Year of publication 2008, issue 18
This Bulletin appears at a time when some certainties in this world which we have always taken for granted, have disappeared and with that are not as 'eternal' as we once assumed. With the take over of the ABN AMRO Bank by a consortium of three banks (Fortis, Santander and the Royal Bank of Scotland) not only a long history of trade, finance and organisation in the Netherlands comes to an end, but also a development to which the Boissevains as wealthy Patricians in Amsterdam, contributed amply. Here too history repeats itself. This is how the Boissevain Bank, once independent but taken over by the Twentsche Bank during the crisis in the thirties, became part of ABN. This Bank eventually merged to become ABN AMRO only to be taken over this year to be split up in parts.
With this comes an end to an era in which decisions were made and business was done in a way that is no longer desirable. The once prevailing method to do business, in a rather small circle with strong family ties were everyone knew eachother, has been replaced with a culture in which a strong person rules. And that only for as long as the abundant and often anonymous shareholders believe in him. The trust of a closed self correcting group with knowledge and experience is no longer important, but rather the way in which financiers can be convinced by good figures and profit margins. If we will be better off with this, remains to be seen. One thing is clear and that is that a certain era has definitely come to an end and that the world in which money rules has the upper hand.
This doesn't deminish the fact that once again a great Bulletin is presented to you. Another Bulletin with great stories about our own colourful past. Part of that past isn't in fact that far behind us. Late 2006 Charles and Jan Willem resigned as committee memebers after many years of giving lots of energy and time to the Foundation, the Bulletin and the organizing of several reunions. The Foundation and the Bulletin have mainly been resting on their shoulders the last few years. A big thank you for their effort and active involvement. You can find the names and addresses of the current committee members in the colofon.
The new committee members were already presented to you in the last Bulletin (Christmas 2006). Although we have many ideas, there are also some obvious restrictions. Our Foundation too can not survive without finances. In order to publish the Bulletin and to maintain the website we need around € 2.100,- annually. This is only possible when we receive enough donations to send it out to everyone. That means that this time too your donation is very important. If you would donate i.e. € 20,- per year, the Foundation can carry on the next year.
There are several ideas to distribute the Bulletin in a different format and to adjust the contents. We are thinking about articles written by or about living family members, their lives and activities. Or plans and ideas that might be of interest to other family members. We are also contemplating distributing the Bulletin and a possible newsletter electronically. The cost of this is minimal, so please pass on your e-mail address and your ideas to the secretary. And ofcourse let us know what you think.
I hope that in that way we not only look back to the past and learn from it, but also focus on the present and the future: ‘Ni regret du passé, ni peur de l’avenir’.
Gustaaf Willem Oscar Boissevain (NP p 116)
DR. MIA BOISSEVAIN (1878 – 1959), PART 2
In the last issue of this Bulletin Klarissa Nienhuys has described Mia’s (NP p 54-55) youth and her activities as a biologist. On the picture in Bulletin 2006 page 11 the names of the five ladies on the stairs have to be read from right to left. Mia Boissevain stands the most to the right. In this Bulletin number 18 she describes Mia’s increasing consciousness and involvement in the movement for Woman Suffrage in the period up to 1913.
The rise of the women’s movement
‘I consider woman suffrage as the most important the near future can bring us, more important than whichever issue separating political parties at the moment. Besides the struggle between political parties I consider the woman suffrage as the only means to set bounds to the abuse which reigns in this area.’
(Dr. Mia Boissevain, president of the exhibition ‘The Woman 1813- 1913’, in a leaflet of the Association for Woman Suffrage)
The first Dutch writings on the desirability to improve women’s rights date from 1870. Following this, at first a few women’s magazines were published. Thereafter also some developments in political parties occurred: from 1885 onwards women’s associations are being set up in the Sociaal Democratische Partij (Social Democratic Party). Above all, these were meant to increase propaganda for more voting rights for men and to further the own party. In 1889 Wilhelmina Drucker and others establish the Vrije Vrouwenvereniging (VVV, Free Women Association), the first organization which has the interests of women as its primary goal. A few years later, during a procedure to change the law on voting rights, the existing political parties show no interest whatsoever in woman suffrage. For that reason in 1894 the VVV initiates the Vereniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht (VvVK, Association for Woman Suffrage). At that moment Mia is nearly 16 years old. She is preparing herself for her final exams in high school.
