Hans van Leeuwen (1911-2010), Giving Everything for the Musicians in the Orchestra

When Hans van Leeuwen was appointed as administrator of the Arnhemsche Orkest Vereeniging [AOV, “Arnhem Orchestral Society”] in January 1942, the orchestra’s board had just resigned following an escalating conflict with the Departement van Volksvoorlichting en Kunsten [“Department of Public Information and the Arts”]. Consequently, it was up to Hans as administrator to lead the orchestra single-handedly through the war. 

Hans van Leeuwen, 2009
Hans van Leeuwen, 2009
“I had only held the job a short time when one of the members of the orchestra was picked up and deported to the concentration camp in Amersfoort. He was suspected of being a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a panic, I telephoned Eduard Flipse, the conductor of the orchestra in Rotterdam who also had a player who had been imprisoned. We went to Amersfoort together to see if we could get them released. Finally, we were advised to go and speak to Bergfeld, the highest ‘culture man’ on the Rijkscommissariaat [‘Reich Commission’]. As a result, both men were freed.”

The Orchestras During the War
The position of Dutch symphony orchestras underwent great change during the war. At that time, there were eight professional orchestras in the Netherlands. In the 1930s, all of them received government subsidies (albeit usually of modest size) from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Arts, and Sciences. After the occupation, the arts sector was entrusted to the new Departement van Volksvoorlichting en Kunsten ["DVK, Department of Public Information and the Arts”] run entirely by Dutch Nazis. The Music Division was overseen by Jan Goverts. The DVK itself was under the supervision of the Rijkscommissariaat. As in Germany, music became a state affair, and the eight orchestras essentially became state orchestras. Because working conditions were much better for orchestral musicians in Germany, government subsidies for musicians’ salaries also skyrocketed in the Netherlands. In exchange, however, the State now imposed a litany of do’s and don’ts on the orchestras.

“I tried to keep things running while maintaining as much independence as I could, all the while ensuring that the subsidies wouldn’t be jeopardized,” says Hans. “Public interest was enormous during the war years. Our concerts were sold out. People had many worries, and music offered them a brief escape from all the war propaganda. This was an important point to consider: We couldn’t let our audiences down. We received countless letters and expressions of gratitude.”

Government Measures
Only a couple of months after the occupation, the Germans banned Jewish, English, and Polish music, as well as the other kinds of so-called entartete Musik [“degenerate music”]. In 1941, music by Russian and American composers was also banned, and French music was tolerated in moderation. Jews were dismissed from the symphony orchestras in May 1941 - fifty-seven musicians in all (seven of whom were members of the AOV), accounting for over eleven per cent of the total number of musicians employed by professional Dutch orchestras. Jews were also banned from attending concerts, except for those given by the Joodsch Symphonie-Orkest [“Jewish Symphony Orchestra”]. At the end of 1941, the Kultuurkamer ["Dutch Chambre of Culture"] regulations came into effect: All cultuurwerkers [“cultural employees”] had to join the Kultuurkamer if they wished to continue practicing their profession. Orchestral musicians were signed up collectively through their orchestras. Jews were denied membership to the Kultuurkamer. In exchange for the dramatic rise in subsidies, the DVK also required that at least thirty per cent of the music on concert programs be Dutch and that the orchestras collaborate on “special concerts” for causes like Winterhulp (the Dutch counterpart to Winterhilfswerk in Germany, an annual drive by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt [“National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization”]) to help finance charitable work) and Frontzorg (which organized performances with proceeds going to the volunteers on the Eastern Front).

“Eventually, our building - Musis Sacrum - was commandeered at the DVK’s discretion. A German corporal advised me to go directly to the Ortskommandant [‘town commander’] in Stationsweg, and that’s exactly what I did. He was a musician who had subscribed to the series. Eventually, our building was restored to us, but the DVK was furious that I had gone outside my jurisdiction.

“The biggest problem we had was when we were forced to take part in some event organized by the Niederrheinisches Landes Theater in Arnhem. We resisted to the bitter end, and ultimately the Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Willem van Otterloo, took our place. I also refused to go on a tour of the Ruhr. At that point, the people at the DVK certainly would have preferred that I left. But my dismissal would have meant that the entire orchestra would have been out on the streets and sent to Germany to fill vacancies in the orchestras there. And they didn’t want that at the DVK.”

Relationship with the Orchestra
“The members of the orchestra had implicit faith in me. The old board had always been very high-handed with them, and there was hardly any active cooperation between them. Ties between the members themselves were particularly good, though. Actually, it was the most captivating orchestra I’ve ever felt that kind of solidarity with. The conductor, Jaap Spaanderman, was a typical pedagogue with tremendous discipline. He kept a certain distance, but the atmosphere was warm and familiar. I had close contact with the concertmaster, Herman Krebbers, who was then a very young man. Krebbers was worshipped by the orchestra; they looked up to him.”

Arnhem in the Firing Line
“When the English came in September 1944, we were forced to evacuate. It was terrible. I went with Spaanderman to his summer cottage in Vierhouten. Later, I went to talk to the Department of Finance, which had an annex in Destruction after the bombardment of Arnhem
Destruction after the bombardment of Arnhem
Schalkhaar, to get an advance on the AOV subsidies. Ties with the members of the orchestra had to be strengthened, as well as their trust and confidence in continuing after the war. Every few weeks or so, I would go to Schalkhaar to pick up the money. From the Red Cross, I got the addresses of the musicians who had been evacuated. My wife kept the books. We would put the money in envelopes, which I would then distribute all over the country.”

The Final Months of the War
“I did that up until March. Looking back now, I can’t believe I cycled all that distance. I was stopped a couple of times. You weren’t allowed to just be somewhere for no reason. But I had an Ausweis [identity card] that bore the word Waldarbeiter [woodsman], a card I had managed to get for myself. Later, I went to Apeldoorn, where the former town clerk of Arnhem was. I talked to him about what should happen to the orchestra after the liberation. Arnhem had become unlivable. I wanted to try to make my way south and get in touch with our orchestral societies in Nijmegen and ’s-Hertogenbosch in the hope of being able to start there temporarily. Immediately after the liberation, I did have meetings in Brabant, but the rebuilding of Arnhem took place much more quickly than expected. So it didn’t make sense to proceed with the Brabant plan.”

After the War
After the war, Hans continued to work  for the AOV for several more years. From 1947 to 1959 he worked with the Concertgebouw orchestra as director's assistant and orchestra inspector. He spent the next 25 years working as director of the Utrechts Symfonic Orchestra. In part for his services during the war, he was knighted in the Order of Oranje Nassau in 1973.

Author: Pauline Micheels