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MMD > Archives > October 1999 > 1999.10.07 > 01Prev  Next

Dutch Street Organs in World War Two
By Tom Meijer

In the item "Het Snotneusje, Bravest Organ of the Netherlands"
(99.10.04 MMD) Hans van Oost recalled a grim reminder of the days of
the German Occupation of The Netherlands.

Referring to this article, I got two reactions from MMD-readers who
wondered what fallout the Occupation had for the automatic musical
instruments then located in The Netherlands.  For example, did people
have to chop up these instruments just for firewood in those perilous
times?  Did restaurant and tavern owners dare to play them?  Or, as one
reader understood from Hans van Oost's episode, did the people continue
to play these instruments in defiance of the occupying forces?

Here is a bit of history about the Dutch organs in the 1940-1945
period.  For sure most instruments survived the war.  Some were
destroyed by bombardments (especially in Rotterdam, in 1940) or damaged
by grenades.  The Utrecht National Museum still preserves books of the
39er Ruth organ of the Hommerson Brothers -- now the "Double Ruth" --
with large holes in the cardboard, caused by splinters of a shell.
Also the "Kunkelsorgel" still had some damage when it was bought by
the Haarlem Foundation in 1958.

I have never heard that people chopped up their instruments for
firewood, but I know that during the famine ("de hongerwinter" of
1944), many cardboard organ books were used to keep the stoves and
cookers burning.  The organ-builder, Mr. Gijs Perlee from Amsterdam,
once told me that nearly all his old Limonaire and Gasparini books from
the 1910-1920 period disappeared in the fireplace.  Also several dance
organ owners had to burn their complete repertoire.  What else could
they do, for lack of something better?

The war started in Holland on 10 May 1940; it only lasted five days,
until the capitulation on 14 May 1940.  In the beginning of the
occupation the organs could still play on the streets, but by a law of
5 June 1940 it was prohibited to play "provocative" music.  Although
musicians were not allowed to play English or American tunes, some
street organs continued to play this music.

The Germans did not listen to street organs -- they considered organ
grinding as begging.  It is known that Mr. Jac. Minning in Rotterdam
played on his organ regularly the Dutch national anthems, "Wilhelmus"
and "Wien Neerlands Bloed", as an act of resistance.  Another organ
grinder, Willem Roodbol -- later on he became the owner of the famous
organ "De Lekkerkerker" -- was caught more than once playing books with
Dutch patriotic songs.  On 6 March 1941 he lost his licenses to play
his organ.

On 11 September 1942 the Germans banned all the street music, simply
because they found that people had to do useful work.  Organ grinding
was no useful work, in their opinion, and one who had no job could be
transported to Germany.  In consequence of this prohibition some hirers
of street organs sold all their instruments.  Other owners -- among
them Gijs Perlee and Henk Moehlmann of Amsterdam -- hoped for an early
termination of the war.  The organs were stored, waiting for better
times to come.

As soon as the liberation was announced, on 5 May 1945, many organs
left their shelters and were present at the festivities.  It was at
just such a celebration that the shooting, which was so accurately
described by Hans van Oost, took place.

Musical regards from Holland,

Tom Meijer

(Message sent Thu 7 Oct 1999, 13:19:36 GMT, from time zone GMT+0100.)

Key Words in Subject:  Dutch, Organs, Street, Two, War, World

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