It was not Rost van Tonningen, but the much less well known Henk Feldmeijer who was Anton Mussert’s chief rival during the German occupation of the Netherlands. In fact, the Germans considered Feldmeijer the most important NSB (National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands) leader. His intended role was to Nazify the party, followed by the rest of the Netherlands. In contrast to the ‘softer’ nationalist Mussert, Feldmeijer advocated that the NSB should adopt the ‘Greater Germanic SS ideals’. This is revealed in a biography entitled ‘The Leader: Henk Feldmeijer and the Dutch SS’ (De Voorman. Henk Feldmeijer en de Nederlandse SS) written by Bas Kromhout. ‘Feldmeijer’s increasing radicalization resembles that of modern-day terrorists,’ says Kromhout, who will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 4 June 2012.
Henk Feldmeijer became the 479th member of the NSB in 1932. From 1935 onwards he devoted himself entirely to the party, laying aside his studies in mathematics and physics for this purpose. This is when he started to radicalize. His zealous attitude helped him to quickly climb the ranks of the NSB, where he would always be one of the hardliners. He remained a fanatical believer in the SS doctrine of Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) until his death in February 1945, on his way to the front in the Betuwe.
Feldmeijer’s role in the NSB has been largely overlooked compared to that of Meinoud Rost van Tonningen. This is evident, inter alia, in Loe de Jong’s famous history of the Second World War. That alone justifies this biography, explains Bas Kromhout: ‘Feldmeijer is an interesting figure thanks to the important role he played as head of the Germanic SS. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered him to establish this NSB organization to secure the German interests in the party. He was supposed to set Mussert on the right path in the interests of the Nazification of the Netherlands. When this failed, the SS authorities considered putting Mussert aside and appointing Feldmeijer as the ‘Leader’.
Feldmeijer’s fanaticism and his status made him a competitor of Rost van Tonningen, who is generally seen as Mussert’s chief rival. Rost van Tonningen was older and had more status than Feldmeijer, but still Himmler had more regard for his younger rival. Feldmeijer was not only young and dedicated, he was also racially pure, a subject of doubt in Rost van Tonningen’s case. ‘Mussert was totally fixated on Rost van Tonningen and even wrote about him in his prison cell. This is why Rost van Tonningen has received so much attention. But Rost van Tonningen considered Feldmeijer as his main rival and Feldmeijer was a much greater threat to Mussert.’
An important theme in the biography is how the process of radicalization takes place. This is a topical question, following 9/11, the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh and the massacre by Anders Breivik. It now seems extraordinary that a gifted student of mathematics and physics at the University of Groningen could turn to National Socialism as early as 1932. Yet it is understandable, given his background as the son of a law-and-order military man, says Kromhout: ‘He had a right-wing conservative and secular background. But at the same time he was looking for meaning in his life. He became interested in the immaterial during his studies and even dabbled in spiritualism. At the same time, his resentment towards the elite student fraternities grew. He was one of the few scholarship students who was not a member. That combination of resentment and the search for an ideal was the breeding ground of his radicalism. And at the same time he wished to remain true to the doctrines he believed in.’
Kromhout’s book reads as a history of Feldmeijer’s radicalization. The biographer had access to a number of recently discovered ‘ego-documents’. The most striking example is the ‘baby book’ that Feldmeijer kept on his son from the moment of his birth. It contains not only the first steps the boy took, but also revelations about the political situation and fatherly admonitions to prepare his child for adulthood. These warnings were completely in keeping with the Nazi weltanschauung (world view). The document found its way to Kromhout via an unexpected route; it was for sale on Marktplaats (the Dutch eBay).
Kromhout’s biography is the ninth thesis to be published by the University of Groningen’s Institute of Biography, which is led by Professor Hans Renders. The institute was established in 2004 to provide a scientific foundation for the phenomenon of the biography. Renders: ‘This seems logical; however, the Netherlands, just like the UK, has a rich tradition of literary biographies whereby liberties are sometimes taken with historical fact and where the biography is sometimes seen as a homage to a writer. Our role is to produce biographies that interpret the facts and shed new light on history. The result must be academically sound, and though the biographies we publish may not be works of literature, we do require that they are well written.’
Renders receives some twenty applications from biographers each year, so he can afford to be selective in whom he chooses to supervise. ‘Of course you and the author have to agree about the general shape of the book, but it is also important that the subject of the biography is interesting enough. This could be because the subject enjoys some degree of fame, but sometimes, as in Feldmeijer’s case, they can paint a different picture of a certain period in history. This is what Kromhout’s biography does.’
Bas Kromhout (Amsterdam, 1975) studied Social History at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He works as an editor for Historisch Nieuwsblad, a history magazine. Kromhout will be awarded a PhD for his thesis on Henk Feldmeijer on 4 June 2012 by the University of Groningen’s Faculty of Arts. He was supervised by Prof. J.W. Renders.
Contact: Bas Kromhout, tel. +31 (0)88 700 2923, baskromhout hotmail.com.
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