Thursday, February 19, 2015

BOISSEVAIN | B. Walking 20th C. Amsterdam

The lines for the Anne Frank House are shortest in
the evening, so the walking tour might best begin at
the high number and work down.
The buildings that housed the offices of Boissevain businesses before World War II were not destroyed during the war, one of the few consolations of the German Occupation.

A Boissevain family reunion is planned for the spring of 2016, preferably not during a vacation when school children will be visiting Amsterdam museums in large numbers.

I have suggested a walking tour on the map at left to visit some of the sites with family associations to the west and south of the Dam - I apologize for my inadequate map-annotating skills.

It would take about two hours for a group just to visit sites 2-10, without taking into account time spent inside.

At the last stop, the Amsterdam Stadsarchief offers sandwiches, coffee and fruit juices for sale.

Special exhibits of Boissevain or van Hall-related books or archives might be arranged at NIOD or the Stadsarchief, or both.

The tour is marked as starting at 0 - the Anne Frank House, and then proceeding toward the Royal Palace via 1 - the Raadhuisstraat. But probably these should be left for a different day. Getting tickets to the Anne Frank House has to be arranged well in advance and unless the group goes together there is no point in assembling at the House. The tour should probably begin with 2, behind the Palace.

The Buildings Near the Palace

The noodle place that used to print Het Parool.
All photos by JT Marlin, Feb. 19, 2015.
2 - #160 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal - the printer of Het Parool. This is now a noodle restaurant with rooms upstairs for rent. The stairs at the left of the entrance may have led up to the printing room. Printers made stencils that were then used to create plates for the presses. Since the printing press is gone, there isn't much to see inside, so this is strictly a starting point. The hotel at 3 may be a better one to assemble in.

Now an upscale hotel, this building used to serve
meals to workers and is where the armed
 CS6 group met.
3 - #178-180 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, a few doors down, was the workers'  soup kitchen where CS6 members met, led by Gi and Janka Boissevain. After killing many traitors, Ji and Janka became the Nazis' Most Wanted; they were both caught and were shot in the dunes at Overveen. They are buried next each other and their cousin Louis in the Eeregraafsplaats Bloemendaal. Their father was the first to be arrested and he died in Buchenwald. Their mother Mies Boissevain and the youngest son Frits also went to concentration camps but survived. Mies after the war promoted the "Festival Skirt" as a way of proactively making fashionable what clothing that was available. The skirt became a symbol of rebuilding Holland. One is on display at the Verzetsmuseum near the Artis Zoo. The plaque on the wall at #178-#180 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal reads (my translation from the Dutch):
This plaque is located to the right of the entrance to the
hotel at #178-#180 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
During the German Occupation 1940-1945 / in these buildings, a foundation, / Central Commercial Kitchens for Amsterdam South of the Ij River, / prepared 4.734 million liters of meals on behalf of workers / for Amsterdam industrial companies.
That would mean about one million liters for each year of the occupation. If the soup kitchen was open 250 days per year, that would mean 4,000 liters per day.

One can speculate how the 4,000 liters were consumed. A 12-ounce bowl of soup with 300 calories is about one-third of a liter - with a slice of bread, half a liter. So the kitchen may have been serving 8,000 meals per day. During the hunger winter in the last year of the war, the portions would have been much smaller.

The old Handelsblad building now has an art
 gallery on the ground floor.
4 - #240 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal - The Algemeen Handelsblad name is blazoned in stone across the entrance (the building now houses an avant-garde gallery). The newspaper was made famous at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th by Charles Boissevain, but he and his wife Emily died before World War II. Like all the other big newspapers, such as De Telegraaf, the wartime editors of the newspaper complied with Nazi censorship because they didn't want to lose their jobs (or their lives). It was a blow for the reputation of the Handelsbad that it went along with the censorship. However, the 1,300 upstart underground newspapers and many thousands of family and business newsletters doubtless got help from regular journalists - a story that would be interesting to tell if there were anyone left to tell it. The Dutch people also regularly listened to radio broadcasts from the Queen in London, although it was strictly forbidden and all radios were confiscated. Bob Boissevain turned in one radio to the Nazis and listened in to the other one.


