Ghosts of History: Dutch Artist Eerily Superimposes Modern Street Scenes on World War II Photos

We all have our fas­ci­na­tions. Some of us are enam­ored of a par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal era. If I had to pick a time peri­od I’d want to vis­it, I’d say the 1930s—after the Depres­sion, before World War II—a “tween­er” decade if there ever was one.

Jo Hed­wig Teeuwisse takes her inter­est in the 1930s to extra­or­di­nary lengths. She wears vin­tage cloth­ing and attends 1930s-theme par­ties. She is also a his­tor­i­cal con­sul­tant and expert on dai­ly life from 1930–1945.

Teeuwisse lives in The Hague but once, while vis­it­ing Ams­ter­dam, she stum­bled upon a trea­sure on the street. It was a box filled with old pho­to­graph­ic neg­a­tives. Some had iden­ti­fy­ing notes but most did not. A his­to­ry nut, Teeuwisse went to work imme­di­ate­ly try­ing to sort out where the shots were tak­en and, if pos­si­ble, the iden­ti­ties of peo­ple in the retro pho­tos.

The results are an impres­sive and amaz­ing archive Teeuwisse calls Ghosts of His­to­ry. More than sim­ply fig­ur­ing out which build­ing is fea­tured in a pic­ture, Teeuwisse cre­at­ed pho­to mash-ups by com­bin­ing ele­ments of a vin­tage image with an image of her own tak­en in the same place today.

We see mem­bers of the under­ground press march­ing down a main Ams­ter­dam thor­ough­fare in June, 1945 along­side shop­pers and tourists strolling down the same street today.

In a pow­er­ful jux­ta­po­si­tion of then and now, three Dutch scouts risk their lives cross­ing Amsterdam’s Dam Square in the after­math of a Nazi attack just two days after Ger­many sur­ren­dered. Note the hats left behind by peo­ple who had fled for their lives, and the con­tem­po­rary stu­dents walk­ing non­cha­lant­ly on.

This image shows the same scene, but with the Nazi recruit­ment office sign promi­nent in the back­ground.

What is so potent about Teeuwisse’s work is that it is so qui­et. She doesn’t have to point out irony because it is so imme­di­ate­ly evi­dent: Those same cob­bles that so many have trod on the way to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Muse­um are scuffed by the boots of sol­diers, fam­ished vic­tims of war aus­ter­i­ty and ordi­nary work­ing peo­ple on their way to the fac­to­ry.

Some make it more plain than oth­ers that his­to­ry is all around us all the time.

There are still many World War II images from that box that remain uniden­ti­fied. Teeuwisse loaded them all up to her flickr site. Take a look. Maybe you’ll find a famil­iar face from your own past.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Read more of her work at and

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  • SeeGG says:

    Shi­mon Attie has been doing this sort of thing for many years now. He has done some instal­la­tions in Ams­ter­dam. His work deals with absence and mem­o­ry. He has pro­ject­ed images of Jews onto the homes and build­ings they once occu­pied before WWII.

  • andy says:

    can i bye the book if theire is one print­ed 2rd ww many thanks andy lon­don

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