Helena van Essen
Studio for Visual Art
PO Box 15185
NL- 1001 MD Amsterdam

+ 31 (0) 6 24 80 44 24

This page is part of the installation ‘Tower of Babel’ >> back to the preface



World War II

Miep Vrins-Otten, supports resistance. Victim bombing Bezuidenhout The Hague. 32 yrs old WW II. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van EssenViolet Szabo-Bushell, secret agent WW II. Ravensbrück. Execution 1945. 23 yrs. Distinguished posthumously. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van Essen







In World War II (WW II), which began on 1 September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, the Allies (including Great Britain, the Soviet Union and from 1941 the United States) faced the Axis Powers (in particular Germany, Italy and from 1941 Japan).

In May 1940, the Netherlands, Belgium and large parts of France were occupied by German troops. The battle takes place on fronts in Western Europe, Russia, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. After the British-American invasions, on July 9, 1943, in Sicily and on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, the odds turn and Germany is forced into the defensive.

On May 7, 1945, with the surrender of Germany, the war in Europe comes to an end. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by two atomic bombs in early August, Japan capitulated on 15 August.

Victims: between 70 and 72 million dead, of whom an estimated 25 million are soldiers, 40 million civilians and 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims. Of the warring countries, the Soviet Union is hit hardest by nearly eleven million military and nearly twelve million civilian casualties

The monument to the Partisan women of Venice

Location:Italy, Venice, Castello Sestieri, the Venice Giardini

Design: Augusto Murer

Unveiling: 1969

Photo: Creative Commons

At this location on August 3, 1944, seven political prisoners, including some partisans, are murdered by the Nazis. The partisans, socialists, communists, fight against both Germans and fascists in their own country. The latter is exceptionally cruel by torturing opponents to death and also killing their wives and children. After the occupation the partisans take revenge. During WW II, around 460,000 soldiers and civilians were killed and perished throughout Italy.

Monument to the prisoner of concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora

Location: Germany, Thüringen, Nordhausen, Kohnsteinweg 20

Design: Jürgen von Woyski

Unveiling: 2003

Photo: A Polish Journey

From autumn 1943 an underground factory for the production of V-1 and V-2 missiles (V = retribution weapon) was established in this subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp. Concentration camp prisoners and forced labourers, men and women, are locked up here and have to work day and night. Many of them die after a few weeks because of the terrible working and living conditions. The number of victims is estimated at more than 26,000.

Monument to merchant navy victims of WW II. United Kingdom, Wales, Cardiff Bay. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van Essen

Merchant Seafarers’ War Memorial


Location: United Kingdom, Wales, Cardiff Bay, Pierhead Street

Design: Brian Fell

Unveiling: 1994

Photo: The Cardiffian

The British merchant navy is getting closely involved in the war. It is of vital importance to provide the homeland with resources, weapons, ammunition, fuel, food and everything needed for defence. The ships are in constant danger not only by being shot at by German submarines but also by attacks from the air. The British fleet has 200,000 crew members worldwide, 30,248 of them are killed.

‘The family’

Location: Servia, South-Backa, Novi Sad, Beogradsky Kej

Design: Jovan Soldatović

Unveiling: 1992

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This four-meter high statue commemorates the victims of the “Novi-Sad razzia”. In January 1942, in a systematically prepared operation, the Hungarian occupiers murdered more than 1,300 Jews, Gypsies and other Serbs. Many victims are killed on the city beach where their bodies are thrown in the holes of the frozen Danube.

‘The unconquered Kaminsky and his son’

Location: Belarus, Minsk/ Lahoisk District, Khatyn memorial complex

Design: Sergei Selichanow

Unveiling: 1969

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On March 22, 1943, virtually all 156 inhabitants of Chatyn were burned alive by the Nazis in a barn. Chatyn is a symbol of the genocide of the Belarusian civilian population: 5,295 villages are destroyed, some of which dozens of times, sometimes up to five times. The population is burned alive in 618 villages. 136 villages will never be rebuilt again. More than 2,230,000 Belarusians (a quarter of the population) do not survive the Nazi occupation.