Maria (Mia) Boissevain (NP p 54-55), date unknown
Study period: 1896 – 1901
Mia begins her academic studies when she is 18 years old. Formally, women could already study for 25 years: in 1871 Aletta Jacobs was the first female student. Mia was supported by her parents and her sister An was already studying medicine. Mia befriended Marie de Vries, a brilliant woman who had studied biology a generation before. (see Bulletin 2006, page 12) In her manuscript ‘A Dutch Family’ Mia writes: ‘It seemed to me the most normal thing in the world to study at the university. Everywhere, both students and professors were very accommodating. At the same time I was well aware of the relative newness of this undertaking and I had a strong notion that as a girl I had to behave very modest.’ That notion was enhanced by the fact that girls were supposed to sit on the front bench during lectures. This habit existed also at other universities. When Mia accompanied An for the first time to a lecture, they entered the room at the last moment. The front bench had already been completely occupied, but two students gave up their places for the two girls, under loud applause from the other approximately hundred students. There were also other ways in which Mia’s position was emphasized as the exception to the rule. Halfway through her studies a scientific article had been published about the size of brains of all kinds of mammals. According to this the female brain had a lower weight than the male brain. At that time, Mia was the only female student at the zoological laboratory, where the article gave rise to quasi funny statements that girls might be able to study diligently but they would not show scientific initiative or attain serious scientific achievements. What’s more: they would fill the jobs of men. Such remarks made that Mia began to reflect more consciously on her own position.
Even though she didn’t pay much attention to the women’s movement, it did influence her. In 1898 Mia, 20 years of age, and her mother visited the “Tentoonstelling van Vrouwenarbeid” (Exposition of Women’s Labour) in The Hague. The image of a sculpture of a woman pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with stones stays with her. She “understood that the women’s movement was not a movement for intellectual and developed people alone”, wrote Mia in her memories ‘A Dutch Family’ in 1915.
Mia does not elaborate further on her being an exception to the rule as a woman during her studies, but she evidently told some family members about it. According to Jan den Tex (NP p 464), a cousin with whom Mia had a lot of contact and the son of Mia’s older sister An and Gideon den Tex (NP p 54), the boys were not always so nice. They often cracked dirty jokes in the company of the girls.
According to her goddaughter Mia, the daughter of Mia’s sister Nella and Aat van Hall (NP p 54), during a lecture one of the professors showed openly his disapproval seeing a woman in his audience. Therefore she went to study in Zürich. According to the memories of Jan de Tex the botanist professor Hugo de Vries was opposed to female students and he clearly showed this. According to Jan professor de Vries ‘fell in love with Mia and forced her to be very sweet to him in order to pass her exams. Therefore further studies in Amsterdam became impossible for her. She went to Zürich to continue her studies.’ The causal relation between the situation in Amsterdam and her promotion in Zürich needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The memoirs of Mia do not show a strong anti-female-climate during her studies. De Vries may have bothered Mia, which could have been very annoying and certainly a stimulus to prefer promotion in another city. However De Vries could not been involved in her promotion research: he was a plant and mutation specialist. Mia was a zoologist, specialized in animals of the sea, more precisely in shellfish. She finished her studies at the zoological laboratory of professor Max Weber. Her research in Zürich focused on a subject directly connected to the work she had done in Amsterdam.
The children of Jan Boissevain and Nella Brugmans, 1902.
F.l.t.r. Top two: Mia (born 1878) and Walrave (1876). Middle row: Nella (1873), An (1872), Thijs (1870), Heleen (1867), Charles Daniël Walrave (‘Karel‘, 1866) ans Li (1864). Bottom four: Aat van Hall (married Nella), Wil de Vos (wife of Karel), Sissy Blijdenstein (wife of Walrave) and Gi den Tex (married An).
According to the website of the University of Zurich Mia registered in October 1902, and left in July 1903. Probably the academic climate in Zürich was friendlier for women than in the Netherlands. On average the percentage of female students in Switzerland was 10%. Ninety percent of these female students were foreign, although amongst those were also some women who had fled Russia and enrolled to legitimize their stay. Especially the German speaking universities of Zürich and Bern attracted many foreigners. Substantially more women were studying in Switzerland than in the Netherlands. In Switzerland 932 female students registered for the studies of law, medicine and philosophy during the period 1893 – 94. In contrast, only 36 female students were enrolled in studies on these subjects at all four universities in the Netherlands together. Mia had a great time in Zürich and felt completely free. She met a “number of fresh young women, especially Scandinavian, Russian and American, who had reflected more deeply on the women’s problem” than herself.
Visiting Aletta Jacobs: 1905
After Mia’s return from Zürich her parents died shortly after each other. The parental home in Bilthoven was sold and Mia moved with her brother Matthijs and her sister Heleen to the gardener’s lodge ‘Boschzigt’. Inspired by her conversations in Zürich, Mia tries to find out what is going on in the field of woman emancipation and visits Aletta Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs, in 1905 51 years of age, had ended her doctors practice a few years before when she took up the position of president of the “Vereeniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht” (Society for Woman Suffrage). Jacobs was supporter of birth control and had sympathy for free love. That in itself was reason enough for a strong aversion against her in respectable circles. There was an enormous amount of gossip about her and rumors had it that she had carried out illegal abortions. However, the women who could have confirmed this, never did so.
