The special friendship between a Native American soldier and a boy from Nijmegen
War turns normal life upside down. When the everyday is suddenly replaced by a struggle of life and death, ordinary people do things they never thought possible and close, lifelong friendships quickly form. From 18 November 2022 until 9 April 2023, the Freedom Museum tells the story of one such friendship in the temporary exhibition ‘Albert & Theo: a special friendship’. A friendship, born in a period of fear and violence, but also of heroism and the pursuit of ideals.
The life of 15-year-old Theo Smolders from Nijmegen abruptly changed in 1944, first through the bombing of Nijmegen and then six months later through the liberation of the city. Suddenly he found himself under a table with an American soldier sheltering from flying bullets. Theo was an adventurous young man and came into contact with many American liberators during Operation Market Garden. One of these was Sgt. Albert A. Tarbell, an American paratrooper of Mohawk descent, who he encountered in the woods around the De Engelenberg farm.
The war completely changed Albert’s life too. He first enlisted in the Canadian army in 1940 and at age 21, he became the first Mohawk paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. On 20 September 1944, he took part in the heroic crossing of the Waal river. Albert and Theo met shortly afterwards and immediately hit it off. They spent about six weeks together and became friends for life.
The exhibition tell the story of their war experiences in and around Nijmegen, and of their friendship. The exhibition also brings Albert Tarbell’s cultural identity into view. As a Mohawk, he belonged to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. He was one of the 40,000 to 50,000 Native American soldiers who served in the United States Army during WWII. The story is told through unique personal interviews with Theo and Albert as well as with Mike Tarbell, Albert’s son and an expert on Haudenosaunee culture. In addition to interviews and photos, special personal items are on display, such as the side cap (military headgear) that Albert left to Theo, and the medal Albert received from the United States Congress for his services.
The exhibition was curated by Dr. Mathilde Roza, Americanist and associate professor at Radboud University, student assistant Jasmijn Janssen and the Freedom Museum.
Location: Freedom Museum, Wylerbaan 4, 6561 KR Groesbeek Date: 18 November 2022 until 9 April 2023 Information: 0031(0)24-3974404, firstname.lastname@example.org