‘The lady of Putten’ commemorates retaliation. Deportation. 1944. WW II. Netherlands, Putten. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van Essen

‘The Grieving Widow’ also called ‘The Lady of Putten’

Location: the Netherlands, Gelderland, Putten,

Design: Mari Andriessen

Unveiling: 1949

Photo: Tourist Information Putten

In 1944, the Puttense resistance movement launched an attack on officers of the Wehrmacht, which failed. The next day, on October 1, the occupier performs a raid in the village in retaliation. A total of 110 houses are totally destroyed. On October 3, the women, boys and old men slowly return to Putten. Of the 659 removed men, 58 are released from Amersfoort camp after medical examination. Fourteen managed to escape during the start of the transport from Amersfoort to Neuengamme, Ladelund and other concentration camps. After the war, 49 men returned to the Netherlands, where another five men died as a result of the hardships. A total of 552 people are killed.

‘Crying woman’ commemorates Lidice massacre. 1942. WW II. Czech Republic, Central Bohemia, Lidice. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van Essen

‘Crying Woman’

Location: Czech Republic, Central Bohemia, Lidice, Tokajická 152, Lidice Memorial

Design: Bedřich Stefan

Unveiling: 1957

Photo: Lidice Memorial in pictures

After the attack on Governor Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, Hitler orders Bohemia to wade through blood. The best-known revenge action is against the mining village of Lidice where all men are killed immediately. Almost all of the women and children die in concentration camps. The village itself is destroyed by bulldozers. Two weeks later, Ležáky comes across as facing the same fate. The number of victims of the revenge actions is estimated at 1,300.

Monument without name

Location: Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schwerte-Oost, Emil Rohmann- Straße

Design: Horst Wegener

Unveiling: 2005

Photo: Neue Rhein/Neue Ruhr Zeitung

This workshop for repairing steam locomotives has been part of the German war industry since 1944. Hundreds of prisoners from Buchenwald concentration camp, mainly Polish and Russian, are employed here. Working conditions are tough and there is a lack of food. Every month 20% of men drop out due to death or illness. When the front of the allies is approaching, the camp is cleared on January 29, 1945.

Monument for the victims of the massacre in Amiras

Location: Greece, Crete, Viannos, Amiras

Design: Yiannis Parmakelis

Unveiling: 2007

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1943 the German occupation force was destroyed, in response to a major attack by partisans, some twenty villages in the southern part of Crete. In addition, more than 500 residents are killed. Every village has its memorial monument. The large joint monument is in Amiras.

‘Solidarity’ | To the victims of the damning V-weapons Antwerp 1944 – 1945

Location: Belgium Antwerp, Jules Moretuslei, City Cemetary Schoonselhof

Design: Ernest Denis

Unveiling: 1947

Photo: Helena van Essen

Antwerp is liberated by the Allies on 4 September 1944. But then, between 13 October 1944 and 27 March 1945, 3,709 V-1 and V-2 bombs fell on Antwerp, resulting in more than 5,000 deaths and 7,000 destroyed homes. The V-1s can be seen and heard, but no alarm can be given for the silent V-2s, such as those on Cinema Rex (567 dead). Antwerp is, therefore ‘The City of Sudden Death’.

Relief, part monument Bittermark. Commemorates the murder of 300 prisoners. 1945. WW II. Germany, Dortmund. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van Essen

Relief, part of the Bittermark monument

Location: Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, Dortmund, Theodor-Freywald-Weg

Design: Karel Niestrath

Unveiling: 1960

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Gestapo gets 300 people from prisons in Dortmund, Bochum and Herne. They are German resistance people and forced labourers from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Poland and the Soviet Union. They are taken to the forest of Bittermark and murdered there between March 7 and April 12, 1945. On April 13, 1945, the Americans occupy the area.

Monument for the British women of WW-II. United Kingdom, London, Whitehall. Part Tower of Babel, Art installation © Helena van Essen

‘The Monument to the Women of the Second World War’

Location: United Kingdom, London, White Hall

Design: John W. Mills

Unveiling: 2005

Photo: Stevebidmead

The British Women Propaganda calls on women to actively participate in social life and war efforts in addition to fulfilling their domestic duties. From 1941, a form of military service was introduced for women. They are deployed as mechanics, engineers, ammunition workers, air raiders, bus and fire truck drivers. More than 640,000 women are actually active in the armed forces, flying with unarmed aircraft, driving ambulances, working as a nurse. 60 Women operate behind the enemy lines in the European resistance in the Special Operations Executive.