On the pavement in front of her house Mia looks nervously around, to ascertain that nobody has seen her, afraid that she ‘will be suspected to visit the house for an illegal operation’. Mia finds the conversation with Aletta Jacobs pleasant and informative. She receives some brochures on the legal position of women in the Netherlands and Aletta talks to her about her recent journey to the United States, where woman suffrage has just been enacted in Colorado. They have a lively discussion. Mia finds Aletta sincere and sharp. She has a clear political view and always keeps to the point. She ignores personal attacks.
Congress Woman Suffrage: 1908
In 1915 Mia wrote: ‘Anyone who will take the trouble to check the newspapers and magazines from those days, will be struck by the fact how often the women were made ridiculous. They emphasised the myth that the women who consciously strived for improvements were unattractive and very masculine viragos.’ The VvVK would be host to the Third Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance during a week in June 1908. The Amsterdam Concert Hall had been hired for the meetings of 1200 foreign guests from 21 countries. At the request of Aletta Jacobs Mia helped in the preparation for the congress. Mia intended to look for viragos during the congress, but she cannot find them. Mia meets two pioneers of woman suffrage in the Netherlands: Wilhelmina Drucker (61) and Joanna Naber (49). Especially the former lady had so often been ridiculed in the newspapers that Mia expected her to be one of those viragos. In reality Mrs Drucker appears to be ‘a small, very simple and very well groomed lady, who gives more a shy impressing. At the conference Mia becomes deeply impressed by the female speakers, amongst whom the presidents of the American and English Woman Suffrage Leagues.’
Mia (left) and Rosa Manus in Wiesbaden, 1929
(Collection International Archive for Women’s Suffrage, Amsterdam)
Mia and Rosa
Shortly before the opening of the congress Mia is asked to take care of the information bureau for the participants at the entrance of the Concert Hall. In this project she works together with Rosa Manus. Beforehand Mia knew Rosa only from a distance; Rosa, three years younger than Mia, attended the same primary and secondary school as Mia. Rosa came from a very well-to-do Jewish family. At school Rosa was a moderate pupil. Her father did not approve of her having a paid job, but during her volunteer work she showed a phenomenal organizational talent. Later she would become the right hand of Aletta Jacobs and secretary for the Association for Woman Suffrage (VvVK). The duo becomes so enthusiastic that they propose to form a Propaganda Commission for the VvVK. They still have to learn a lot about the responsibilities and the division of work in a large organization. Once, the ladies organized a meeting with lectures in Amsterdam. Without consultation they asked one guilder entrance fee to get some money in the till. The president of the VvVK division Amsterdam became so angry about this that she personally sat at the entrance to ascertain that members of the VvVK paid only a dime. However, later they organized evenings with a dime entrance fee which attracted so many people that the police had to step in to manage the crowd of people who cannot get in. Mia, being president of the Commission, opens such evenings. In the mean time Mia gets a more central position in the VvVK: medio 1911 she travels with Aletta Jacobs and Rosa Manus to the Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Stockholm. There she must have seen Nella Boissevain, her cousin, the ninth child of Mia’s uncle Charles, who speaks there for the competing Bond voor Vrouwenkiesrecht (Woman Suffrage League) (NP p 69). All these activities gave Mia and Rosa in 1912 enough experience to propose an exhibition about the changing position of women in the period 1813-1913 and to organize this.
Klarissa Nienhuys, Groningen (the Netherlands)
(Daughter of Dieuke Boissevain, see NP p 71)
Mia Boissevain, date unknown
(Collection Municipal Archive Amsterdam)
SEVERAL RESISTANCE FIGHTERS BROUGHT TO MEMORY
Hester Grinberg – Boissevain (NP p 74) sent us several articles for the Boissevain Bulletin, with the focus on World War II and some family members who were resistance fighters. This is a good time too, to bring to attention two resistance museums and publications. The Zuid-Hollands Verzetsmuseum in Gouda organised the exhibition ‘Heden – Verleden, Blijmoedig gedragen (Present – Past, Carried cheerfully). Mies Boissevain – van Lennep (1896 – 1965)’ in 1994 , including a publication with the same name about Mies. In the Verzetsmuseum in Amsterdam (entrance opposite Artis) is permanently on display an example of the Nationale Feestrok (National Party dress) from around 1947. In 2005 a voluminous book about the War Memorial Cemetery in Bloemendaal saw the light. Author is Peter H. Heere and published by Sdu Publishers in the Hague. On pages 285 and further, there is ample background information on the executions by firing-squad in the dunes near Overveen on 1 st of October 1943, and the biographies of the three Boissevains that where killed there: Gideon Willem, Jan Karel and Louis Daniël.
