Radboud University opened the escape room for the first time at Museum het Valkhof in 2018. It was supposed to be there until May 2020, but due to the coronavirus it closed earlier. One of the original initiators, Mark Smolenaars, revived the project and is opening the new venue at ROX Escape experience this weekend with a new title: “The occupation. University in resistance.”
With the reopening of the educational escape room, Radboud University is memorialising the circumstances surrounding a special event during World War II: the moment when Rector Magnificus Bernard Hermesdorf closed the doors of the university in 1943. Several Radboud scholars collaborated in meticulously reconstructing the situation in which the story took place.
Students during wartime
The educational escape room showcases a unique part of Radboud University's history. The German occupying forces required all Dutch students to sign a declaration of loyalty in 1943. As the only Dutch rector, Hermesdorf refused to present the loyalty declaration to students, on principle. The inevitable result was the closure of the university on 11 April 1943. Hermesdorf himself pinned the announcement on a board in the hall of the main building. Relieved of one moral dilemma, the students immediately faced the next: sign up for Arbeitseinsatz or go into hiding?
The university hopes to keep this important part of its history alive at the new location. “At the centre is the game, the escape room. But this escape room contains special, educational elements,” explains university historian Jan Brabers, who, as chairman of the supervisory committee, oversaw moving the escape room to ROX. “Participants will be stepping into history, into a true-to-life student room in April 1943, which is a remarkable experience in itself. Then, participants will be exposed to the life-sized dilemmas faced by students of the time. The dilemmas are universal because they occur everywhere and at all times in war situations.”
Participants in the educational escape room will take on the role of friends of Jozef van Hövell van Wezeveld and Westerflier in the year 1943. They must try to escape by solving puzzles, answering questions, and performing tasks. Jozef was the chairman of the Nijmegen student association Carolus Magnus, which had already been banned by the occupying forces at the time of the university closure. He played an important role in student resistance in Nijmegen and in the Netherlands during World War II. He was eventually arrested and died in Neuengamme concentration camp in 1945.
The educational escape room with its new title "The occupation. University in resistance" is accessible in Dutch, English, and German.
Photo: Sytse Dijkstra