On the Death of Siegfried Lenz ? ?You have to justify your life?

Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

GoetheInstitute

04/10/2010

A very different sort of banker

An exhibition in the Amsterdam Verzetsmuseum celebrates Wally van Hall, the banker who used his financial connections to fund the Dutch Resistance movement during WWII. By Dragan Klaic

Bankers have experienced a dramatic drop in social status thanks to the economic crisis. Humiliating public hearings featuring once mighty bankers in the U.S. Congress, court verdicts and fines against top financial brass have severed the profession of practically all moral authority. And recently the German Bundesbank expelled one of its board members, Thilo Sarrazin, for racist and Islamophobic positions in his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab. Wie unser Land aufs Spiel setzen" (DVA Munchen 2010). It must be quite a relief for the banking profession to see a monument to one of their own unveiled in front of the Nederlandsche bank in Amsterdam, followed by a exhibit opening in the Verzetsmusem, the museum of the Resistance movement.

The exhibition, "Wally van Hall, Banker of the Resistance Movement", places a banker in the role of cultural hero and presents him as an icon of national history decades after this remarkable story sank into collective oblivion. Van Hall (1906-1945) was a Dutch banker who, like many others, continued his work after the Nazis occupied the Netherlands in May 1940, hoping that he would be able to prevent further damage. By 1943 he had set up the Nationaal Steunfonds (NSF), an illegal central bank of the resistance movement. The NSF generated and dispensed some 83 million gulden (the equivalent of 450 million euro today) to families whose breadwinners were deported to Germany, to people who hid Jews, to artists who refused to register with the Nazi Kulturkamer and were thus unable to practise their profession, to families of seamen stranded far from home by the war. Through a broad network of couriers on bicycles, cash reached those in need every week. The NSF also financed the underground printing of more than 150 titles, as well as the large scale forgery of identity documents and ration cards. In 1944, Van Hall paid wages to 30,000 railway workers who went on a long strike to slow down Nazi supplies while the Allies advanced from the south to liberate the Netherlands. As the man with cash, Van Hall effectively coordinated the fragmented and fractious Resistance movement of communists and Protestants, of conservative Oranje monarchists and leftist and liberal democrats, while moving around the country under various aliases. On January 27, 1945 he was arrested by the Nazis and shot in Haarlem on February 12. When the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, the NSF still held a cash reserve of 23 million gulden.

The exhibit in the Verzetsmuseum explains how Van Hall was able to generate a huge amount of cash for the Resistance, using his connections with fellow bankers. There were gifts and there were large bank loans guaranteed by the Dutch government in London exile. Occasionally, violence was used, such as the assault by resistance fighters on the Rotterdam post office that brought the NSF half a million gulden. When the Nazis prohibited the circulation of 500 and 1,000 gulden banknotes, banks laundered the bills by exchanging them for smaller denominations for distribution by Van Hall. The tax authorities continued to send out income tax bills to wealthy individuals but instead of depositing their payments in the Nederlandsche Bank, sidetracked them to the NSF. Even more ingenious was the trick devised by Van Hall and his brother Gijs – whereby the resistance printers falsified government bonds of 100,000 gulden, which the treasurer general of the Nederlandsche bank switched with the real ones kept in the bank's vaults. The real notes were then passed on to Van Hall, who cashed them in with the friendly banks. All these transactions were meticulously noted using a secret system devised by Van Hall to be untraceable in case of arrest: lenders received old shares (pre-revolutionary Russian Vladikavkaz coupons, for instance) and banknotes withdrawn from circulation whose serial numbers were pegged to the sums borrowed. After the war the holders of these documents were reimbursed by the Dutch authorities. When the railway strike forced Van Hall to increase his operation substantially, the Dutch government raised the guarantee and send a courier with the guarantee decree on a microfilm. The exhibition, an accompanying educational website and a cartoon version of Van Hall's life successfully clarify the complex system of transactions for a lay audience, and for children in particular.

Thanks to Van Hall, the banking profession regains a little of its glamour or at least respectability. The monument by Spanish sculptor Fernando Sanchez Castillo honours a figure of patriotic commitment, courage and cleverness who applied his talents to the common good, rather than personal enrichment or corporate power. Van Hall's modus operandi reflects the self-organising genius of Dutch civil society in the increasingly harsh conditions of war-time occupation, and recalls many ingenious methods of resistance by professionals who stayed on in their jobs and helped the underground movement. The resurrected memory of Van Hall provides a counter narrative to recent Dutch financial upheavals and traumas, such as the ABN AMRO split, Icesave's betrayal of its clients, the Fortis debacle, the DBS bank collapse, and the sharp criticism by a parliamentary commission of the supervisory regime of the Nederlandsche bank boss A.H.E.M. Wellink. Many villains of those embarrassing stories are now being overshadowed by the young, self-assured, smiling, pipe-smoking Wally van Hall, the banker of the Resistance movement. And yet, if he and his companions succeeded in carrying out their transactions for the common good under the nose of the Gestapo, is it any wonder that today's bankers, driven by greed rather than idealism, operating on globally through computer networks, cannot be kept in check by splintered national supervisory agencies?