Our ancestors, Huguenots, left Bergerac (France) and surrounds several hundred years ago to avoid suppression and persecution because of their religious beliefs. They changed the name: Bossavy - Bossevin - Boissevain (and variations). Their deep rooted belief in fighting for justice, the urge for independence and the resistance to hardship lead to our family motto ‘Ni regret du passé, Ni peur de l’avenir’. This sound from the past lead in Holland to new developments, with a ‘Golden Era’ of prosperity, seafaring, shipbuilding, bankers lives and wealth with building of- and living in beautiful large canal side mansions in Amsterdam. Several families, like Boissevain, Van Hall, Den Tex, Van Lennep and Van Tienhoven ‘linked together’ as if they were one large family, with parties and weddings back and forth. But it didn't stay that way. In the early thirties of last century Hitler came to power and World War II followed. The convincing pressure of a refusal to accept the ‘Deutschland Über Alles’ was felt early and strongly in our family. More and more family members joined the Resistance in 1940 – 1945. Superhuman deeds were accomplished. Those who exposed themselves hour after hour, day after day, and endangered their own lives as well as others, and with the risk of betrayal at every deed, those I want to name and honour here. Three of them I will elaborate upon more deeply.
Auntie Mies (NP p 56) was already very active in 1933 – 1940 when she, together with her sister Hester Baračs - van Lennep, brought large groups of Jewish children from Germany into the Netherlands. She herself took in a boy into her family with five children: the later famous violinist Theo Olof. Her whole family put on a brave face against the Germans (with the abusive term ‘Moffen’). They lived in the Corelli straat 6 in Amsterdam. Later they became known under the name of the resistance group CS6, who brought Jewish children into safety, falsified documents and lots more. In their cellar they had hidden all sorts of destruction material, fuel and ammunition to attack the enemy, if the opportunity would present itself. They were obsessed with their illegal work, which got put to an abrupt end when they were betrayed. The two sons Janka and Gi were arrested and shot by firing-squad. Uncle Jan, aunt Mies and the other children were taken to different prisons. Annemie and Sylvia were released again soon after. My uncle Jan via Westerbork, ended up in the concentration camp Buchenwald, where he died. Son Frans survived the camps, but he was gravely ill on his return. Aunt Mies went through several camps, her health was in a very poor state, but she still had the optimism in her to be everyone's prop and stay: in her family and in the camps, where she got the nickname ‘mammie’. After the war, even though she had endured terrible hardship and her health was still rather poor, she overwhelmed her surroundings with energy and optimism. I remember how she once, roaring with laughter, told us how happy they were, when they got moved to another camp, that they were allowed to sleep on mattresses covered in cockroaches, rather than in barracks full of lice. After returning to the Netherlands, there was not much left and not much to get. She decided to cut from every piece of clothing that wasn't worn out yet, a small square or triangle and sew them together in a so called “party dress”. Away with the past, face the future. It was a success. With this party dress she decided to go to America and go on tour, delivering lectures about everything that was destroyed in the Netherlands and what had happened in the camps during the war. The “dress” became a symbol for the post-war reconstruction. A victory to all the sufferings. She traveled throughout America and, e.g. at meetings of women's groups, was loved and admired by all. In the Verzetsmuseum in Amsterdam an example of this national “partydress” is on display, also in memory of this incredible person.
Adrienne Minette (‘Mies’) Boissevain – van Lennep (NP p 56)
Robert Lucas Boissevain, father or uncle Bob as he was called, was born in 1895 and died in the Nazi-concentration camp Zwieberge (Halberstadt, Magdeburg) on the 12 th of April 1945 (NP p 74). He also needs a mention as a special personality. Just like Mies he also had the gift of looking at life from an optimistic point of view. He was a help and stay for many, including his own family. That became apparent mainly from information from the people that got to know him in the various camps. His great sense of humor, optimism and love for his fellow human beings has put its mark deep into our memories. Also in him there lived a deep rooted sense of justice for our being. He went against injustice. This played a main part in his life and was completely in being with the Huguenots. He had a convincing urge of not accepting injustice, like at the time during the ‘Deutschland über alles’, the persecution of the Jews and the confiscation of enterprises that were of value to the Reich. Through creeping involvements our family thus went into receivership in the thirties. The money fell into German hands.
In the first years of the War, we lived in Zandvoort in the ‘Duinhut’ opposite the beach and we saw many shot airplanes burn and disappear into the sea. Father often came home late and tired and straight away turned on the radio, Radio Orange. Often he looked grave and troubled. For some time he had already been involved in the secret business of illegal work. The big secrets in which he was involved, we were never able to trace. He was silent as the grave.
