Even as a child, Annie, a girl from Rotterdam, had music running through her veins. She was always singing. In the thirties she sang wit The Ramblers, conducted by Theo Uden Masman, the beginning of her glorious career. During the war, she kept on singing, there was still a need for music. Often with mocking Dutch lyrics, without the Germans seeing through it.
“Then came that fatal May 10th, the outbreak of WWII. Walraven [Annie’s husband] was conscripted and had to leave for the so-called Waterlinie [Water line]. There I was again on my own. But luckily with a family of nice people.”
Bombardment of Rotterdam
“We heard that Rotterdam had been bombed. To me, everything was ruined. What had happened to my family? The strangling fear one feels, and for days, it was awful! German soldiers came searching all the houses looking for men with firearms. I will never forget how terrifying they looked with their helmets and rifles at the ready. Finally, after a week, I received a letter from my father through the Red Cross, telling me that they were doing fine and that the house had been spared. Thank God!
Father thought it would be better if I came to Rotterdam, but that was easier written than done. After much talking and searching I found some people who also wanted to go to Rotterdam. We found someone prepared to take us to Rotterdam by car for a stiff price. After a desperate drive we finally arrived at the Maasbruggen [Maasbridges] and there I stood crying for a while. Terrible! The city was shattered, everything was shattered. The remnants were still smouldering and there was this horrible smell. The end of Rotterdam. What I felt at that moment, I can’t describe.”
Dancing school Maison de Klerk closes in 1940
“I changed jobs and started to sew dresses in an atelier in the Beatrijsstraat for two and a half guilders a dress. One afternoon a man visited me there, who introduced himself as Jan Pijpers, leader of The Rhythm Stars. His regular pianist and singer, Annie van ‘t Zelfde, had fallen ill and couldn’t perform with the band. He asked if I could replace her. Well, of course I didn’t say no to that. We also perfomed at Maison de Klerk, under the Hofplein overpass. It was then (and still is) a famous dancing school. But because the Germans weren’t allowed in, under the pretence of it being a private club, by the summer of 1940, the fun was over. The door was closed.”
Mocking Dutch texts
“After that we played at l’Ambassadeur, a place that had just been opened at the Rochussenstraat. The dance hall was a replacement for the entertainment that had disappeared from the centre of Rotterdam after the bombardment. Being allowed to play there was wonderful… To us, the best thing was performing English songs with self-made, mocking Dutch lyrics aimed at the occupier. But the Huns of course never noticed a thing. No wonder they lost the war.
After having worked for the Van Ecks, the management of the l’Ambassadeur, for a few months, we lost connection. That’s how you call it in the trade when you get tired with each other, right? So I went solo, because Walraven had grown used to having a few extra pennies in his pocket. I got in touch with the Ibelings agency in The Hague, who were then very well known. Ibelings came to listen to me and I was given a contract for a month at the Palermo, at Scheveningen… Through Ibelings I then started performing in Amsterdam, again for a month, and there Kits came to watch me. Everyone called him that. He hired me for two weeks on trial in his lub Corrida in The Hague. Afterwards, that turned into six months.
Walraven and the NSB
“Around that time, I found out that Walraven had become a member of the NSB [Dutch national socialist]. One day a man stood at my door, smartly dressed in a suit, who asked me if I could look after his three year old daughter. His wife had tuberculosis. Walraven had said that I wouldn’t mind taking het in for a few weeks. So I did. I went for walks with her, I made clothes for her, we had fun. She was an adorable child. Sometimes we visited het mother to help her. One day, a man in an NSB-suit rang the door bell /at the door. It turned out to be the father. What was that all about? “Yes,” he said, “I am a member of the NSB.” I said, “Well, you’ll have to leave then, if my husband sees you like that…!” I wasn’t even allowed to finish my sentence. “Yes, but your husband is also a member/has joined the NSB.” “What are you saying…? Sorry, but I don’t want to have anything to do with this. I like your child but would you please take her with you.”
“We were still at war, and I decided to sing again, in spite of Zwolsman’s prohibition. Sometimes I had a gig with Cees Schouten and his band and later on also with Boyd Bachman, together with Thom Kelling. I will never forget the time when Thom and I met at Boyd’s before some show. Big sacks of potatoes were standing in the hallway. They were just having a meal from a parcel from Denmark: bread, butter, sausage. My mouth watered. But we weren’t given a single bite, even though we were green with hunger. I have always said: Our Lord punishes at once. Actually, that same afternoon in 1944. During our show the hall was emptied by the Germans. Various musicians were also forced to go with them."
