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Friday, February 27, 2015

WW2 | 4. Months 1-9–The de Booij Dilemmas (Updated Jan. 29, 2017)

The General Strike of February 25-26 in the Amsterdam region was
 the Dutch answer to nine months' wooing by the Nazi occupiers.
 Gijs van Hall was Wally van Hall's older brother, who survived
WW2 and was elected Mayor of Amsterdam.
After an initial setback from the fierce fighting of the Dutch defenders, for nine months, from May 10, 1940 to February 23, 1941, the Dutch Occupation seemed to be going according to the Nazi invaders' plan.

The Public Face of the Nazis

The Nazi occupiers tried at first to administer Holland with the appearance of benevolence, while steadily turning the screws on its Jewish population.

Jews in Amsterdam were better informed about the Nazis than the rest of the population, since many of them had fled from Germany and other countries, thinking Holland was a safe haven.

The non-Jewish population was ambivalent. They were surprised that life was continuing to go on apparently as usual. They were given the impression that basic democratic institutions such as political parties were going to survive. Deprivations in the first year were not crippling for most Dutch people, especially outside of Amsterdam and a few other large cities.

But the Nazis were relentlessly pursuing the identification of Jews and were then quietly taking action. In Amsterdam, Jews were herded into a ghetto. Gradually their lives became more regulated, and a few deportations started. The horrific extent of the Nazi "final solution" was steadily unveiled to Jews. Jewish families in particular were stunned when they realized that they were trapped in Holland under a venomous régime. The Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum) handbook, English version, quotes from the diary of a housewife living in the Hague about the fear that overtook them all:
Especially for the Jews. Oh, that tormented race. The arrival of the Germans filled them with fear, fear about the fate that was now awaiting them. Many of them preferred suicide to awaiting their fate. Entire families together. (Het Verzetsmuseum, 24, emphasis added.)
But for the next few months the occupying Nazis played a clever game, trying to reassure non-Jewish Dutch people that they were benign rulers.
The occupiers behaved properly, hoping to win over the Dutch, as part of the “Germanic brotherhood”, to National Socialism. As a gesture of goodwill, after the Dutch army was disbanded, they released the Dutch prisoners of war. … Many Dutch people thought they ought to reconcile themselves to the situation. (Het Verzetsmuseum, 24.)

Hilda Boissevain de Booij

My grandmother Olga's sister, Hilda
Boissevain de Booij, wrote on Oct.
14, 1940. The photo is from about
 1897.

A letter from my great-aunt Hilda de Booij in Amsterdam captures the mood of the Dutch in the first few months, and the problems that suddenly confronted residents (as well as problems that did not appear right away).

It was sent to her sister, my grandmother, in Washington, D.C. It was translated for me by my cousin Engelien de Booij, Hilda's daughter, with the expectation that I would use in in my research on the Boissevain family.

The letter notes that the first reaction of Dutch people to the departure of their Queen on May 14, 1940 for England was one of catastrophe.

My grandmother Olga Boissevain van Stockum, living with her daughter Hilda van Stockum Marlin and her family in Washington, sent three letters to her closest relative in Holland, her sister Hilda Boissevain de Booij (after whom my mother is named) in April and August 1940.


None of the letters reached Amsterdam until the fall of 1940. Hilda de Booij's response is dated October 14, 1940. According to her daughter Engelien de Booij, “we could not write to relations in Britain, but we could write to Canada and the USA. Still, we had to take care, the letters were censored [by the Nazi-run post office].” (EdB, Note, Nov. 17, 2001 on HdB, Letter to OvS, Oct. 14, 1940.)

