Each time I will weep


Shalom. Peace. Also the title of a famous poem by Leo Vroman, which ends with:

Come tonight and tell me stories
Of how the war has disappeared.
Then repeat them a hundred times over:
And watch me weep time and again.


The woman at the centre of this book must have had enough of stories. Many people had no idea what made her tick. Although for many the war may have disappeared, for those stigmatised by it, such as Nettie Bromberg, it never did. And they will continue to weep then they hear the stories, time and again. Repentance would be appropriate for many Eijsden citizens who never knew that from 1954 onwards they had an artist in their midst who, at her death, left no less than 300 drawings, 200 watercolours and 200 oil and emulsion paintings: landscapes, drawn or painted on the slopes around Eijsden and Mesch, as well as in the hills of Eilat and Jerusalem; portraits of people with no name, but also of people who spoke a worldly language. Paintings telling stories. Paintings conveying messages.

Jan van Lieshout

Jan van Lieshout was born in Asten on 3 February 1939. He works as a journalist for the Limburgs Dagblad.
He is the author of Het Hannibalspiel, published in 1980 and describing a Dutch-Belgian resistance unit that was formed in Eijsden in 1942. Other work of his includes Ste.Cecile - De rode draad (1980), about the Eijsden wind orchestra of the same name; "Het verzet op Kaap de Goede Hoop", in Het verzet 1940-1945 (1985); followed by De aal van Oranje (1988), about resistance figure Father Lodewijk Bleijs, and En de boer, hij gardeniert voort... (1991).
Given his strong bond with the war, the resistance and Eijsden, he was the best choice for giving an introductory speech at the opening of the Nettie Bromberg exhibition on 8 may 1991 in Eijsden. The introduction forms the basis of the contribution posted here.

Click here for a short overview of Nettie Bromberg's life and work.


Biographical data

zelfportretNettie Bromberg was born on 20 July 1920 in Amsterdam at the Dufaystraat, only a few minutes' walk from the Concertgebouw. She was the only daughter from the marriage between Paul Bromberg and Constance Metz.
Her father, a descendant of Ashkenazi (Hochdeutsch) Jews and also born in Amsterdam, was a designer of furniture and an interior architect. He also wrote articles for trade and weekly magazines, and books about furniture and interior architecture.
Her mother was born into a family of Amsterdam diamond traders.

NNettie had one brother, Paul Bromberg, who would become a chemical engineer.
Nettie wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and become an interior architect. After graduating from secondary school (HBS-B) she took private lessons from some of the top teachers of the junior (LTS ) and senior (MTS) technical schools in Amsterdam.
Her father would prepare her roster, convinced that orthodox education contained too many curricula that were useless in practice.
Nettie gained practical experience at the company of a befriended architect in Amsterdam and started working at her father's firm in 1939.


Astounding

Meanwhile, Nettie also took private drawing and painting lessons. It worried her parents that at only one year old, she already showed a great interest in boys. Paul Bromberg tried to divert her attention from the opposite sex by arranging drawing lessons from Paul Citroen.
She was twelve years old when she made a pastel drawing of her two-year-old brother. The result was astounding.
At the age of sixteen she was told that she should take her further development into her own hands. What I can do, she can do, Citroen told her father.
Mou van Dantzig, an important art expert at the time, taught her the main painting techniques.
Hans Jaffé, conservator of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, introduced Nettie to art history.

paultje On 30 April 1940, Paul Bromberg senior took another trip to the United States, where in 1938 he had built and decorated the Dutch pavilion for the World Exhibition in New York.
This time he went there to set up a travelling exhibition dedicated to Dutch art for the Vereniging van Ambachts- en Nijverheidskunstenaars (association for craftsmen and artists in the decorative arts). His trip was supposed to last three months.


War

On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Paul Bromberg would not repatriate until August 1945. Despite her young age – she was only 19 – Nettie finalised the running contracts. She also landed a few new ones. On 22 October 1940, the German occupiers ordered that companies run by Jews or depending on Jewish money were to be registered. They were subsequently liquidated or placed in administration. In January 1941, every Jew had to register. A Jewish ghetto was established in Amsterdam. Jews were prohibited to travel or move house without a permit. Visiting parks and public

gardens, attending sports events, concerts or plays was forbidden. They were no longer admitted at museums. Even cafes and bars displayed 'No Jews Allowed' signs. Jewish IDs were marked with a J and as from 1942, Jews were forced to wear a six-pointed yellow star carrying the raven black word Jew. A rule enforced as from late June 1942 ordered Jews to remain at home between 8 PM and 6 AM the following morning. The deportation and destruction of the Jews that was decided at a top SS conference at the Wannsee in Berlin on 20 January 1942, was about to begin.


