The Lost Legacy of the Netherlands

A Jewish Ghetto in Nazi occupied Holland

A Jewish Ghetto in Nazi occupied Holland

Every conference has its revelations. The one in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s lovely capital city Schwerin in early October 2015 was no different. After decades of researching material and believing that perhaps it was possible to have at last a bird’s eye view of material lost after 1933, it came as a shock to listen to the presentations made by Eleonore Pameijer and Carine Alders of the Leo Smit Foundation. Their papers were given further weight by publication of their book Vervolgde Componisten in Nederland (Banned Composers in the Netherlands) containing the biographies of some thirty-five or so musical victims of Nazi persecution in the Netherland. As if this weren’t disturbing enough, they produced an additional ten CD set released by Et’cetera called Forbidden Music in World War II consisting of works by nineteen of these, or at least, the ones who had historic or modern recordings that allowed illustration.

Jan van Gilse 1881 - 1944

Jan van Gilse 1881 – 1944

van Gilse: Concert Overture in C Minor (1900) – Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra, Jac van Stehen (NM Classics – 1998)

Even the most serious music lovers have to think before naming a Dutch composer of international note, who doesn’t hail from the early Baroque. This in itself is unfair as Holland has produced some marvellous and unjustly neglected composers in both the 19th and 20th centuries. More widely recognised is the enthusiasm and profound intelligence common to Dutch musicians and their public. Dutch orchestras count as the best in the world and this relatively small country has produced countless important performers. Going through Et’cetera’s ten CDs, however, one is confronted with the sobering realisation that perhaps one of the reasons most of us confess to not knowing any Dutch composers is because so many of their most promising were murdered or intimidated into permanent silence.

Rosy Wertheim 1888 - 1949 Born into the wealthy Wertheim banking Family, she studied with Auber in Paris and Karl Weigl in Vienna. During the war, she lived in hiding and lost most of her family.

Rosy Wertheim 1888 – 1949 Born into the wealthy Wertheim banking Family, she studied with Aubert in Paris and Karl Weigl in Vienna. During the war, she lived in hiding and lost most of her Family.

Wertheim: String Quartet 1932: Allegro con moto/Intermezzo/ Allegro energico Vlns. Eeva Koskinen & Katherine Routley; vla: Joël Waterman; Vcl: Sebastian Koloski

We’ve surveyed the Czech composers thanks to the interest in Theresienstadt, and a few scholars are producing research on Hungarian composers.  Yet the article on the British betrayal of Czechoslovakia and the musical price that was paid, finds its follow-up in every country occupied by Hitler’s armies. A name here and there has hitherto illustrated the losses in Poland or Italy; nothing, however, prepared me for the Nazi devastation of Dutch musical life. If this is what little Holland suffered, there is clearly more to be uncovered in such countries as Poland, Romania, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Baltics, not to mention former Soviet states.  Just when we thought we might have a handle on the scale of cultural wastage wrought between 1933 and 1945, we find an ocean of unchartered waters spreading out in front of us. If we know the extent of Dutch losses, it’s because Holland has the wherewithal to support the work of the Leo Smit Foundation. It’s only a question of time before other countries turn their attention to the same issue.

Lex van Delden, Born Alexander Zwaap; 1919 - 1988 Parents murdered in Sobibor, Zwaap changed his Name to van Delden and remained in hiding, fighting for the Resistance, during which he lost the sight in one eye. All works composed before 1944 were lost in the bombing of Nijmegen

Lex van Delden, Born Alexander Zwaap; 1919 – 1988 Parents murdered in Sobibor, Zwaap changed his Name to van Delden and remained in hiding, fighting for the Resistance, during which he lost the sight in one eye. All works composed before 1944 were lost in the bombing of Nijmegen

van Delden: Concerto per due orchestre d’archi op. 71 (1961) Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conductor Eugen Jochum

There are too many Dutch composers to name and illustrate. The quality of the music is also high and even if many were performers who also composed, it only underlines again the degree of versatility expected of Dutch musicians. Also surprising, is the number of women composers and the prominence they were once able to enjoy.

Henriëtte Bosmans 1895 – 1952 was a remarkable pianist and composer who had passionate affairs with the occasional man and several important women. She performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from the age of 17 and was a composition pupil of Willem Pijper. During the war, her compositions were banned and she was barred from performing except in the secretive ‘Black Evening’ concerts held by Jewish musicians for Jewish audiences.

Henriëtte Bosmans 1895 – 1952 was a remarkable pianist and composer who had passionate affairs with the occasional man and several important women. She performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from the age of 17 and was a composition pupil of Willem Pijper. During the war, her compositions were banned and she was barred from performing except in the secretive ‘Black Evening’ concerts held by Jewish musicians for Jewish audiences.