Her letter shows both hope for the future, a sense that the wartime situation had stabilized, and that the Dutch people were finding a way to coexist with the Nazis. (This view was to change greatly in 1941.)
Dear Olga, 
Just now we got your letter from April 22 and 27, also from August 23. Don’t be anxious about us. We are very calm. It is funny how very different everything is from what you would think. Nearly every day bombs fall on the city, last week quite near to where Engelien in living. [The Carlton Hotel in Amsterdam was bombed, a 10-minute walk from Engelien, she writes in 2001, suggesting that bombs were being dropped by the RAF on German-occupied targets in Amsterdam, in retaliation for the bombing of London].
We are fatalistic or religious. We think: “Well, if we are hit by a bomb, so what? We shall hope to see each other again in this life, but … we are in the middle of a war!
I thought it would interest you to hear something about the life we are having at the moment. Our home has been “blacked out” magnificently, so we can have all our lights on as long as we still have electricity.
Hilda and Hendrik (Han) de Booij
Our central heating is still functioning; our landlord, who is also the owner of the four apartment buildings near us, looks after this. Hanna and Maurits [son of Hilda’s sister Mary Boissevain and Cor van Eeghen] live in one of these buildings, with their sweet daughters -– the second one, Maria, has the same wonderful curls that her grandmother Mary must have had.
After sundown, Han and I take care of the blackout chores and stay home for the rest of the evening, except when the moon is shining. Next Saturday we shall try to go to a talk about Tchaikovsky in the Concertgebouw from 7 to 8:40 pm.
Often I sit next the window knitting and see the soldiers exercising. We hear them as well. In the morning at 7 am or earlier we are awakened by the singing of soldiers as they pass by. They have loud voices; we hear them all day long.
Han had to leave his office because the “Gruene Polizei” took it over for their own use. Han and Tom [their son, who continued in the same nonprofit work as his father, rescuing sailors lost at sea] now have an officer on the Keizersgracht, which Tom very much prefers because it is more in the center of the city.
Han has packed a suitcase for himself in case there are “reprisals” [hostage-taking of people like Han de Booij who had been in Dutch service in Indonesia] because of the “brutal treatment” of the Germans in Indonesia [where they are shunned by the Dutch and are left to native Indonesians for service]. They took Fredrik van Asbeck already and many of our friends and relatives. Those they took went to Germany, so I heard. [Others stayed in St. Michielsgestel, where they were well enough treated, except when five of them were shot by the Nazis as a warning to others.]
Jenne den Tex [daughter-in-law of Nicolaas den Tex and Hester Boissevain, twin sister of Charles the newspaper editor] stayed a week with Hessie [Hester Boissevain van Hall, daughter of Charles], who is in bed with an inflammation of the ear. I cannot leave Han, so I could not go for so long. We have had lovely days with her. It is so quiet there [in Hattem], one does not know there is a war on. The same is true of Mary [daughter of Charles] and Mies [daughter-in-law of Charles] in Bussum.
[In Amsterdam, however] we have nights when I hardly sleep at all. Han can’t go to sleep until the noise [bombs and anti-aircraft fire] stops. We stay in bed during the noise. During the first days of the war [May 10-14, 1940], we used to get out of bed, but you can’t keep doing that. One gets accustomed to anything. When the shooting stops, we fall asleep again till the noise starts again.
We have buckets of sand in every room to empty onto a fire bomb. Supposedly it takes half a minute before it explodes. Han has met people who have extinguished before it exploded. In our bedroom we have a spade with a very long handle to pick up a bomb and throw it in the garden below.
Han and I still have enough to eat. Ot [her daughter-in-law] does not have enough bread, so we give her some of our coupons. It is difficult for children, and men who take food to work, to have enough bread. At home one can make do with something else. I don’t know how it will be this winter. I have no worries for Han and me, but what about families with growing children?
Please ask Alfred about Jimmy’s daughter Lisbeth, and Victoria and Frances.
Every Thursday, Han takes violin lessons in the morning from Dick Mesman. On Tuesdays I take singing lessons from Fiep Kwast. They both stay for lunch.
We see a lot of Frans and Engelien. They are very happy and they do not worry too much about the future. Time will tell.
