Hilde van Garderen also notices this. As the daughter of Miep Diesel, she has started working on both the material and symbolic legacy of her mother. The diary was published in 2020 under the name Bakvis in wartime.


With her daughter Démi van ‘t Wout, she founded the Miep Diesel Foundation, which teaches teenagers about the Second World War and writing about emotions through lessons and educational assignments.

“I noticed during the guest lesson that the children were particularly interested,” says Van Garderen prior to the presentation. “When assessing their work, I was once again impressed by their dedication.”

“Suddenly I saw a completely different person: an adventurous and sometimes rebellious girl”

Hilde van Garderen, daughter of Miep Diesel

The children have been instructed to create an ‘ego document’. Miep Diesel’s diary, which they heard about during the guest lecture, serves as inspiration. Van Garderen: “I always had the impression of my mother that she had suffered greatly during the war and that it was a bad time for her. When I read the diary for the first time, tears came to my eyes. I suddenly saw a completely different person: an adventurous and sometimes rebellious girl. Cheerful too, despite the war.”


It is precisely those everyday emotions that are central to the assignment. Instead of memorizing dates and war actions, students are challenged to record their feelings. This may be in diary form, but can also be in a poem, song or video.

“The idea is that we keep it close to home,” Démi van ‘t Wout explains. “When I tell you that my grandmother started the diary when she was 15, I immediately get my attention. Children can relate to the situations described 80 years ago, even though we now live in a very different time.”

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Photo: Miep Diesel’s daughter, Hilde van Garderen, presents the prize. – NH News/Maikel Ineke

The fact that Miep Diesel’s diary has inspired the children is evident from the results of the assignments. Of the 27 entries, 26 consist of text, often in diary form. One student has chosen the form of a comic strip.

The students also worked in terms of content a la Miep Diesel. “I immediately knew what I wanted to write about,” says Femke. “Last year I was still very bothered by stimuli. At that time I would have found this difficult, here with all those people together. That’s why my text is about high sensitivity.”

Just swallow

The three students who are rewarded with a cup each excel in their own way with their work. The jury, with representatives from the Miep Diesel Foundation, North Holland Archives and NH News, praises their candor.

Van Garderen: “While reading, I sometimes had to swallow. Children go through quite a bit, even at home. That got me thinking.” For example, Nikkie has written about her mother in a moving way. “She passed away a year and a half ago. I’m still working on that a lot.” Just like prize winners Malaika and Sarah, she was rewarded with a cup. “Maybe I’ll start keeping a diary too.”

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Photo: Granddaughter Démi van ‘t Wout signs her grandmother’s diary. – NH News/Maikel Ineke

Kunstlijn 4 and 5 November

A selection of the entries from the Haarlem students can be viewed for two weeks in the Archive Café of the North Holland Archives in Haarlem. During the Kunstlijn on the weekend of November 4 and 5, there are also ongoing workshops in the North Holland Archives, in which children learn to bring their own story to life with drawings. More information on the website of the North Holland Archives.