One of the most successful literary publishers in the Netherlands of the 20th and 21st centuries is De Bezige Bij (âThe Busy Beeâ). Currently, it has almost 600 authors on its list, among them many big international names, together good for 1344 titles by my count.
De Bezige Bij started during the Second World War as a clandestine publishing house, of which there were a great many. Not so many, though, continued after the war, or were as successful as De Bezige Bij. It was among the most outstanding publishing ventures during the war, both in terms of content and of appearance.
It all started with saving Jewish children from the Nazis. When the deportations started and Jewish citizens of Amsterdam had to assemble at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, some women managed to get children out of the building and into the adjacent school for teachers. Soon the group grew and established sub-groups elsewhere, for instance in Utrecht. This so-called âChildrenâs Fundâ needed large sums of money. That money came in part from the Utrecht Student Corps (USC), of which Geert Lubberhuizen was a member. He became involved in the Childrenâs Fund to such an extent that he was nicknamed âThe Busy Beeâ.
One of the women founders, Anne Maclaine Pont, gave him a typed copy of âDe Achttien Doodenâ (âThe Eighteen Deadâ), the most famous illegal poem produced in the occupied Netherlands. Written by Jan Campert, the poem is a homage to the eighteen men who were executed following the âFebruary Strikeâ, a general strike in protest against the persecution of Jews, led by dock workers in Amsterdam on 24 February 1941. They were the first Dutch men to be executed for alleged anti-German acts.
The poem was circulated in manuscript or typescript. A total of 15,000 copies were produced during the war, not all by De Bezige Bij. However, it was Geert Lubberhuizen who decided late 1942, or early 1943 to make an illustrated printed broadside of it to raise money for the Childrenâs Fund. It was published by Lubberhuizen and Ch.E. Blommestein, and printed by J. Hendriks in Utrecht. The illustration is signed as Coen ât Hart, the pseudonym of Fedde Wiedema.
That is how âDe Achttien Doodenâ became De Bezige Bijâs first publication, almost two years before its official establishment as a publishing house. âThe Beeâ as it became known continued to issue clandestine publications to support the work of the Childrenâs Fund.
The Library holds three editions of this broadside. The earliest is from 1943 and, according to Anna Simoniâs bibliography Publish and be Free, is of the 2nd edition. It was donated in September 1969, by Jaap Romijn, who ran another clandestine publishing house in Utrecht. Richter Roegholt wrote a history of De Bezige Bij, published in 1972 and mentions Simoniâs letter to him in reply to his attempts to solve the mystery of spelling errors in the poem. That is a story in itself which is best saved for some other time
A second copy is from 1946 (74/L.R.410.y.1.(5.)) and was purchased in February 1968. The third copy (85/Cup.600.d.(2)) is from 1955, and has the real name of the illustrator alongside the pseudonym. This is printed on âpancake paperâ and is much narrower than the two others.
Production was increased after âCrazy Tuesdayâ on 5 September 1944, when the Dutch thought, mistakenly, that the war had ended. By December 1944 it was clear that the war truly would not last much longer. So on 12 December 1944 the co-operative publishing house âDe Bezige Bijâ was established, on the basis of a âPlan voor de cooÌperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnenâ (âMain outlines of a Plan for the co-operative publishers The Busy Beeâ).
The first article outlines the publishersâ intention to continue the business after the war:
Encouraged by the success of its. publications and by the interest from many authors and illustrators who, from the beginning have enthusiastically contributed to âThe Busy Beeâ, which has as its aim to collect as much money as possible for the national cause, next to the continuation of the free Dutch literature, the management of this publishing house has decided to continue her work after the war with the aim to serve the cause of its authors.
Its first âofficialâ publication was a printing (in English) of The Atlantic Charter, declared by President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on 14 August 1941. 100 copies were printed by Fokke Tamminga, who personally delivered one to the British Museum in 1969. The colophon makes clear that this was a clandestinely produced booklet, but its execution is nonetheless exquisite.
This blogâs limitations do not allow for a discussion of the post-war history of âThe Beeâ. For that I refer to Roegholt and to the publisherâs own website . But I make an exception for Geheid Deelder, a collection of six stories by Jules Deelder on the occasion of De Bezige Bijâs 50th anniversary. Jules Deelder is after all just a few weeks older than De Bezige Bij.
It goes without saying that De Bezige Bij is positively buzzing with activity around its 75th anniversary. On the 10th of this month a new poem by Ramsey Nasr entitled, âDe dag kan komenâ (âThe day may comeâ) was unveiled in the firmâs offices, where it now hangs opposite Campertâs âDe Achttien Doodenâ.
Long may this Busy Bee keep buzzing!
Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections.
Anna Simoni, Publish and be free: a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library (The Hague; London, 1975.) 2725.aa.1