On 8 September 2018, Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum) will open the doors to its new exhibition MS Oranje | Changing course, putting the spotlight on the passenger ship Oranje. Today, eighty years after it was launched on 8 September 1938, this iconic ship with an eventful history still inspires awe.

The Oranje has a fascinating story, having taken on various roles and guises during its lifetime. It was originally built as a luxurious passenger liner in the late 1930s, sailing between the Dutch East Indies and the Netherlands. It later served as a hospital ship during the Second World War. After the war, thousands of people travelled from Indonesia to the Netherlands on board the Oranje, making their way to a new home and a new life in Europe. The two-part exhibition sheds light on both the history of the ship and the personal stories of those post-war migrants. MS Oranje | Changing course is open until 18 July 2019.   

The passenger ship MS Oranje of the Steam Company 'the Netherlands' at it's arrival in Amsterdam. Photo: Willem Job, 1946

The MS Oranje: a symbol of the Netherlands 

Few Dutch ships have a story as inspiring and intriguing as the Oranje: the largest, most beautiful, and fastest passenger ship ever built at an Amsterdam shipyard. Its launching by Queen Wilhelmina on 8 September 1938 is a huge event attended by 10,000 invited guests. The Second World War has just begun, with the allies declaring war on Germany just as the Oranje sets off on its maiden voyage as a passenger ship on 4 September 1939. This turns out to be its only such voyage for a long time due to the war. Scheduled services between the Netherlands and Dutch East Indies are promptly suspended and the Oranje is forced to change course. The ship is transformed into a floating hospital, bringing injured allied soldiers back home from the front to safety. From 1946 onwards, the Oranje gradually resumes its original role as a passenger ship, but the glory days of ocean liners are already over. 

Portret of Dieter van der Schilden, by Jitske Schols (2018).

Television programme maker Coen Verbraak interviewed people who made the life-changing journey from East to West 

‘The Oranje was our ticket to a new life. That ship represented freedom. The overwhelming feeling was: we've survived. […] The ship was moored there in the hot sun with the red cross on the side. That was our escape route.’ Dieter van der Schilden shares his memories of the Oranje. 

After the Japanese surrender and the ensuing Indonesian National Revolution leading to independence, the first of thousands of migrants set sail from the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) to the Netherlands. An estimated 300,000 people made the voyage to their new home between 1945 and 1965. A few thousand of them travelled on the Oranje, the ship that changed the course of their lives. Especially for this exhibition, television programme maker Coen Verbraak spoke to ten people who travelled from Indonesia to the Netherlands on board the Oranje. These personal stories about leaving the land of their birth, their time on board, and their new lives in the Netherlands are told in a moving film. The film is screened as part of the exhibition, and powerful portraits of the individuals concerned – taken by photographer Jitske Schols – are also on display.

As from September 8th, 2018

The exhibition ms Oranje | Changing course Koers is on show from September 8th 2018 up untill July 18th 2019 in Het Scheepvaartmuseum (the National Maritime Museum) and is being made possible by het Mondriaan Fonds and the BankGiro Loterij. 

This exhibition is being made possible by het Mondriaan Fonds, the BankGiro Loterij, VSBfonds and Zabawas.

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