War disrupts everyday life. When the battle for life and death suddenly replaces everyday life, ordinary people do things they never thought possible and close friendships for life are formed in a short time. From 18th November 2022 to 9th April 2023, the Freedom Museum tells the story of one such special friendship in the temporary exhibition, Albert & Theo: a special friendship. A friendship born in a period of fear and violence but also of heroism and the pursuit of ideals.
Nijmegen boy, Theo Smolders, is 15 years old in 1944 when his life suddenly changes. First by the bombing of Nijmegen and six months later by the liberation. Suddenly he is hiding under a table with an American soldier from flying bullets. Theo is adventurous and has a lot of contact with the American liberators during Operation Market Garden. In the woods around De Engelenberg farm (Groesbeek), he meets an American paratrooper of Mohawk descent: Sgt Albert A. Tarbell.
Albert's life is also completely changed by the war. He enlists in the Canadian Army as early as 1940 and, at age 21, kicks it up to paratrooper in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He is the first Mohawk paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. On 20th September 1944, he took part in the heroic Waal crossing. Albert and Theo meet shortly afterwards and immediately get on well. They spend about six weeks together, becoming friends for life.
The exhibition portrays their war experiences in and around Nijmegen and their friendship. It also paints a picture of Albert Tarbell's cultural identity. As a Mohawk, he belonged to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. He was one of 40,000 to 50,000 Native American soldiers who served in the US Army during WWII. The story is told through individual interviews with Theo and Albert and with Mike Tarbell, Albert's son and an expert on Mohawk culture. Besides interviews and photographs, unique personal objects are on display, such as the barge (military headgear) Albert left Theo and the medal Albert received from the US Congress for his merits.
This exhibition is part of Mathilde Roza's research project, North American Indigenous Soldiers in the Netherlands During WWII.