Wally van Hall, bankier van het Verzet. September 3, 2010 to April 17, 2011. Verzetsmuseum, Plantage kerklaan 61, Amsterdam. Tu-Fri 10 am to 5 pm.

*

Dragan Klaic is a theatre scholar and cultural analyst, based in Amsterdam.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

Poison envy

Tuesday 22 November, 2011

Read the first English excerpt from historian Goetz Aly's new book "Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Equality, Envy and Racial Hatred 1800 - 1933". In response to this question that has been hanging in the air since the end of WWII, Goetz Aly points to the lack of education and fear of progress in so many German Christians at the turn of the century - and to the contrasting readiness of the Jewish population to embrace the new opportunities and education as the ticket to social mobility. Shamed by their shortcomings, the Germans soon turned to racial theory to conceal their envy and resentment.
read more

Pas teutonique du tout!

Tuesday 11 July, 2011

TeaserPicAn exhibition in Naumburg celebrates the greatest sculptor and master builder of Medieval Germany, famed for the creation of Uta, the ideal German woman. But patriots be warned! By Sven Behrisch

read more

Rocking remembrance

Thursday 15 June, 2011

Berlin is rich in authentic places where history can be experienced in a tangible and personal manner. We don't need simulation, we should just listen more closely to the genius loci. The planned Memorial to Freedom and Unity is a case in point. By Karl Schlögel
read more

Mass murderers of conviction

Monday 18 April, 2011

TeaserPicThe trial of SS officer Adolf Eichmann began fifty years ago. Research continues to show that many of the perpetrators were not just bureaucrats and cretins but educated men who acted out of intellectual conviction - Eichmann, contrary to what Hannah Arendt said, included. An interview with Holocaust historian Ulrich Herbert by Stefan Reinecke and Christian Semler. (Photo: Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem)
read more

A visit to the house of dreams

Monday 21 March, 2011

TeaserPicSir Sassoon Eskell was a Jewish Iraqi and the country's first minister of finance. His magnificent house, once home to the largest private library in Iraq, sits between Baghdad's Al Rashid Street and the River Tigris. After a close brush with death, author Najem Wali revisited the building, which young Iraqi filmmakers and the army both dream of making their own.
read more

The Russians must reflect on the evildoings

Thursday 29 April, 2010

The historically strained relations between Russia and Poland seem to be improving at long last, thanks to the considerable show of Russian sympathy at the funeral of the Polish president Lech Kaczynski. It remains to be seen whether these positive developments will continue beyond a short-lived expression of mourning. An interview with Arseni Roginski, the president of the Russian human rights organisation "Memorial", by Ulrich M. Schmid.
read more

Musicology and mass execution

Wednesday 6 January, 2010

Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht was one of Germany's most influential musicologists. His magnum opus "Music in the Occident" sits on the shelves of many a music lover. Ten years after his death, historian Boris von Haken has now revealed that Eggebrecht was involved in mass shootings of Jews during the Second World War.
read more

The element of madness

Monday 7 December, 2009

The history of German terrorism was also the story of the amour fou between Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader. But this affair caused the breakup of Ensslin's relationship with Bernward Vesper, who was also the father of her child. Their letters, dating from 1968/69, while Ensslin was in Stammheim, offer profound insights into the political pathology of the time. By Gerd Koenen.
read more

The starting gun for a student movement

Monday 8 June, 2009

The death of student Benno Ohnesorg saw the birth of the West German '68 movement. Now evidence has emerged that Karl-Heinz Kurras, the West German police officer who shot him during a demonstration against the Shah, was a Stasi spy. Wolfgang Kraushaar, an acclaimed chronicler of '68, asks whether the killing was an unofficial East German act of state.
read more

The black marketeers of Bahnhof Zoo

Tuesday 24 March 2009

TeaserPicThe idea that 1989 came out of thin air speaks volumes about historical insensitivities and limited horizons. The fall of the Berlin Wall was preceded by years of erosion and attrition. Historian Karl Schlögel looks at the molecular movements on the margins of history that are much more powerful than any deeds of "great men".
read more

Beyond the war hero

Tuesday 17 February, 2009

TeaserPicBernard-Henri Levy looks at some of the problems posed by the film "Valkyrie" which are too complex and delicate to be resolved within Hollywood logic. First on the list: the Scientology question.
read more

Unmasking the July 20 plot

Friday 13 February, 2009

To deny Stauffenberg and the other conspirators any moral and cultural relevance is blinkered and consitutes intellectual bigotry. Even if their ideas seem politically anachronistic today, these men showed the sort of noblesse and strength of character of which today’s politicians and other bureaucratic elites can only dream. Karl Heinz Bohrer responds to the thesis of British historian Richard J. Evans.
read more

Why did Stauffenberg plant the bomb?

Tuesday 10 February, 2009

TeaserPicWas it because Hitler was losing the war? Was it to put an end to the mass murder of the Jews. Or was it to save Germany's honour? Whatever his motives, he was no role model for future generations, says British historian Richard Evans. (Photo: Deutsches Historisches Museum)
read more

Evil and the upright citizen

Monday 4 February, 2008

A large-scale and long-overdue project has begun. German historians are documenting the persecution and extermination of the Jews in 16 volumes of primary source texts where metal merchants and budgie lovers all have their say - with no recourse to hindsight. By Eckhard Fuhr
read more