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Guilty paper: 
the attraction of national socialist books in the Netherlands 1921-1945

*  Exhibition room
*  Events
*  Recent exhibitions

From 6 April up till 1 June 2001

The cover of Gerard Groeneveld's 'Zwaard van de Geest'<b>An exhibition of For many this will be a very moving experience. The term comprises all fascist and national socialist reading, although "brown" only refers to german national socialism. The occupying force expected these books to have a canvassing quality : the written word as a weapon in political battle. The title "guilty paper" refers to the work of the artist Armando, who introduced us to guilty landscapes .

The exposition is arranged by Gerard Groeneveld, the dutch specialist who did years of research into the history of national socialism. In springtime his book "Zwaard van de Geest (sword of the mind): het bruine boek in Nederland 1921-1945" will be published by Vantilt of Nijmegen.

It was Mussolini who came up with the term Libro e Moschetto, books and guns as vital elements of fascism. In "Mein Kampf" (1924), Hitler hinted at the enormous power of the written word. Spoken word was number one in the ranking order of fascist and national socialist propaganda, followed closely by newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and books. Consequently an elaborate bureaucratic system was set up within the state of Germany to organise book propaganda. Even competitions were held in order to show the cultural value of books; if, of course, they had the right colour.

The Netherlands until 1940
In the Netherlands "brown" reading matter was produced under the aegis of political parties such as Zwart Front (Black Front), the NSB (Dutch National Socialists) and the influential publisher "De Amsterdamse Keurkamer".
With the exeption of some specialist shops regular booksellers did not co-operate with a widespread distribution of the works. Only one or two booksellers stocked "brown" books.
National socialist publishers were therefore forced to try and sell their goods at party meetings or conferences. The most (in)famous "brown" specialist was Barend Willem Zijfers. His first (1936) bookshop was called "De Driehoek" (the triangle), located in Amsterdam's Kalverstraat. Later he opened branches in The Hague and Rotterdam.

During the occupation
Prime example of a
In wartime the situation changed. A growing number of Dutch bodies took care of distributing "brown" books. One of them was "het Departement van Volksvoorlichting en Kunsten (DVK: the department of public information and arts), called into being by the germans. More and more publishers, booksellers and writers "volunteered" to pave the way for the new order. An increasing number of national socialist newspapers and quarterlies promoted books in their advertisements and reviews. Exhibitions, posters, pamphlets, catalogues and literary magazines also pointed at the importance and availability of publications.
The books often had colourful covers to promote themselves.
Cover for'Onze jongens aan het front' by H.J. van Doornik
In addition to books and poetry collections that were used as direct political manuals, many works about the war itself appeared through the years.
The heroic stories were not only to justify the german cause but they also had to create enthusiasm in youngsters for a carreer at the front. The young were deemed even more susceptible to the new ideals than adults. According to NSB "conciousness-raider" Robert van Genechten, young people should 'learn to realise that life is only worth living if one is prepared to put it at stake at the spur of the moment for a higher goal'.
Not even toddlers were spared: books full of fairytales and leprechauns drenched with the national socialist morale were published.

Failing to unite
Eventually the "brown" book proved an unsuccesful weapon in the battle for the dutch reader's mind. Although half of the total book production in the Netherlands was "brown" by 1944, the desired political and cultural unity failed to occur. There was not only a gap between the national socialists and the remainder of the dutch population; it even grew over the years. From this point of view the "brown" book as part of a whole package of conciousness-raising and educational measures failed to reach it's goal.
Further background information is to be found in Gerard Groeneveld's book and of course in the matters on display.

The exhibition
On display are, apart from books with often gripping covers, photographs, posters, book catalogues, canvassing leaflets, pamphlets and other assorted documents. The greater part of these are owned by the University Library with additional material provided by: Dutch Institute for War Documentation, the Dutch National Archives, the Leeuwarden Municipal Archive and the Dutch National Museum for War and Resistance.

Lunchtime lectures
Three lectures are organised on the occasion of this exhibition by University Library. They will be held at the libraries' Doelenzaal.

  • Wednesday 25 April from 12.30 until 13.30 : drs Gerard Groeneveld - Lezen voor het nieuwe Europa: propaganda voor het bruine boek;
  • Wednesday 9 May from 12.30 until 13.30 : Louis Zweers - over de ge´llustreerde bladen in de Tweede Wereldoorlog;
  • op Wednesday 23 May from 12.30 until 13.30 uur: drs Willem Huberts- Schrijvers op het foute been: over nationaal-socialistische schrijvers en over politiek-morele problemen.
Those interested are very welcome.
Admission is free of charge.


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Last modified: 6 April 2001
Editor: Monique Kooijmans (Thanks to Gerard Groeneveld)
More information: Mieke Beumer, coordinate