Every year, the 15 August 1945 Commemoration Foundation organizes a national commemoration at the Indies Monument in The Hague. In addition to the physical ceremony and memorial, the foundation wanted to create a place for people to commemorate online. But how do you commemorate online? How do you translate the feeling a physical monument gives you to a website? How do you create a digital monument?
August 15 marks the official end of World War II in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a moment to remember the victims of the war with Japan and the Japanese occupation of the then Dutch East Indies. By now there are more than 2 million Dutch people with a war story from that region in their family history.
In addition to the physical Indies Monument in The Hague, the foundation also wanted to create an online platform. A virtual monument that feels accessible and modern. A place for reflection and contemplation, but also for connecting and sharing stories. For all generations. Throughout the year, just as flowers are laid at the Indies Monument throughout the year.
Before building the website, we conducted research into online commemoration. How best to do it? The small number of comparable sites focus primarily on commemorating the deceased by listing their names. But during our conversations with the foundation’s staff and members of the community, we saw that what this group wanted was to share stories. They were looking for connection, wanted to feel like there were others like them in the Netherlands. We saw that the physical monument in The Hague was a place where people liked meeting each other, liked seeing themselves in each other and in each other’s stories.
So we decided to use indischmonument.nl to focus on the people who are still alive today, and to continue to share their Second World War stories with the community. Stories from families or circles of friends. Instead of a monument of names, we created a monument of stories.
A Melati flower as the centerpiece
We came up with a digital form of commemoration centered on the Indian jasmine, or melati, as it is called in Indonesian. Introduced in 2005, this flower has quickly been embraced as a symbol of respect, commitment, and compassion. At indischmonument.nl, visitors can share their stories by pinning their personal melati. A personal experience, a memory of loved ones, a tribute to victims. The melatis come together organically to form a flower. On the flower, all the added melatis are shown as small dots. Subtle animations accentuate the vibrant nature of the memorial. The form emphasizes the connectedness of the experiences, stories and events.
The connection between the stories comes about through the weaving together of three levels throughout the site: the personal melatis added by visitors, curated stories from the organization itself, and historical events (themes). A clever tagging method automatically links words from the melatis to relevant stories and themes, creating cross-references. This way, shared memories become part of a larger story, connected to other people and experiences. And commemoration is shown to be something that can be done together.
By combining the many melatis with historical photos and videos, the website was able to grow into a dynamic monument. A monument that does not come across as heavy and gloomy, but light and vibrant.
A search filter allows focus on a specific type of content. In addition to free exploration and filtering, content can also be viewed chronologically. To add more experience and emotion to this mode, we created a streamlined visual story rather than a regular timeline. While scrolling through history, visitors "fly" past the years, seeing content in the form of enlarging photos and text. No matter how someone visits the digital monument, they will always be greeted by the richness of the personal and historical stories.
Mobile, accessible and public
Technical partner Q42 developed a separate navigation system allowing indischmonument.nl to also work on mobile. This means people can use their smartphones during the Indies Commemoration on August 15, and add their own melati on the spot. Moreover, Fabrique and Q42 have thought about the website’s accessibility from the start of the development process. The site can be navigated by screen reader or keyboard, despite the complex animated and interactive elements. Finally, we made sure that the website meets the basic requirements of Linked Open Data. This means the data is not locked up in a silo but publicly reusable, which will be useful for a follow-up phase.
Always accessible, for all generations
It was relevant to create an online commemoration platform to keep the stories alive not just on August 15 but throughout the year, using contemporary means. By placing the platform online, it is accessible to older people who are not as mobile as they used to be, but it also appeals to a younger audience. It is important to involve them, to help them continue to remember and share family stories. The idea for the virtual monument existed before covid, but the pandemic acted as an accelerator for the development of this digital space.
The first generation, who can tell first-hand stories, is getting older. And I think it's important for these stories to be passed on. To keep that shared history close. Indischmonument.nl is a monument where all those stories come together and connect.
A vibrant web of more than 700 melatis has now emerged on indischmonument.nl. Many of them are poignant and personal stories, memories and expressions of gratitude. Currently, we are working hard on the visibility and growth of the platform. There has already been a doubling of visitors to the site, more melatis are being created and more people are subscribing to the newsletter. This will continue to build as we head toward the national day of remembrance on August 15.
Also thanks to the help of many volunteers who highlight the platform at various gatherings and enthuse people to share their stories. All with the goal of adding thousands of stories to this monumental collection, and continuing to commemorate throughout the year.