De voorkant van het werkschrift 'Leven en liefde in oorlogstijd'": leerlingen werkten samen met professionals om tot dit eindresultaat te komen
De voorkant van het werkschrift 'Leven en liefde in oorlogstijd'": leerlingen werkten samen met professionals om tot dit eindresultaat te komen

Website, exhibition and podcast: 'Jan and Diet Kloos: life and love during World War II'

The website of the project Jan and Diet Kloos: living in love in wartime. The workbook can now be ordered as teaching material from the Radboud Pre-University College. For this project, researchers from Radboud University worked closely with teachers and students from the Johan de Witt Gymnasium, the school where Diet Kloos was a pupil when she became part of the resistance as a 16-year-old during the war.

Wartime lovestory

Jan Kloos and Diet Barendregt were madly in love during the war. They had known each other from childhood, but in the spring of 1944, they ran into each other more or less by chance. Jan Kloos was born in Dordrecht but came to work in Wageningen as a biologist. He was active in the resistance in Wageningen, where he lived, and Dordrecht. In the resistance, they met again and, as an unsuspected couple in love, carried out espionage activities together.

Due to betrayal, the newlyweds were rounded up by the Germans two weeks after the wedding. Jan was shot on 30 January 1945. Diet, now a 20-year-old widow, became even more involved with the resistance. She became head courier, arranged arms transports and continued her care for Jewish people in hiding. "Diet's story represents a bigger picture: women as resistance fighters in wartime. That really is an underexposed theme," says Paul Sars, who, as a researcher at Radboud University, is the initiator of this project.

Jan en Diet zitten rechts op het bankje
Rechts op het bankje ziet Jan Kloos met zijn geliefde Diet (Barendregt)

Teaching material

Paul Sars knew Diet well, for more than 25 years, also through the research Paul did on Paul Celan, an old lover of Diet. Because of their personal friendship, Diet left documents and personal belongings to Paul Sars after her death, with instructions to use them for educational purposes. 
Paul: "With Jan, she wrote many love letters in a short time. Jan's farewell letter to Diet is very special, which says: Sing and be happy. It is almost like a message he is giving his great lover. She has several subsequent love affairs, including with the poet Paul Celan. He gives her manuscript typescripts of poems such as Todesfuge that made him famous. A glittering singing career for Diet followed this. I now get to manage and study all those documents together with Jan Heemels."

Sing and be happy

Paul believes it is important that this story is passed on. Not just by 'scientists from the ivory tower', but precisely by and for today's generation. In collaboration with Peter Barendregt, a teacher at the grammar school where Diet attended, he devised this school project that will allow the research of Jan Heemels and himself to become directly fruitful in secondary education. Together with 65 students in History, they worked for six weeks on 'passing on the story of Diet and Jan', using original letters and objects such as wedding rings and documents. 

The result of his work has been made into a compact teaching booklet with information and in-depth assignments. There are three leading themes: schoolgirl in resistance, love in wartime and remembrance. 

De voorkant van het werkschrift 'Leven en liefde in oorlogstijd'": leerlingen werkten samen met professionals om tot dit eindresultaat te komen
De voorkant van het werkschrift 'Leven en liefde in oorlogstijd'": leerlingen werkten samen met professionals om tot dit eindresultaat te komen

Not only the researchers but also secondary school pupils, didactics and teachers had a say in the whole process. Together, they decided which photos, illustrations and information made it to the finish line. "In class, they discussed the content of the workbook. Can you include a picture of a smoking Jan Kloos in there, for example? The students thought so. One thing they thought was most important: the truth must be told. Pupils' visions and findings are worth their weight in gold."

The workbook is accompanied by a website where more information about Jan and Diet's lives can be found, and in-depth assignments are available. The workbook can also be downloaded there. The website will soon be supplemented by a podcast (in Dutch) about the making off of this project, where you can hear the pupils and Peter Barendregt speak, among others. 


"To celebrate, we had a grand opening on Thursday 1 June, at the Johan de Witt Gymnasium in Dordrecht. All the original material can be seen there in an exhibition. The love letters, the medallion and Diet's grade book and so on," Paul explains.

Pupils are proud of what they have achieved. They helped create teaching materials that can now be used in secondary schools across the country. "I actually only realise that now. But I get it because we have created something very professional," said Kaan, one of the pupils.

It is also an eye-opener for parents present at the opening. "Why hasn't this story been told before? It is so relevant! Jan and Diet could have been you and me. Because Diet also actually lived in Dordrecht, it made it even more appealing to my daughter. It is great that the voices of the pupils, including my daughter's, are picked up so professionally and will soon be used," says one of the parents.


The teaching material is available for download here, by Radboud Pre-University College. Questions or comments? Send an e-mail to paul.sars [at] (paul[dot]sars[at]ru[dot]nl)

Contact information

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Faculty of Arts