Bosmans: Concertstuk voor Fluit en Kamerorkest (1929) Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra; Jacques Zoon, conductor: Jan van Steen

Carine Alder’s lecture focused on the composers who immigrated to Holland. She reminded us that in the late 1930s and up to the outbreak of war, Holland was seen by dissidents and Jews as a country of refuge. How could we have forgotten something so self-evident?  In Klaus Mann’s Mephisto, Höfgen goes to Amsterdam as a political dissident. Indeed, in the first months following Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor, more than 15,000 Germans immigrated to Holland, and by the time of the occupation in 1940, the total number of émigrés had reached 20,000. Many, such as Joseph Roth, Bruno Walter, Max Reinhardt, Max Beckmann, Klaus Mann, Alfred Döblin, Vicki Baum, Arnold Zweig or Lion Feuchtwanger saw the Netherlands as a temporary refuge or at least a place from where authors could write with relative impunity. Publishing houses Querido and Allert de Lange took on their works and expanded their German output. Dutch authorities, mindful of their geographical and cultural vulnerability, brought in strict immigration controls in 1935 and threatened the deportation of anyone who arrived without sufficient funds or guarantees or entered the country illegally. Most disturbing of all, Jewish refugees were already being placed in camps before the Nazi invasion in 1940. Notwithstanding, the country soon became a centre of political resistance.

Wilhelm Rettich 1881 - 1957

Wilhelm Rettich 1881 – 1957

Rettich: Hebräische Balladen (date unknown) Versöhnung/Abel/Boas/Ruth/Sulamith/Eva – Michal Shamir Soprano; Vag Papian piano

Four of the composers Ms Alders highlighted were Hungarians: Géza Frid (1904 – 1989); Pál (Paul) Hermann (1902 -1944); Ferenz (Franz) Weisz (1893 – 1944) and Zoltán Székely (1903 – 2001). She then highlighted two German refugee composers Heinz (Hans) Lachmann (1906 – 1990) and Wilhelm Rettich (1892 – 1988), about whom I have previously written on this blog. A final émigré composer was Ignace Lilien (1897 – 1964), an Austrian from the now Ukrainian city of Lviv, formerly Austrian Lemberg then Polish Lwów.

Daniël Belinfante 1893 – 1945 is a composer who has almost entirely vanished from view, with many of his works lost and few records of his activities before the occupation. Married to the composer Martha Dekker, they taught at the Watergraafsmeer School founded by Belinfante in 1915. He hid during the war and worked with the Resistance before his capture and deportation to Westerbork, then Auschwitz and ultimately Fürstengrube, where he died shortly before liberation

Daniël Belinfante 1893 – 1945 is a composer who has almost entirely vanished from view, with many of his works lost and few records of his activities before the occupation. Married to the composer Martha Dekker, they taught at the Watergraafsmeer School founded by Belinfante in 1915. He hid during the war and worked with the Resistance before his capture and deportation to Westerbork, then Auschwitz and ultimately Fürstengrube, where he died shortly before liberation

Belinfante: Sonatina no. 3 for piano – Pianist Marcel Worms

In addition to Hermann, Weisz, the list of Dutch composers who died during the Nazi occupation included Leo Smit (1900 – 1943); Daniel Belifante (1893 – 1945); Jan van Gilse (1881 – 1944); Simon Gokkes (1897 – 1943); Bob Hanf (1894 – 1944); Mischa Hillesum (1920 – 1943); Dick Kattenburg (1919 – 1944); Nico Richter (1915 – 1945); Andries de Rosa (1869 – 1943); Samuel Schuijer (1873 -1942); Paul Seelig (1876 – 1945) and Martin Spanjaard (1892 – 1942). The only one of the above not murdered in the camps was Jan van Gilse who joined the Resistance and died in hiding, his two sons having been executed by the Nazi occupiers. No matter how one evaluates these often short lives, much of Holland’s brightest did not survive and it inevitably must have had dire consequences for post-war musical life.

The Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam

The Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam

Though the Leo Smit Foundation, as linked at the top of this article, offers extensive biographies in English of most of the composers, a few individuals are worth highlighting here as well: The first Dutch composers I came across, who had been victims of Nazi persecution were Leo Smit, Lex van Delden and Rosy Wertheim, thanks to a concert in London performed by the flute player (and founding head of the Leo Smit Foundation) Elenore Pameijer. Though she didn’t perform van Delden, I was able to meet his son, an actor who at the time was based in London.

