The Freedom trails of Europe
Comet Lines - The Freedom Trails of Europe is a yearlong, transnational project with four European partners from Ireland, Spain, Poland and Belgium using creative processes of theatre workshops, performances, film and new digital technologies to promote a remembrance of European history with a focus on 'Escape Lines' during WWII. 'Escape lines' were secret World War II networks set up to assist Allied soldiers and citizens leave Nazi occupied territory during WWII and today are remembered in Europe and beyond as 'Freedom Trails'. This project gathers twenty stories of people involved in the escape lines and freedom trails of Europe and uses the stories as inspiration to create a theatre workshop, performance and creative arts symposium, using the stories and activities as a catalyst to bring people together to raise awareness of the power of European solidarity and the role of the EU to promote peace, democracy, and gender equality today.
The project remembers the stories of men and women who set up and ran the escape lines including Belgium woman Countess Andrée Eugénie Adrienne de Jongh, known as Dédée de Jongh, who set up the Comet line. The Comet Line or Comète is estimated to have taken in or repatriated some 800 Allied servicemen who themselves were aided by over 3,000 civilians, approximately 700 of whom were arrested and some 290 shot dead or died during deportation. Established in 1940 in Brussels, the Comet Line provided a means of escape for Allied soldiers and airmen on the run in Nazi occupied Europe. The escapees were given food, clothing and false identity papers by members of the Resistance in countries such as Belgium, France and Spain and were then guided by a chain of ‘helpers’ taking them through France, over the Pyrenees into neutral Spain and finally to freedom through Gilbraltar. The network was established by De Jongh, a courageous 24-year-old Belgian woman who took enormous risks actively setting up and running the network with people from different nationalities and who herself personally escorted many of her charges out of France at risk to her own life. Dédée’s own hero was Edith Cavell, a British nurse shot in 1915 in Schaerbeek for helping troops escape from occupied Belgium into neutral Netherlands during the first World War.
By focusing on stories of 'helpers' and escapees - those who either organised or used the escape lines of mainland Europe during WWII - the project explores what happens when intolerance and totalitarianism take over and democratic processes are denied and encourages debate on contemporary democratic achievements in Europe today.
In Belgium, a range of activities were conducted including theatre workshops, performance, debates and interviews.
Various materials were disseminated - illustrated biographical articles, an article on art and democracy, a Comet Lines flag, a short video, and photos.
The activities brought together different groups of people from various socio-economic backgrounds who took part in workshops, debates and performances.
The project is implemented by Smashing Times (lead partner) in partnership with Iniciativas de Futuro Para una Europa Social, Valencia, Spain, University of Humanities and Economics, Łódź, Poland, and Theatre et Reconciliation, Brussels, Belgium and is supported by Europe for Citizens under strand one: European Remembrance.
Creative actions include two transnational partner exchanges, performances and post-show panel discussions, theatre workshops, a book with articles and 20 stories (five per partner country related to escape lines and freedom trails across Europe) and an international creative arts symposium bringing citizens together to remember the people who managed the escape lines during WWII and the cooperation and solidarity that existed between citizens from countries including Great Britain, Poland, Belgium, Ireland, France and Spain.
Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company
Theater & Reconciliation was founded in 1994 in Belgium by director Frédérique Lecomte and aims to perpetuate a particular dramaturgical practice that works, through theatre, to empower marginalized or vulnerable communities and to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation. This work is based on an original method, designed and developed by Frédérique Lecomte and the rehearsals mix professional and amateur actors to create a happy, political and unbridled theater that dares to say aloud what everyone thinks in a low voice, giving the floor to those who are deprived of it. "I create on the difficulty of putting together people who normally, hate each other, kill each other, take revenge, suspect each other, consider the other as part of an inferior humanity. There, I act, I combine, I mix; I rock the limits of fear, fear of others, fear of oneself." (Frédérique Lecomte, Theater & Reconciliation, Method for Theatrical Practice in Conflict Zones , The Stolen Letter, 2015).
University of Humanities and Economics (AHE) in Lodz, Poland, is an accredited higher education institution offering traditional university programmes (BA. MA, MSc, PHD) as well as postgraduates studies and courses for various target groups. The university focuses on educational research, innovative teaching methodologies and e-learning. Key fields of study and research include education science, psychology, entrepreneurship, the economy, management, innovative teaching and learning, social exclusion, the application of ICT in teaching, systems of quality assurance and validation of prior learning.
Iniciativas De Futuro Para Una Europa Social is a non-profit cooperative collaborating with regional and local public administration organisations, with social partners including Trade Unions and employers associations, and with other institutions and organisations in different fields, mainly related to adult education and vocational training. As a training provider, the company offers tailor-made training programmes to improve employment opportunities and to support personal and professional development.