On a regular base huge sea mines washed up on the beach, which was an incredible danger to the local residents. We had to abandon our dearly loved home within just one day and saw with our own eyes how the SS-ers broke down the house to give the all clear. We moved from one house to the next. Four times in six months and finally we ended up in a large house in Haarlem where we stayed until after the War. The house belonged to a cousin who had fled to America.
In the spring of 1943 the persecution of the Jews became more and more threatening. One afternoon my mother (auntie Son) received a phone call from father: ‘get dinner organized, because I'm bringing three guests home.’ These dinner guests stayed for another 2 years and 2 months. A Russian Jewish couple with a 29 year old daughter Anja had fled via Finland and Germany to the Netherlands. They moved in with us in hiding. Later a Dutch dentist joined the group too who came to us in a roundabout way. These people argued a lot with and between each other. We could not understand their language.
In the summer of 1943, three months later, father said goodbye to us, he had to flee. We never saw him again. He was discovered anyway later, was arrested and spend ten months in solitary confinement in Scheveningen. Later he was moved to Vught, where he was supposedly looked after and got better. After a few months he was moved on to the concentration camps Buchenwald and Zwiebergen in Germany. His great optimism was in him, was part of who he was. He never gave up. On the 12 th of April 1945 the Allied Forces came to free the camp. ‘Come on’, they said, ‘we'll go and meet the Americans.” The emotion was enormous, was too much ….. April 12 th also happened to be his wedding day.
Last photo of Robert Lucas Boissevain (NP p 74), summer 1943.
The third person whom I would like to mention in this respect is Walrave (Wallie) van Hall (1906 – 1945). He too deserves a special mention. In February 2006 a book about him was published by Inmerc, written by Erik Schaap. As subtitle the author gave him the name ‘The Prime minister of the Resistance’. Incredible what he accomplished during the occupation! Together with his brother Gijs van Hall they were the big bankers in Amsterdam. They gave financial support to those who were involved in the “February strike’ and the ‘Railway strike’. That is how these strikes could come into being. These strikes involved some 30.000 people. They gave financial support to around 8.000 Jews and were the founders of many more organizations that rose against the German regime in the Netherlands. For example the Stichting ’40 – ’45. When Wallie attended one of the meetings, everybody was quiet and delighted with his presence. Historians like Lou de Jong and Geert Mak mark him as the man at the center, the spider in the web, of the illegal movements. Just before the end of the War he was betrayed by a fellow employee who had been arrested earlier. He was immediately sentenced to death and was shot by firing squad 2 days later. His last words were: ‘I think of you, loves of my life.’ This was meant for his wife Tilly and Attie, Aad and Mary, his children.
Hester Grinberg – Boissevain, Kiryat Tivon (Israël)
Walraven van Hall, depicted on the cover of the book.
Yad Vashem by Jerusalem (Israel): museum, remembrance- and documentation center about WWII. Hester Boissevain (NP p 74)'s family had been invited to plant four trees here (1980) and receive medals and documents in memory of the resistance fighters named in this article.
AN ADVENTUROUS WOMAN!
Impressed by the articles that she delivered for our Bulletins (not even everything could be placed in this issue!) the editors asked Hester Grinberg – Boissevain (NP p 74) if she was willing to put to paper how she came to be in her adopted country Israel. A fascinating and current account with pictures out of her own collection.
When I was about five years old, the question arose as it does for many: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ My three wishes were: queen, mother and nurse. And who am ‘I’: Hester, born on the 5 th of April 1934 and probably unknown to most of the Bulletin readers. I am the great-granddaughter of Charles Boissevain of the Algemeen Handelsblad. That will probably ring a bell with more people. My great-grandfather Charles was twinbrother to a girl Hester. About three generations later another one of those twins were born: Hester (yours truly) and Charles (Leidschendam, the Netherlands).
I wrote something about several members of our family who commanded so much respect during the resistance in WWII. In the 50s and 60s of last century the Netherlands experienced a period of post-war reconstruction. Life became that smooth routine of an orderly society. I was training to become a nurse and district nurse and felt that some of my energy could develop ‘somewhere’, where there wasn't so much order just yet. I approached the embassy of the very young State of Israel, which at that time had a huge influx of emigrants from all over the world. My trip for an unlimited time was organized and I was to go to work in a kibbutz (which is a collective settlement). Here were a few more Dutch people, who wanted to familiarize themselves with the country and the language.
First I went by train to Marseille and then onto the emigrant ship ‘Theodor Herzl’, further via Napels, to Haifa in Israel. This was five days at sea. The fresh sea air and the deep blue color of the water made my wish even stronger to contribute something to this country.
In the first kibbutz ‘Beit Ha Emek’ during the grape harvest, 1961.