Leo Smit 1900 - 1943

Leo Smit 1900 – 1943

Smit, Leo: Schemselnihar (1929): Movements 1 – 6 (Prélude,première partie, allegro; Danse, Meno allegro; Cortège de Schemselnihar, Lento; Scherzando, allegro ma non troppo; Lento, ma non troppo – Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ed Spanjaard

Leo Smit is everything one would not expect a Dutch, Jewish composer to be. For starters, his music sounds totally French and even rather light hearted. Smit was descended from Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam and studied with Sem Dresden, a composer who in 1941 went into hiding after his forced resignation as director of the Royal Conservatory in the Hague. The thing that becomes immediately obvious when looking at Smit’s dates and list of compositions is the fact that he was a composer at the height of his ability when murdered at the age of 43. On the one hand, he was still too young to have completed sequences of works that transitioned from one development to the next, while on the other, he was able to leave substantially more to posterity than the half-fulfilled promises of youngsters such as Dick Kattenburg, Nico Richter or Mischa Hillesum. His technical skills were clearly formidable and photographs show a personable, good-natured individual who seems to have defied the age in which he lived with music that at no point casts even a hint of a shadow. A recent biography has just been published of this promising young composer in German.

Self-portrait of Dick Kattenburg, discovered in his niece's attic decades after his murder

Self-portrait of Dick Kattenburg, discovered in his niece’s attic decades after his murder

The three youngest victims seem to have been very different in style and temperament. Dick Kattenburg’s output varies from works that reflect Leo Smit’s French influence, to Blues and ultimately cultural and ethnic (though not religious) influences referencing his Jewish identity. There is not only a Hebrew Melody for piano trio, but also Palestinian Songs for Voice and Piano. His contact with Leo Smit was via correspondence and with few exceptions, none of his works were performed during his short life-time. The sonata for Flute and Piano was one of these exceptions and the score was sent to Eleonore Pameijer by the flutist Ima van Esso who unlike Kattenburg, survived Auschwitz. Pameijer’s concert resulted in Kattenburg’s niece discovering a cache of manuscripts that had been desposited with his sister.

Dick Kattenburg 1919 - 1944

Dick Kattenburg 1919 – 1944

Kattenburg: Allegro Moderator for viola and piano 1944 – his last work – Ásdís Valdimardóttir viola; Marcel Worms piano

Like Kattenburg, Nico Richter was from Amsterdam and from a non-practicing Jewish family. By training, he was a violinist though under family pressure, he studied medicine at the university in Amsterdam completing his undergraduate studies in 1936 before returning to his music studies. Married to a non-Jew, he was initially spared from Nazi persecution. Arrested in 1942, he survived in the camps by working as a doctor, and even managed to survive the liberation of Auschwitz. His experiences, however, left him fatally weakened and he died shortly afterwards. His style is deliberately more cerebral than Kattenburg and he showed a fascination with the music of Anton Webern, compressing musical ideas to the maximum and never employing one note more than necessary.

Nico Richter 1915 - 1945

Nico Richter 1915 – 1945

Richter: Trio voor Fluit Altviool en Gitaar (1935), Allegro/Andantino/Presto – Flute: Eleonore Pameijer; Vla: Edith van Moergastel; Guitar: Martin Kaaij

An enormously gifted pianist, Mischa Hillesum also suffered from various psychotic conditions. As a Jew, he was Initially forced to abandon public performances, though allowed to continue in private concerts reserved for Jewish audiences called ‘Black Evenings’. Through Wilhelm Mengelberg and William Andriessen, he obtained Special dispensation, housing him in a relatively luxurious ‘detention centre’. The purpose of this was to keep him active as part of local musical life. He chose, however, to remain with his parents and in 1943, he joined them in Westerbork Camp, where again he was granted special status. His mother attempted to further improve their situation by petitioning the camp commander, resulting in the deportation of herself and her husband to Auschwitz where both were murdered. Mischa Hillesum was sent as forced labour to clear the debris of the Warsaw Ghetto, an ordeal he did not survive. His music is late Romantic and shows little trace of interest in contemporary developments. It also confirms his exceptional prowess as a performer.

Mischa Hillesum 1920 - 1944

Mischa Hillesum 1920 – 1944

Hillesum: 2 preludes for piano (1939/40) – pianist: Marianne Boer

The Leo Smit Foundation, publication of Vervolgde Componisten in Nederland and Et’cetera’s ten-CD box together form a profoundly disturbing testimony. There is not a single CD that cannot be heard and enjoyed from beginning to end and confirms that this is not solely to be thought of as music of the Holocaust, but should be performed as music that speaks universally and needs to be heard beyond the context of Nazi persecution. What alarms any unbiased listener, however, is the thought that if this is what the resourceful Leo Smit Foundation has been able to salvage in the Netherlands, what remains undiscovered in those countries, many far larger than Holland, which also fell to Hitler’s European megalomania?