The NSB (Dutch Nazi Party) has given themselves beautiful uniforms - black with a cocky hat, black and orange. The Netherlands Unie has no uniform - they sell their party newspaper in the streets. We are members of the Netherlands Unie - everyone in the party is free to have their own ideas about what should be done. [The Nederlandse Unie was a new party, not anti-German, but pro-Dutch; it did not last long.]
When our central heating fails, we have other fuel, made from the remains of coal and pressed with tar. We have a small pot-belly stove, so we won't freeze.
All the grandchildren are well. This evening we are going out to eat in town with John [van Marle] and Olga [de Booij van Marle], and Inez Hissink [daughter of Nella Boissevain Hissink], who is staying with them to recuperate from a bronchitis attack. We will have to go home at 8 p.m., because we are not allowed to be outdoors after 10 p.m., even in our own gardens.
Robert Boissevain [son of Alfred and Mies Boissevain?] has a new job with Economic Affairs, but you will have heard about this from Kitty [engaged to Herman Boissevain, son of Alfred and Mies Boissevain, but escaped the Nazis by going to America; Herman remained unmarried]. Jo H. [??] is of course deeply unhappy not having any children.
Heentie [daughter of Charles E. H. Boissevain] and Dick Mesman and their three children are very happy - a nice family. I greatly miss my Dante evenings - Miss Kuenen, who gave the lectures on Dante, has died. Last year I went to Shakespeare afternoons organized by Gerarda Lely, but I prefer Italian writers. I simply love Dante, and in my old age I have fallen in love with his Virgil. However, it’s best to read it with other people. I worked through the whole Divine Comedy twice with Miss Kuenen and whenever I am going to stay somewhere for a while I take Dante with me. 
Han has packed in his getaway suitcase Don Quixote, something by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He would also like to take his violin and drawing materials. Then maybe we could get through all this, if only we could go out for walks, which we are not sure we will be able to do. Enfin, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
We don’t hear so much now from family and relations. Everyone has their own problems and fears. It is especially difficult for car-owners. We have gone back to using bicycles. That way we went to see Christien van Even, former housekeeper to Aunt Nella [Brugman Boissevain], who did sewing for me and lives in the Oudekerk neighborhood of Amsterdam. It was a beautiful ride beside the Amstel River. We loved there being not cars – one of the good things about the war.
Cissy [daughter of Willem Boissevain 1849-1925] Crommellin’s husband had a business in illuminated advertising, and now his business is helping people comply with the blackout requirement. It sounds like a joke but it really is true. Cissy came to see me at lunch time. They are poor because business has not been good and the extra income they got from Farmiloe, the husband of Connie [the late sister of Cissy], has stopped [Connie lived in England until her death; after she died, her widower sent money to Cissy until the war started].
Cissy stays with her children and with Tine [van der Warden] den Tex. I have not seen Attie [like Tine, wife of a son of Nicolaas den Tex] since my birthday. She is not well and Paul den Tex says she is not up to receiving visitors. 
Emily [Henn] Cruijs is unbelievably brave, as always. Geraldine [Campbell-Dickinson], her half-sister, is even braver, if that is possible. [Both women are Irish relatives - daughters of Emily Heloise MacDonnell’s sister, Auntie May MacDonnell, who married twice. Geraldine came to Holland with her son Dick, who was a tap-dancer. Her son got away before the Nazis took over, but Geraldine stayed. She died in 1944.] She rents a small room for two guilders a week, and is sewing for friends and relations. She is proud and does not want to depend on charity. She has a problem with one of her eyes and she can’t walk well – something is wrong with her legs. She still doesn’t know what happened to her son Dick – they were both in Rotterdam on May 8, just before the invasion and the bombing.
At a time like this, you see what people are made of. I see only very strong iron or wood. Beautiful to see. In the past I have made jokes about our admiration for the Dutch in the Eight Years War, but now I see that our people have remained steady again. I don’t understand it, the curious thing called the character of a nation. How is it formed? Does climate have something to do with this? Tradition? Enfin, cleverer people than I must ponder these questions.
Dieuke [Boissevain, daughter of Charles E. H.] has had a good review of her detective novel. ...
Han de Booy and Willem Mengelberg