21 st of June 1961 6pm. It was a scorching hot day at around 40 °C when I arrived. After leaving the ship the mass of people swarmed around in one of the barracks. I swarmed with them, what else can you do? It took a while but eventually I saw a man with a striking, large mustache. In his hand he held a piece of cardboard with my name on it. We drove north to where the kibbutz was. I was going to work in the grape harvest. How lucky, for only the year before I had picked grapes in Bourgogne (France) to learn something about this tough job. During the work, bottles of Beaujolais were passed around generously and we drank it like water. In the kibbutz we made early starts. At 5am already departing to the grapes, where I worked for three months. At the End-of Harvest-celebration I was promoted to ‘Queen of the grape harvest’.
In order to learn Hebrew, I had to go to a different kibbutz, where the new emigrants came together for the lessons. The largest group came from Rumania and then there were some more people from Canada, China and Morocco. This kibbutz had already been going for 30 years and was established by Poles, who saw it as their biggest ambition. They were not too friendly and we were accommodated on the outskirts of the kibbutz in wooden barracks behind a barbed wire fence. It was a 10 minute walk to the ablution block and the dining hall. In this barrack my bed was also my chair and my suitcase my table. I slept on a Staphorster blanket and one morning I woke up staring into the face of a cute little mouse!
Behind barbed wire in the second kibbutz ‘Ein Shemer’ to learn Hebrew, 1961-‘62.
Most of the emigrants left the kibbutz before the end of the course. They went back to their country of origin or to Tel Aviv. I was nearly the only one left and became responsible for of the cleaning of the showers and toilets in the ablution block. I did this together with some Dutch people who's parents had died in the concentration camps in Germany. The acoustic was good there so we sang Dutch songs at the top of our voices like ‘Waar de blanke top der duinen schittert in de zonnegloed’. This to the immense pleasure of the people who walked past. Apart from this there was also work picking tomatoes and working in the communal dining hall. One day I was summoned to go and see the manager of the kibbutz. They asked if I would like to work as their representative in another kibbutz as a nurse. That kibbutz was situated only 500 meters from the Jordanian border, without a barbed wire fence and not a soul in site. They couldn't have made me a better offer. My wish came true and I came to a wooden barrack which contained war material (in case something would happen) as well as medicine, all thrown together in a cardboard box. For me the challenge was to turn this barrack into a small clinic. 1 hour per week a real doctor came, the rest of the week I had to sort things out myself. A dentist too came1 day a week and we even got a beautician!
At these remote spots it was only natural to organize the supply of medicines. Pharmacies were extremely scarce in those days. I was also in charge of the instruments and of sterilizing them. Every day I held office hours from 1 pm, but sometimes that overran its time until 3am. In the Wilhelmina Gasthuis in Amsterdam I had done a course on ante-natal care and I applied that to the mothers-to-be in the kibbutz. This gained a lot of respect from the hospital in which they delivered their babies and the mothers became examples.
The people in this kibbutz were partly Israelis and partly French, each with their own cultural and idealistic views. This was the cause of many conflicts. I could understand their points of views from both sides and could help them thanks to my European background. That gave a lot of satisfaction. Not far from here there was a settlement – not a kibbutz – and there too they needed a nurse. I got a bicycle and therefore could reach them easily. They were mainly Turkish emigrants and the situation was virtually the same as described above. A mess. Our profession gives us many opportunities and I decided to make time to go to work in the hospital which was 15 kilometers away. It ended up being about 16 hours per day, but I never grew tired of it. My salary by the way went to the kibbutz.
In the third kibbutz ‘Ha Horsim’ as nurse on the bike on the way to surrounding settlements, 1962-’64.
On Saturdays no cars or buses were aloud to be on the road. On the ‘sabbat’ (that is the weekly holy restday of the Israelis: Saturday) I was picked up by ambulance and one day it happened that we were pelted with stones on arrival. That was revenge for driving on the sabbat and the driver was injured during the incident. The patients in the section that required most of our attention, were all orthodox. It was the anticlimax for driving on the sabbat.
The Dutch magazine for Nursing has often helped me with my responsibilities for so many people and children with their range of complaints. One day during lunch break one of the kibbutz members came to see me. That morning he had been spraying cotton sheets with the deadly poison Parathéon. He didn't feel very well. In my barrack a had an overview of symptoms and treatments. Through my Dutch magazine I started him off on atropine-injections and transported him immediately to the hospital in Tel Aviv. His situation became visibly worse, but he managed to survive. Lucky for both of us.
Another story that probably nobody else can tell, is that one day the people who worked in the cowshed asked me if I could help them take the cows' temperature as they had an outbreak of some disease. It was a disaster! Armed with thermometers, which I had in stock, I went on my way. Taking a cow's temerature is not the same as a baby's. One thermometer after another disappeared in the large cow's body. You have to be strong for that job, it is surprising how strong a cow's tail is.
