Foundation wants to tighten historical bonds with US city of Albany, NY. It all started after the war.
Reporter Jacqueline van Ginneken, De Gelderlander
He got brown shoes. High, brown, leather shoes. “Very tough looking,” says John – ‘Jan is fine too’ – Leesberg. He is 86 years old, but the citizen from Nijmegen remembers the Albany Aid Campaign as if it was yesterday. “Dad got the same leather shoes as I did. And a typewriter, he was a lawyer.” In the years following the war, citizens of Albany generously provided goods for the people of Nijmegen. The city was partially in ruins because of a mistaken American bombing and because it had served as a front-line city for seven months. Over 2,000 girls’ dresses, almost 500 coats, 6,000 pairs of shoes, 1,533 baby supplies, but also 290 boxes of sanitary napkins, and almost 15,000 food parcels crossed the ocean. Destination: Nijmegen. John Leesberg: “I remember when the boats from Albany moored here at the ‘Waalkade.’ With mayor Charles Hustinx.”
The Aid Campaign was the start of a close friendship between Albany and Nijmegen, which disintegrated over the last decades. This is a shame according to Anja Adriaans. She is Americanist, self-employed researcher, and used to work at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. On top of that, she is the initiator of the Friendship Albany & Nijmegen Foundation, or FAN in short. “Securing an important piece of Nijmegen history” is her motive to start the foundation. The Aid Campaign resulted in Nijmegen’s first sister city connection , as it was the start of a friendly relationship with Albany. One street named after Albany, (Albany straat) but there is not much more that reminds us of the bond today. A plaque would be wonderful of course. The FAN board consisting of Anja Adriaans, Vincent van Waterschoot, Tanja Groenendijk-Vos, and Theo Jacobs want more however. They want to include schools in their project, and are thinking about an exchange program between high schools of Nijmegen and Albany. They are also thinking about businesses, which have connections with Albany. A contemporary interpretation of the historic friendship between the two cities is what FAN pursuits. With an exposition also in the cards, “something tangible.”
The year 2017 will witness the seventieth anniversary of the start of the Albany Aid Campaign. And would it not be great if a historical book accompanies this event. “I encountered so many starting points for further research in my search,” tells Adriaans. Her academic quest took her to Albany several times, to the Historical Archives (such as ACHOR), and inspired her to search for a historical ‘thank you’- film from the people of Nijmegen to those of Albany.
“We were incredibly grateful for all the help we received,” recalls John Leesberg. “Our house had been set on fire by the Germans in September 1944. We moved in with an uncle, residing on the bare shelfs in the attic. We slept on our coats.
Photo: Nijmegen harbor. Arrival of the first shipment relief goods from Albany. Photo: Municipal Archive Nijmegen.