Two concerts to celebrate Bath’s oldest official international link will be held next month in the City, telling the half-forgotten story of how tragic events from the 1940s have inspired seven decades of international friendship.
Bath first formed a bond with the historic city of Alkmaar, in northern Holland, during the Second World War, when a young Jewish activist named Elias Prins escaped from his hometown as the German Army overran the Netherlands. He came to Bath, quickly becoming a well-known figure locally through the many talks he gave to community groups and schools about the plight of his home country, and his people.
In 1944 the Dutch government-in-exile launched an appeal asking the British people to donate food and clothing to help counter the effects of a terrible winter famine in the parts of the Netherlands still under Nazi rule. Bathonians, inspired by Eli and his new friends in the local Rotary Club and Air Raid Wardens, decided they would help the hometown of their adopted son – and so Bath launched its own Alkmaar Appeal.
In early 1945 formal approval for the “adoption” of Alkmaar by Bath was granted by the Dutch sovereign, HRH Queen Wilhelmina, making Bath’s ties with Alkmaar the oldest official “twinning” link of any which came out of the War.
The story of Eli Prin’s daring escape and how the two cities came to be friends, set against the tragedy of the War, will be re-told in music and readings in two concerts featuring the 80-strong Alkmaar Youth Orchestra. The outstanding young players will be joined by young musicians from Bath for the second half of the concert, which features music from Parry, Mahler, Beethoven – and an arrangment of the favourite wartime song, “Lili Marlene” written specially for the event.
Martin Broadbent, chairman of the Bath-Alkmaar Twinning Association, said the ongoing links between the two cities have a special resonance, even now:
“Eli Prins was a refugee, escaping war and persecution, who was welcomed into our City. His story contains terrible tragedy, as the family he left behind, like many Jews across Europe, were killed in the Holocaust. But the abiding friendship between our cities, and the many groups of people who travel back and forth, including many children, are a living rebuke to the evil behind those terrible events.”
The two concerts will be the culmination of a special “Alkmaar Week” being held in Bath, during which the Mayor of the Dutch city will pay a formal visit, and the Dutch national flag will be flown from the Guildhall.