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Explosion Hazard! Homosexuals in the Resistance

by our Editors in Theatre, Art & Expo , 05 april 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
Length: 4 minutes

On July 1, 1943, an announcement of the Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer appeared in the Dutch newspapers: “12 death sentences have been executed due to an explosive attack on the Municipal Register in Amsterdam. The leadership of this terrorist gang was closely connected to artists’ and student circles. Five perpetrators had Jewish blood. Two of the main perpetrators were homosexual.”

The homosexuals executed that day were visual artist and writer Willem Arondéus, in charge of the spectacular resistance campaign, and couturier Sjoerd Bakker, who had sewn the police uniforms the perpetrators wore to be able to enter the Register. The latter cannot be labelled “main” perpetrator, but the message of the SS was clear: the perpetrators were perverted people.
The attack took place seventy-five years ago. On Saturday evening, March 27, 1943, a group of artists and students dressed as police officers, entered the Municipal Register - now restaurant De Plantage at Plantage Kerklaan. They overpowered and stunned the guards and tied them up, dropping them at a safe distance in Artis Zoo. Inside, the cards with personal information were removed from the filing cabinets and explosives were put in place. Two hours later they left the building. On the door, they put up a sign reading EXPLOSION HAZARD!- followed by loud bangs sometime later. A blazing fire turned the sky red. The personal information being used by the Germans to trace Jews, members of the resistance, and forced labourers went up in flames.
This exhibition at the Dutch Resistance Museum zooms in on the six artists who planned this resistance campaign. In addition to Willem Arondéus, who was in charge of the execution of the attack, Frieda Belinfante was also homosexual.  

Arondéus was a self-doubting man who worried about his artistry and homosexuality. Belinfante on the other hand was an extremely self-confident woman. Both were open about their homosexuality, which was not customary at the time. Belinfante was a cellist and a conductor, and from 1938 had headed her own orchestra, which was also very unusual for a woman. All six plotters had in common that they were outsiders. They met in artists’ society De Kring at Leidseplein and joined forces in early 1942 as they refused to become members of the “Kultuurkamer.”

The exhibition shows how they gradually became involved in the resistance; how the attack was prepared and executed, and what the fatal consequences were. The visitors walk through a life-size backdrop of - partly animated, and thus moving - comic drawings. In an audio tour with three-dimensional sound - a relatively new technique in museums - Eric Corton tells the story and the six artists speak. Visitors are invited to consider the thought processes the group faces, about their moral dilemmas and gaining insight into practical problems.
“Two of the main perpetrators were homosexual.” This is how the Nazis “framed” those responsible for the attack. Homosexuals did not fit the ideal image of the strong Germanic male. The traditional family was the norm. Women were only seen as housewife and mother. Even though the Nazis took these notions even further, at the time these ideas were quite normal in Europe. Without permission from their husbands, married women were not allowed to work until 1957, for example. And up to approximately 1970, homosexuality was a punishable offence in some cases.

Willem Arondéueús In his death cell Willem Arondéueús made an appeal “to tell the world that homosexuals are not weak people.” That appeal was addressed to society as a whole.

It is often thought that homosexuals, like the Jews, were taken to the concentration camps. It was not that bad, but nonetheless, legislation against homosexuality was tightened. From July 1940 convicted homosexuals who had seduced more than one partner were sent to a concentration camp in Germany. Ten to fifteen thousand homosexual men in total were reported to have been sent to a concentration camp where they usually wore a pink triangle.

In the Netherlands, the legislation was also tightened during the occupation, but the number of arrests - carried out by the Dutch police - dropped to a few dozen a year. There are no known cases of Dutch homosexuals in concentration camps because of their homosexuality.

Did Willem Arondéus’ appeal have any effect? Certainly not immediately. In the first years after the war, more Dutch homosexuals were sentenced to prison than ever. 1949 was the peak year with 235 convictions. The exhibition shows that after the war, Gerrit van der Veen is honoured as a great hero, while Arondéus’ efforts are hardly recognised. The major Dutch historian writing about The Netherlands during the war, Loe de Jong, in 1975 gave Arondéus all credits due as leader of the attack. However, he did not mention Frieda Belinfante once. This is remarkable, as she played an important role in the preparations for the attack.
Arondéus and Belinfante received little attention and appreciation until long after the war. That is now put right by this fantastic exhibition in the Dutch Resistance Museum.

 The show opened on March 28 and can be visited until November 25, 2018.
Verzetsmuseum, Plantage Kerklaan 61A, 1018 CX Amsterdam.
Open: Monday to Friday, 10.00-17.00; Saturday, Sunday, and holidays, 11.00-17.00,




In the New Issue of Gay News, 335, July 2019

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