A chat and distributing medicine during office hours, 1962-’64.
The day arrived when I had to make a decision whether or not to become a member of the kibbutz. That is to say that the Board of the Kibbutz (management or everybody together) would make a decision with which I would have to comply. Even though ‘unfortunate’, I chose not to accept and ended up in a newly developed emigrant township. It had a hospital. The six day war broke out in June 1967 and I had to suddenly and immediately leave my three month old son Gilad in the care of neighbors in an air raid shelter. We were only ten kilometers from the Egyptian border. It was a bitter war and the injured came to our hospital in great numbers. I worked in Admission. These were difficult years for Israel.
The township of Askelon is beautifully situated close to the sea with the Old Guard people being from Yemenite descent. They lived in new quarters from and for emigrants from Africa. The group from South-Africa however didn't want to have anything to do with their North-African neighbors. There was -as it were- a mental barrier, no co-operation and no solidarity. I decided then to leave this sandy town with emigrants from Lybia, who lived with some 10-14 children and a donkey in tiny dwellings. For them this way of living was completely normal. I was attracted to the North of Israel: more green and more rocks. After the birth of my daughter Lilith we moved to Tivon, a green place between Haifa and Nazareth. I went to work in this Arabic town and ended up wit half the town and surrounding villages under my command. This was outside work and usually I went with some of the local nurses who knew the way and the language on house visits. One of those visits I remember well. Somewhere far away over the hills a baby had been born. We had announced our visit. It was a windy and icy cold day. We were received with pride and joy by mothers, in-laws and aunties. A great honor for us! They had prepared themselves well with a table full of sweets and coffee. The newborn baby however lay in a small cot with a burning petroleum heater! A bit further on in a village close to lake Tiberias I went to visit a school. Together with the principal we got to a classroom full of children, 10 cms from the road, where the rain was pouring in. The classroom had no heating, no windows, the door to outside was the only source of light and air and the children were bare foot. Later on a new school was built there with help from the Lottery Commission.
In the last round of my career I worked another 20 or so years in a place where there was also a lot of tidying up to do. Many extra hours organizing meetings and giving talks – together with the local doctor – hospice and care of the chronically ill. There too I found all medicine outside the medicine cabinet in a cardboard box. Still the healthcare left it to us to specialize in obtaining and distributing all medicine.
The child- and babycenter, where the children remained day and night, 1962-’64.
The preventative work still has a lot to offer. The attraction of our profession lies in being part of and empathizing with what people think and feel. Together with the mayor of Tivon, where I still live, and a doctor from the district hospital we started on a voluntary base, with the early detection of breast cancer. This extra work had a philosophical motive for me: ‘When you do something, it gives you satisfaction. If you don't, you've got nothing.’ We also have, with help of the National Insurance, started a café-restaurant run by the disabled. They have a specific function and get some pocket money. From throughout the whole country people come here to acquaint themselves with this idea.
It is pretty special to live here in the Middle East, in the heart of an Arabic world and right in the middle and butt of our world events. Hopefully evolution will take place, that will guide us to better times. Every day I see the sun come up and go down again and experience the glow which radiates from it, warming our hearts. And that warmth is something that our lives in this world desperately need!
Hester Grinberg - Boissevain, Kiryat Tivon (Israël)
FOUR WOMEN AND UNCLE ERNST
When you look at page 109 of the Nederland’s Patriciaat (sometimes called ‘the Blue Book') of 1988, what intrigues right away is the biography of Ernest William Boissevain (NP p 109). Money, four women, high society and a country manor. That life (1898 – 1984) has been special enough to write down on paper. Author Ernst Boissevain (NP p 111) is probably one of the last persons in our family who would still have known this name sake. Et voilá, his account and pictures out of his own collection.
I will take you back to the beginning of the last century. The table is set in the large house in Trompenburgerweg in Hilversum (the Netherlands) that once belonged to my grandfather. His twelve children are already in the dining room: the children from his first marriage and the oldest son and daughter of his second marriage are already seated. The other four are eating standing at the table. A brother-in-law to be and two nannies complement the party. Then the door opens and my grandfather and his wife make their entree. He is seated, reads a passage from the Bible and they pray. Then the large soup tureen is brought in. When too much steam rises up from it, grandfather empties a large jug of water into it. At the far end of the table stands the youngest son. This story is about him.
He is a nice lad. He will have many friends and even more girlfriends. He goes to work for an American trust company in Paris where he meets an American woman who becomes my aunt Billy in 1927. When they visit us, a beautiful car pulls up and we are allowed to come for a ride! Unfortunately the ride ends prematurely 500 meters down the road against a tree. Something like that has a lasting impression on a small boy like me. That also goes for auntie Billy's kisses, who's bright red remainders where immediately whipped off by my father at the nearest fountain.
