Tag Archives: Hiding from Nazis

Saving Hungry Dutch Kids in 1945

 

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 The Resistance Museum’s exhibit “To the Farms!  Child Evacuations in the Hunger Winter” shows how 140,000 hungry and malnourished Dutch kids from the northern cities were evacuated to the countryside — under Nazi occupation, after supply lines had been cut so that neither food nor fuel nor electricity were reaching Amsterdam and their neighbors.  In those almost impossible conditions, an interdenominational coalition and a pro-Germansocial work group organized a relief effort which involved screening children, rating their level of need, matching them to farm families (usually the same religion), and arranging their transportation along the routes shown here.

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They travelled by every possible means, including foot, but barges were the commonest method, going only by night because the Allies bombed anything that moved during the day.  Children took only a few precious possessions with them, such as this child’s marbles.

 

As the Resistance Museum does so well throughout, the story of these hungry Dutch kids is told both through individuals alive today retracing their experiences, and by showing us the larger situation through documents and physical exhibits.IMG_2061

The conditions in Amsterdam, The Hague and other cities which had not yet been liberated (because of the disaster in Arnhem at Market Garden) are almost unimaginable today.  During the Hunger Winter of 1944-45, people here were as desperate as anyone in Sub-Saharan Africa in a famine.  The only food generally available was from the soup kitchen, one ladle of thin gruel per person per day.  People literally dropped in the streets and died from hunger.  When a little soup was spilled, they licked it off the street.  For the fastidious Dutch to do this is almost inconceivable.  The winter was desperately cold, and there was no fuel.  This was the time when tram tracks were pulled up and burned, trees were chopped up, and people broke into their deported neighbors’ houses and burned their furniture.  You can find photographs here if you can bear to look at them, all taken illegally by photographers who risked their lives to do so.  More than 20,000 people died in the western Netherlands, including Amsterdam.

In those conditions, one can imagine that parents whose own survival was in doubt would be willing to place their children in the fresh air of the northern farms, where at least there was food.  IMG_2074

Among many moving stories, here’s one: Tineke Meijer’s account of herself as a 12 year old beside the barge which would take her away.  Her mother was with her for a last farewell.  In the distance, Tineke saw a girl approaching them with a doll in her arms, but soon realized it was a very small woman, and the doll was not a doll.  The woman spoke urgently to Tineke’s mother:  “Can your daughter take the baby?  We can’t stay in hiding any more because she cries and makes a lot of noise.”  Although Tineke said no, she didn’t know how, her mother told her she could.  In fact, she successfully hid the baby from the German authorities who were counting children.  On the other side, someone came and took the baby out of her arms, to her confusion and somewhat to her sorrow.  It’s almost like the Tomb of the Unknown; I wonder how many war children might be that child of unknown parents.

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Some of the farm families went to incredible lengths to restore the city children to health.  One woman spooned buttermilk into a boy who was dying every half hour until he improved.  And many took the trouble to write the parents at home to tell them how the children were faring, to give them hope.  The shocking contrasts between their situations come through in the translated correspondence, as when one Amsterdam parent is told by her doctor that she is too weak to walk the few blocks to collect food and must get someone else to do it.

As usual at this outstanding museum, one goes away both inspired by the courage, the willingness, the administrative wherewithal that literally saved the lives and health of thousands of children — and horrified by the suffering that made it necessary.  Nothing is spared.  We learn of the struggles for city kids on the farm, about the less good matches as well as the felicitous ones.  Let me give the last word to one of the farm parents:  “As for payment, if we are fortunate enough to return your sons strong and in good health when the time comes, then we would consider that reward enough for us.”

 

The Stedelijk Museum and WWII

 

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Even if you just went to look at the art, the Stedelijk Museum’s exhibit on its experiences during World War II would be more than worth it:  a Picasso cubist still life, a Matisse odalisque, several Klees, and German Expressionists including Max Beckmann’s famous double portrait with his wife painting in Amsterdam during the war.  But there is so much more to the exhibit than that:  a soul searching examination of the many dimensions of the Museum during the war, beginning with a chronology complete with photographs that show, among other things, Nazi marches right on the Museum Square with the Concertgebouw in the background:

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The Museum supported German immigrant and Jewish artists before and during the war, including commissioning work from them, as well as “degenerate” avant garde artists throughout this period, and immediately after the war.  Curator Willem Sandberg foresaw the need to protect art in wartime when he visited Spain after the German attack on Guernica.  The Stedeljk began construction of a bunker at Castricum in the dunes to stow away treasures even before the Nazi invasion.  Eventually, this bunker held more than 500 collections, both public and private.  Because some of the latter were from Jewish owners, records were deliberately not kept to avoid seizure by Nazi authorities, which led to complex issues of ownership after the war.

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Sandberg concocted an exhibit on “City and Country” so that he could travel on a “study trip” to Germany in 1941 and gather information for the Resistance, as well as commission photographs from independent artists (including Jewish Emmy Andriesse, part of the Underground Camera group) including those of power stations and other potential targets.  This was one of only two propaganda-style exhibits at the Stedelijk during the war.  I should mention that the Museum’s one Jewish employee was dismissed, but over protest.

Because he had helped to organize the March 1943 bombing of the Population Registry (which enabled the Nazis to locate Jewish citizens), Sandberg was on the “wanted” list and had to remain in hiding for the rest of the war.  A respected graphic artist himself, he created a series of books titled “Typographical Experiments.”  This one, with apparently random letters, signifies the names of each of his comrades who were caught and executed by the Nazis.

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Something I learned in researching this post is that the large tiles in the Waterlooplein Metro Station are done in Sandberg’s typography, especially appropriate/ironic since much of the Jewish neighborhood was destroyed to build the Metro.

The room devoted to questions of provenance is fascinating — asking which paintings legitimately belong to the Museum and which are in question, which means the case is submitted to a specially appointed body which adjudicates them.  Some of the dossiers are available for Museum visitors to peruse and draw their own conclusions.

IMG_2443Many stories are told in that room, but let one stand for the others.  Here’s a modest but pleasing little painting, Pears Packed in a Glass Preserving Jar, by Sal Meijer.  What’s most unusual about it is a part of a typed label which remains on its back, “Goudst—.”  What does this mean?  Unlike some other significant Jewish art collectors and dealers in Amsterdam, Jacques Goudstikker was a native of that city.  He was among the most important dealers of Old Master paintings between the wars, if not the most important.  He fled Holland by ship to England along with his family just after the Nazi invasion, leaving behind an immense collection of priceless art in his gallery in the care of his employees.  In a ghastly irony, Goudstikker fell on the ship to Liverpool and died of a broken neck.  However, he did have in his possession the notebook in which all of his acquisitions were noted, which became the basis of the biggest effort to recover art by a Dutch Jewish family after the war.

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Within days of the dealer’s death, Hermann Goering and a Nazi banker had managed to pay the gallery employees off.  They acquired virtually the whole collection for a tiny fraction of its value — over the strenuous objections of Goudstikker’s widow.  (The exhibit doesn’t point this out, but restitution of this collection only happened in 2006, after an investigative journalist published a book on the subject and the scandal became ever more public.)  However, research showed that this particular painting was returned to Goudstikker’s widow in a timely way, and she sold it to the Stedelijk Museum, so it was not in the controversial group.

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All in all, this is a sobering but also engaging exhibit that illuminates the many aspects of the museum’s relationship to the occupying power and the situation it created in Amsterdam during the war years.  While I’m sure some people will come forward with other versions of the truth, the Museum deserves credit for putting this information before the public just before the 70th anniversary of Liberation.