Risk of explosion! The attack on the Amsterdam Registry Office
In Risk of Explosion! visitors closely follow the six artists who planned the attack. Animation, life-size graphic drawings, a limited amount of text in the shape of handwritten captions, and an audio play with 3D sound give the visitors an immersive experience of the story. The exhibition is spread over several rooms that allow the visitors to follow the six artists step by step in planning and carrying out the attack. Visitors are challenged in an interactive setting to think about the moral dilemmas the artists faced. The exhibition is specifically aimed at young people, aged 15 to 25. An advisory group made up of young people consulted with the museum about the content and design of the exhibition.

Set-up of the exhibition

The visitor walks through a total of twelve rooms with animated projections on the ceilings, which give each room a different atmosphere. The story is told through a 3D audio play, which includes suspenseful soundscapes that immerse the visitor in the story. The rooms display life-size graphic drawings, dynamic animations and original objects, such as photos, letters and documents.

Room 1: the visitor receives instructions about the 3D audio tour and connects the headphones to their audio device.

Room 2: the audio play transports the visitor to the beginning of 1940 and they meet the six main characters of the story. Their portraits are seen as dynamic graphic drawings. A large display case shows the works of art that the six main characters created shortly before the war.

Room 3: the Netherlands is occupied by the Germans. An animated Nazi flag flaps overhead. The six artists meet up at artists’ society De Kring in Amsterdam and discuss the mandatory membership of the Chamber of Culture that was introduced at the beginning of 1942 and that excluded Jews. The visitor can choose: to apply for or refrain from membership. When they’ve made their choice, they’ll hear the arguments against their decision, and have the opportunity to change their mind. This demonstrates how hard it was to make a choice. The walls exhibit the Chamber of Culture decree, the Aryan Declaration and appeals to refrain from becoming a member.
The six artists fiercely oppose the Chamber of Culture. It’s their first step towards resistance. They can no longer legally practise their profession.

Room 4: we are in an attic room where sculptor Gerrit van der Veen forged identity cards with others. You can see and hear planes passing overhead and the rain on the attic windows. The artists take their next step in resistance efforts: they decide to help those who refuse to become a member of the Chamber of Culture and those who are persecuted.
They set up a support fund for artists who refuse to join the Chamber of Culture and can therefore no longer practise their profession. They also forge identity cards, which were introduced in 1941 and included a mandatory J for Jews. At a table stacked with original forged identity cards and forging materials, visitors can play a digital game to forge their own identity cards. At the end of the game, they find out that their fake identity cards can still be checked at the Registry Office.

Room 5: at graphic designer Wil Sandberg’s birthday celebration, on 24 October 1942, the idea to destroy the Registry Office is discussed for the first time. The six artists discuss how far they should go when it comes to using violence. The visitor hears different points of view and the arguments from the conspirators. There were three opinions, which the visitors can align themselves with. In the end, the conspirators decide to take unloaded and fake weapons with them, and that no one may die.

Room 6: a large and complicated diagram on the wall shows what was needed to carry out the attack and who was called on to help. A tailor made fake police uniforms, a chemist provided fuel, two young doctors brought the anaesthetics to sedate the guards, etc... The visitor hears the conspirators discuss the risk they’re taking by planning and carrying out the attack.

Room 7: the visitor stands in the Registry Office. After two failed attempts, which are described in an infographic, the attack is carried out on 27 March 1943. A gripping animation that includes 3D audio shows how the attack unfolded.

Room 8: the attack is a success! The visitor stands in a room with painted flames and a blow-up of the destruction caused by the attack. Explosions, fires, and sirens blaring can be heard all around. The air is red, and it even smells of fire.

Room 9: due to a combination of loose-lipped conspirators and betrayal, 22 contributors are soon arrested. Room 9 represents a prison cell with two beds for visitors to lie on. Directly above them they see two prisoners on their beds. The audio play tells the agonising story of the imprisonment and the trial. Beside one of the beds lies the original bible that comforted the men who were sentenced to death.

Room 10: the visitor enters a circular space with images of the dunes at Overveen around them on the walls. Clouds pass by overhead. This is where twelve of the prisoners were executed on 1 July 1943. A display case shows the farewell letters they were allowed to write before they died, while poignant fragments from the letters can be heard via the audio play.

Room 11: this room tells the stories of the survivors. The room has an atmosphere of persecution. The visitor is given the sense of being underneath the floor, in a place of hiding.
A question is posed on the opposite wall: was it worth it? An infographic shows the attack had only a limited effect and resulted in a great deal of victims. Quotes from diaries and letters show that the attack was a source of hope and inspiration to many, including Anne Frank.

Room 12: a bright, white space: the visitor steps into the present. A video asks the question what risks personal data collection poses nowadays. This room also looks at why two of the people who played an important role in the attack, Willem Arondéus and Frieda Belinfante, were neglected by historians and the media for a long time. Does it have something to do with their sexual orientation (both Arondéus en Belinfante were gay) and gender (Belinfante was a woman)?

Walking and bicycle tour
The attack was carried out diagonally across from the museum, and has left visible traces throughout the city. In room 12, visitors can pick up a brochure with a walking tour of the route the conspirators took during the operation. A bicycle tour leads them past locations further away that played a role in the attack.

Visitor reactions

Visitors can also leave behind their reactions in room 12. These have been overwhelming. This is a small selection:

“What an incredibly well-designed exhibition. You have managed to keep me engaged throughout. A great deal of information and an emotional experience in every room. I wish the whole world could see and experience this. Well done!”

“Loved the interactive experience! Thank you for sharing the stories of heroes during the war.”

“Beautiful exhibition – I’m on the edge of tears. Thank you for pointing out the biases towards Arondéus and Belinfante.”

“Very deep and immersive educational experience. The presentation is appreciated.”

“Really puts you in the shoes of the resistance. Great interactive experience. I will walk away with a new perspective.”

“This exhibit is absolutely phenomenal. I was able to engage with it, loved the audio and video. Best museum I’ve ever seen!”

Message

In Risk of Explosion!, visitors experience a historical period of persecution and terror that happened fairly recently. They realise resistance had to evolve slowly and was an uncertain and dangerous undertaking. They are made aware of the value of freedom and democracy, and the risks that personal data collection poses.