After the stock crash in 1929 the couple went to live in London, and their visits became less and less. The next contact that I remember clearly, took place in 1939. I am with my parents somewhere on the west coast of France when unexpectedly uncle Ernst walks in the door. Unexpectedly also because he has a new lady with him: Dorothy. He has big plans with her. We return to the Netherlands, the war breaks out (September 1939) and suddenly uncle Ernst again stands before us. With Dorothy. The traffic between France and England has stalled, so they come and stay with us. But that is not on. My father is not prepared to house them until uncle Ernst phones his wife Billy and explains his situation. He reluctantly does so. At the top of the stairways stands a 14 year old boy listening in with red ears.
After several days the pair disappears to London. Billy is uncooperative, orders meals at expensive restaurants and is angry. Finally a telegram arrives: ‘Am on my way to Cuba with Dorothy. Send money immediately. Ernest.’ It is the 9 th of May 1940.
Not until five years later we hear how this story ended. Aunt Billy took the next boat to Cuba and there they divorced. Uncle Ernst and Dorothy had some good years, but unfortunately she got a severe illness and they spend her last years in Canada where she died. Dorothy painted and uncle Ernst had learnt that of her. Back in New York he painted portraits of members of New York's high society and he thus managed to make a living. He also opened an art gallery there, as far as I know under our old name Bouissavy. And he marries a young student, a marriage that lasts four years.
But then comes the big finale. Her name is Jean Tennyson. She had finished a thriving career as an opera singer, she had also sung in Europe in the Salzburger Festspiele and in many capitals and married a captain of industry who left her a fortune. She reluctantly went to a party where uncle Ernst, also reluctantly had gone to as well. They hit it off and for 25 years their marriage was a big feast. They bought an old run down castle of the Antinori family South of Florence. It was renovated extremely well, partly in the original renaissance style. The ballroom was refurbished for concerts and many famous musicians performed there. Arthur Rubinstein was a very dear friend of the family.
Ernest William Boissevain at his castle in Italy.
We drove up past the porter's lodge, between the rows of cypresses left and right. Above through an archway, a brief but hearty welcome and soon we were splashing away between the golden water fountains in the bathroom. In our guestroom hung an elite selection of paintings, museum pieces. Behind the walls of most of the rooms was a system of corridors for personnel, who could thus pick up our clothes and return them within a few hours after having been washed and ironed, without being seen.
Uncle Ernst gave us the grand tour. This started in the basement where around twenty of the lower staff - gardeners and caretakers of the vineyard among others - have their meals. Two steps above this was a table for Elisabeth, since forever auntie Jean's lady's-maid. Down below was also the kitchen. There was a phantastic cook, who baked a cake for every single meal. Our host and hostess tended to eat a miniscule piece of these cakes, the rest went to the staff. Or so they thought. After a while uncle Ernst discovered that that was not quite the case. It appeared that the cook had bought a shop in Florence where he - you guessed it - sold slices of cake! Uncle Ernst flew into a rage which made the castle shake on its foundations. The cook looked bewildered and auntie Jean had rarely had such a good laugh.
Aerial view of Villa Antinori delle Rose south of Florence (Italy).
Just for something different, they also had a few possessions. On Ischia island they owned a large piece of land with on it a residential area, a house for all the staff, a captain's cabin for uncle Ernst and a large studio for aunt Jean. She modelled there and among other things, on assignment of the United States, she made a bust of Golda Meir. There was a beautiful swimming pool which was enjoyed by Herbert von Karajan with his girlfriend, without bathing suits, which made uncle Ernst raise his eyebrows.
Jean Tennyson in her period of glory.
Beside all that, they also had a house in Vermont (USA), an apartment on Avenue George V in Paris and a seaworthy yacht. The latter was moored in Monaco, but was seldom used.
And finally a little anecdote. When Polaroid introduced its camera with instant developed photos for the wider public, uncle Ernst decided to give one to auntie Jean for her birthday. At the end of that day he said that he would like to take a closer look at the camera and took it with him to his captain's cabin. The camera never came back. Six months later it was uncle Ernst's birthday, auntie Jean sneaked into the cabin, took the camera, wrapped it up beautifully with nice paper and a bow. ‘Here: a present for you.’ Uncle Ernst, unabashed, wrapped up the camera again six months later and again gifted it back. This remained a standing joke for another year or so.
In 1982 it was time to slow down a little. They bought a flat at lake Geneva and their Italian possessions were sold and auctioned off, thus also the yacht. Even before the flat was fully equipped, uncle Ernst died in 1984. Jean died in 1991.
Ernst Gulian Boissevain, Apeldoorn (the Netherlands)