Mengelberg performed Mahler every year.
Hendrik (Han) de Booij, Hilda de Booij's husband, was a staff officer of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, which hired the world-class conductor Willem Mengelberg, in 2013 and 2014. Mengelberg made the Concertgebouw into a world-famous, immortal institution.

Two of my grandmother's first cousins  were on the board and staff of the Concertgebouw, but not at the same time–Charles E. H. Boissevain was on the Board of Directors for a long time but resigned during the period that his brother-in-law Han de Booij was a staff officer.

Charles E. H. was the eldest child of Charles Boissevain, who was a leading advocate for the Concertgebouw and he helped raise money for it in his role as the editor and publisher of Holland's leading newspaper, the Algemeen Handelsblad.

The Boissevains became very close to Mengelberg, who was appointed conductor at the young age of 24, and through him to Gustav Mahler and there is a famous photo (made into a Dutch stamp) taken by de Booij of them out on the beach.

On the Zuider Zee by Valkeveen, March 1906. Standing (L to R): Alphons
DiepenbrockGustav Mahler, Willem Mengelberg. Seated: Mrs. M. Wubbe
Mengelberg, Hilda G. Boissevain de Booij, P. J. Boissevain and Mrs. 
E. H. (Maria Pijnappel) Boissevain. Photo by Han de Booij.

A 1995 New York Times story  acknowledges the high reputation of Mengelberg before World War II:
"What Rembrandt is to the outside world in the realm of painting," the Dutch minister of education proclaimed at the 1920 [Mahler] festival, "you are throughout Europe and America as the leader of an orchestra." In the 1930's, Mengelberg's popularity rivaled and perhaps exceeded that of Queen Wilhelmina.
Mengelberg was born to German parents who had emigrated to Holland. He was a huge fan of fellow-German Gustav Mahler, perhaps Mahler's biggest promoter, and performed him after the invasion of Holland by the Nazis until he was ordered to stop because Mahler's German-speaking parents in Bohemia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were Jewish. Mahler married a Christian and attended a Christian church, but that was not good enough for the Nazis, although Jews married to Christians were rarely deported.

Hilda Gerarda Boissevain de Booij
with baby (Engelina de Booij?).
The problem for Han de Booij would have been how to advise Mengelberg on performing Mahler. The SS were in attendance at the Concertgebouw and made clear that they disapproved of performing Mahler, but Mengelberg went on with his performances. I do not have information on de Booij's point of view.

That Mengelberg kept the orchestra going at all during the war was an issue during the postwar hatchet days. The response of his defenders is that he thereby kept the musicians employed, and many of them were Jewish. More troubling is that Mengelberg was reported as toasting in Germany to the invasion of Holland and he was photographed talking with the hated Hitler's Austrian puppet occupation leader Seyss-Inquart. However, Mengelberg also helped many Jewish violinists hide from the Nazis (probably including Theo Olof who was sheltered by the Boissevains) and is viewed by some as having been unjustly stripped of his greatest, well-earned honors. In any case he was exiled to Switzerland for six years and never conducted again after the war. He died in 1951 at 80, after having led the Concertgebouw for 50 years (1895-1945).

Hilda Boissevain de Booij about 1970. She died in
1975, 11 years after her husband Han.
In the 2013 post I noted that Leonard Bernstein was so passionate about Mahler that he was buried with Mahler's Fifth over his heart. Recently I received an email from Riva Freifeld, who is a moviemaker. She said, confirming my account:
What a wonderful connection your family has to Mahler, Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw! And the NY Times quote was correct. [Mengelberg was the] Greatest ever. One afternoon back in the 1990s I was in Bernstein's apartment when we were making a short film about preserving all of his work on digital media, which was rather new back then. There was a photograph of Mahler in the music room, I think it was on the piano. And some scores were lying around. It was like being in a sacred place.
An autodidact-conductor of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, New Yorker Gil Kaplan, was reported in 1984 as promising to leave a score by Mahler to the Pierpont Morgan Library.