"That same week I received a letter telling me that I had to join the Kultuurkamer ["Dutch Chambre of Culture"], because otherwise I wouldn’t be allowed to perform any longer. So: the end of singing. Joining the Kultuurkamer: never! But I had to eat, so I had to go back on my decision. For two months I was a member of the Kultuurkamer.
In the summer of 1944 English pilots made a strategic mistake and bombed almost the entire Bezuidenhout area in The Hague. With my marriage certificate, my cur Boefie and half a loaf of bread (very valuable in those days) I ran out of the door of my house towards the Schenkkade. That was an open space in the direction of Voorburg, where it was normally relatively safe. Nevertheless, the bombs were screeching around me. How long I walked, I don’t know. One way or another I managed to reach Walraven at the Regentesseplein… shattered by fear I didn’t want to return to our old house. We found a furnished space at the Buijs Ballotstraat. Walraven collected our things with a cart. After we had lived there for a while, his parents were coming to visit. They lived in Wolfheze. My mother-in-law had a yellow star sewn onto on her coat. She had to, she was jewish."
“It was the hunger winter, late 1944, early 1945, and we were starving. Everyone tried to exchange things to get some food, me too. I had a black sweater which I had knitted from bits of wool. Those bits I had been scrounging everywhere, it was a cacophony of colors. When the sweater was finished it looked like a patchwork quilt. In order to make it uniform, I dyed it black. You couldn’t see the colors any longer. Together with a friend, who also lived in the Buys Ballotstraat, I went on a food hunt. We took some towels and sheets to swap. First we travelled to Rotterdam and from there to the country to scrounge food off the farmers.
While we were on our way, the train of my parents in law was shot at near Voorburg. Thankfully they had a lucky escape. After having picked them up, I took them to our house, where they stayed. It was by then January 1945 and the famine was at its worst. The menu for each day was sugar beets, which we had to cook on a small emergency stove. We burned everything to keep the fire going, even two of our chairs."
“My sister Toos came to The Hague every once in a while for a visit, on a bike with wooden tires. My father had managed to get his hands on some meat or other food and Toos came to bring us some of it. By the end of April there were more and more rumors that the liberation was at hand. It was dangerous, because people out of their senses, would immediately start doing the weirdest thing, like burning German flags. But finally it happened: May 5th 1945. there was joy everywhere, also at my house. On the streets there were Canadian liberators who were handing out al kinds of things: cigarettes, chocolate, you name it.”
Divorce from Walraven
“I caught Walraven, who was always away and always came home late, in the hallway with some girl. I wanted to get away/leave, because now, he was half jewish, I no longer needed to protect him against the Germans. Walraven even asked me if I wanted to sleep with Canadians in exchange for cigarettes. I asked him if he’d gone crazy!”
‘Mijn Jiddische mama’
“Cees Schouten, the pianist, one day asked me to sing with his trio, with singer Wim van de Beek and the Russian violinist Jascha Trabski. I immediately agreed to it and after that we worked together nicely. A drink in this place in Voorburg cost ten guilders back then. Even though the Netherlands had been liberated for some time, there were still extortionate prices. That bar keeper must have turned very rich out of it.”
At this bar, there were also people who had survived the holocaust. For example a mister Meijer. I was always singing amongst the people there, because there was no stereo set. And this Meijer said to me: “If you can sing my favourite song, Mijn Jiddische mama ["My Yiddish mama"] for me tomorrow, I will give you a ‘meier’, a hundred guilders. My name is Meijer, and you will get a meier.” I didn’t know the text of the song, although I did know the music, so at first I didn’t think it such a good idea. But the boys did. Cees said he would arrange the text, which he did. The next day Meijer was sitting at the bar, and I asked him if he still wanted to hear the song. He said he did, and he told me to pay attention to how he would react, how he would cry. So I started singing, and, apart from looking at the man, I also had to look at the piece of paper on the bar with the text. And then he started to cry…”
After the war
Soon after the war Annie married Jack Philips. Her career takes an enormous flight; in the forties and fifties she is one of the most popular singers in the Netherlands, with many big hits. She sings among others with the Skymasters (until the early fifties). From the late sixties she also works as a talent scout in the Netherlands and as a producer. She discovers amongst others the Dutch stars Pierre Kartner, Ben Cramer and the Kermisklanten. In 2007, on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday, her biography was published. She still performs.
Source quotations and illustrations: Onverbloemd, 90 jaar Annie de Reuver [“Outspoken: Ninety Years Annie de Reuver"], Rein Wolters; Gruppo Creativo, 2007