Skipping down to the Muntplein at the southern end of the Kalverstraat, Amsterdam's brand-name shopping street, we have three sites to visit.

Tobacco company at 118 Nes that hid people in the basement.
5 - #380 Herengracht - NIOD. Everyone interested in the Resistance should be aware of NIOD, which has a huge library as well as archives and a professional staff to look after them. For example, both NIOD and the Amsterdam Stadsarchief have complete sets of the 18-volume history (in Dutch only) of World War II by Louis (Loe) de Jong. The Verzetsmuseum near the Artis Zoo has some books but they are not organized like a library, more like a used book sale, whereas NIOD's books are well organized. More about NIOD.

6 - #118 Nes was a tobacco company that hid people in the basement. This basement at least had windows. Across the road is the "Tobacco Theater".

The former central bank of the Netherlands, now the Allard
Pierson Museum. This is where the audacious robbery of
Treasury bills took place to fund the Resistance.
7 - #127 Oude Turfmarkt - De Nederlandsche Bank, Holland's Central Bank, was the target of a huge bank robbery engineered by the kindly Wally van Hall, who carried off an exchange of counterfeit Treasury bills and banknotes in the region of $500 million in today's money. He kept excellent records so we can probably find out the exact number. In addition, he raised an equivalent amount in gifts and loans from Dutch individuals and institutions.

Rembrandtplein and Stadsarchief

The tour goes to the Rembrandtplein, where picture-taking in front of the sculptures around the front of Rembrandt's statue is an option.

This used to be the Rembrandt Theater, where the Dutch
Nazis went in the evening. CS6 set fire to it.  
8 - #21-23 Rembrandtplein - The Rembrandt Theater used to be here and it is where the Dutch Nazi Party used to meet. Hitler tried to make Rembrandt the Dutch equivalent of Wagner - a symbol of the artistic cleverness of the Dutch branch of the Master Race. It didn't work. Holland never supported Hitler in very large numbers - according to Loe de Jong, no more than 1.5 percent of the population of Holland supported the Dutch Nazi movement (de Jong, 1988, 33). CS6 burned down the Rembrandt Theater. It is now the NH Caransa Hotel.
The statue of Rembrandt with sculptures of some of the
people he painted. Hitler wanted Rembrandt to be the
Dutch equivalent of Wagner -  an illustration of what the
Master Race can do. The Dutch didn't buy it. At. All.

9 - #32 Vijzelstraat - Amsterdam Stadsarchief - crossing the Herengracht and going west one street to Vijzelstraat, we are at the last stop, the Amsterdam Stadsarchief, which has several interesting features. Many Boissevain family and van Hall family papers are archived here and could be displayed for the family. In addition, the building used to be the headquarters of a bank that the Boissevain family was heavily invested in and at which individuals were represented on the staff and board. The building itself is of unusual interest architecturally because many environmentally interesting features were built into the design. It was the ABN AMRO headquarters until they moved to a more modern building. At the family reunion a few years ago we were given an architectural  tour of the Stadsarchief.

Sources (in addition to my having walked the route):

de Jong, Louis (Loe). The Netherlands and Nazi Germany. The Erasmus Lectures at Harvard. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

van Tol, Ineke. Persecution and Resistance in Amsterdam, 2006. A walk from the Anne Frank House to the Verzetsmuseum. Reviewed by Liesbeth van der Horst and Ruud Lindeman of the Verzetsmuseum, Erik Somers of NIOD and Hans Westra of the Anne Frank Stichting.  English version translated by Maneke Piggott. Sold by the Verzetsmuseum.

Other Posts:

I have been posting stories and information and sources about the Boissevain family in World War II. They are in the form of chapters of a book.

A walking tour of 19th Century Boissevains in Amsterdam is here.