Engelien de Booij

The daughter of Han and Hilda de Booij, Engelina (known as Engelien), was a good friend of my mother when she was studying in art school in Amsterdam and stayed with the de Booys. Engelien married a Jewish man , Frans Polak, at the beginning of the war. Hilda shows her worries over the two of them by denying her concerns in her letter to her sister in 1940.
Engelien had to stay in bed because of the threat of a miscarriage. I am convinced it will be all right.
It was not all right – Engelien did not give birth to the baby, although her mother did what she could to make Engelien's life as easy as possible.
We exchanged our help–she now has my daily helper and I have her twice-a-week cleaning lady. I cancelled all my tradesmen appointments and do no cleaning–I only straighten the blankets and cook simple food. I am now the sole mistress of the home and that is wonderful.
Engelien told me late in her life that although the SS was viciously abusive towards gentiles who were married to Jews, the SS put them on a special list and spared the Jewish spouses from deportation to concentration camps. So Polak survived the war, but the couple divorced after the war because, Engelien told me, the burden of her having saved his life was too much for him to carry on a daily basis. However, they remained friends for the rest of their lives–a story confirmed by Charles Boissevain.

The de Booij Housekeeper, H[ilda?] van Rijnbach

Originally in Dutch, this letter from Hilda de Booij's housekeeper H[ilda?] van Rijnbach, translated by my mother, describes  the brave, bordering on reckless, underground activities of the housekeeper of my mother's Aunt Hilda, who was loaned out to Engelien. The letter is  candid about some stupidity by the writer's husband in the early days of the Occupation, when the Nazis had yet to show their full inhumanity; for this, the writer was clearly ashamed. I have summarized, excerpted and annotated this letter. [This letter is the basis of Chapter 11, which could be deleted in favor of a mention here.] The full text of letter is here.

The End of the Goodwill Attempt

Public ignorance or uncertainty about the treatment of Jews in Holland ended in February 1941 and with it ended the period of hope amidst despair. The occasion was a reprisal by the Nazi government. The Dutch Nazi Party leader, Hendrik Koot, died of wounds sustained when he assaulted businesses in the Jewish ghetto. The Nazis decided on an outraged  reprisal on February 22-23, 1941 for the spraying of a police officer with ammonia gas (a cleaning agent) by a Jewish ice-cream-parlor owner. The response was to beat and deport 425 Jewish youths. 

After this, the Dutch Communist Party, which was illegal under the Nazi government, called for a strike, which shut down Amsterdam and nearby communities. This response shocked the Nazis, who thought that what they viewed as a velvet-glove approach to the Dutch had been winning friends. The strike showed 
  • Dutch citizens that they were not alone in wanting to fight back, and 
  • the Nazis that Holland was no Austria–the German occupiers were mostly abhorred, and the Dutch were not going to be won over.
After February 1941, the situation in Holland changed, tragically.

Notes/Sources:

de Booij, Engelien (EdB), Note, November 17, 2001, prefacing her translation of Letter from Hilda de Booij to Olga van Stockum, October 14, 1940.  

de Booij, Hilda Boissevain (HdB), Letter to her sister Olga Boissevain van Stockum (OvS), October 14, 1940. Translated by Engelien de Booij, November 17, 2001.

Gil KaplanConductor of One Work Buys Mahler Score, by Will Crutchfield, May 13, 1984

Verzetsmuseum. Guide and exhibits.

This is a draft chapter of a book about the Boissevains and the Dutch Resistance; the book outline is here.