Survival

IIn the late summer of 1942, Constance Bromberg took her son into shelter in the Achterhoek. By then Nettie had become one of the couriers of a communist cell, which also included her boyfriend, Jan Bool, son of an industrial patron from the Gooi area and a student of Russian at the University of Amsterdam. Jan felt increasingly drawn to communism and became more and more hostile towards capitalism. Because of her Jewish appearance, Nettie was excluded from any action for safety reasons and therefore joined her mother in the Achterhoek. Between Christmas of 1942 and the New Year She went back to Amsterdam, only to hear that Jan had died. Devastated, she returned to the Achterhoek. She hardly ate and drank acidic drinks only, which ended up destroying her intestinal flora. Today she would have been diagnosed as suffering from Anorexia nervosa: a compulsive desire to lose weight, accompanied by fear of entering into direct, spontaneous and informal relationships. In 1943, while travelling from Doetinchem to Leeuwarden, the Bromberg family was arrested at the Arnhem station and transported to the Hollandsche Schouwburg in Amsterdam. From there the Jews were deported to

Westerbork: the gateway to Auschwitz, where they were gassed by the thousands. Paul junior contracted a contagious disease and was admitted to the Joodse Invalide – a Jewish hospital for the disabled and chronically ill. It was vacated by the Germans on 1 March 1943 and in the chaos of this razzia, Paul was 'kidnapped' by two members of the resistance organisation – dressed as nurses – led by his cousin Dolf Helmann. Thanks to the help of Ilse Vordebergse-Gildewart, his mother Constance and daughter Nettie also escaped deportation. Ilse was the (Jewish) spouse of a German artist, who had fled to the Netherlands in 1933. Nazis had branded his art as Entartete Kunst. Ilse was a member of the Jewish Council that had to set up the deportations from Amsterdam to Westerbork and decided who was indispensible and therefore needed to be 'gesperrt'. She struck Constance and Nettie Bromberg from the roll call, after which they were brought to a shelter during a laundry delivery. The family wasn't reunited until 1945, by which time Paul junior had lived at a record 26 shelter addresses.


Changes

Nettie decided that she wanted to be an artist. Her father brought in her first contracts, consisting mostly of wall decorations and murals. Her contribution to the exhibition Kunst in Vrijheid (Art in Freedom) earned her the Gerrit van der Veen medal in 1945. She had submitted three works, one of them a lonely man in an empty world – the fate that befell many Jews after the war. Her brother named this painting 'The War' and it is the first painting in the catalogue covering her entire oeuvre. It reminds a bit of Rodin's 'The Thinker'. Nettie Bromberg painted tens of different versions of the thinker, giving them different faces and surroundings and using different compositions.

Her parents' divorce was one of the reasons why she wanted to move away from the city. Her father, who had worked closely together with Charles Eyck during the decoration of the Dutch pavilion at the World Exhibition in the United States, helped her get a workshop in the former Bonnefanten convent in Maastricht, where Charles Eyck had his workplace too. The convent did not offer sleeping accommodation and she therefore started looking for rooms to rent. Henk Bool, the brother of Jan Bool, brought Nettie in touch with Huub Steijns, who during the war had been part of the same communist cell as the Bool brothers.


Eijsden

stationsstraatHuub Steijns was one of the leading figures of the socialist labour movement in Limburg. Born in 1895 in Mesch, he owned a grocery store in Maastricht and let rooms in the Limburg capital.
Huub and Nettie immediately clicked and they got married in 1950, short after Nettie's father's death. The couple chose to live and work in Maastricht. When the former Bonnefanten convent was converted into a museum, Nettie had to move out. She first found a workshop in Heer, and later at the Boschstraat in Maastricht. In 1954 the Steijns couple moved to Eijsden, where Huub started a grocery store in the former house of his mother at the (then) Stationsstraat. The attic became Nettie's workshop. Longing for more space and a life in the country.

In 1959 she bought the house of her brother-in-law at the Grijzegraaf in Mesch. Nettie transformed the house into apartments, which Huub would let to holiday-makers during the summer. The attic was redecorated as her workshop.
After her father's death it was Mou van Dantzig, her tutor, who she would rely on for advice until his death. Otherwise, Nettie led a secluded life. Her appearance made her painfully aware of the fact that she was Jewish. Contacts with the outside world made her nervous, as did exhibitions. That was the main reason why she never drew attention to her work.
Another reason was that she lacked any formal art education. She did not belong to any 'school' and developed a style of her own: it was direct, and therefore contrarian. But post-war fine arts had to be abstract and so she was ignored into oblivion.
Due to her introvert character she did not participate in the village community and as a result there are no drawings, watercolours or paintings of the Brink, the Cramignon, the red or the blue wind orchestra. Nor was she inspired by the synagogues that once existed at the Eijsden Diepstraat, and which in fact were no more than gun rooms in the houses of Jewish residents, most of whom ran a cattle business, a retail shop or a tannery. She didn't portray the Jewish graveyard at the 12-Septemberstraat, either.
There are, however, paintings of the Mesch church, which she could see from her workshop window. En plein air she would find secluded, lonely places to paint flowering orchards; at the Zeven Heuvelen; at the Steenberg near the farm of Louis Wolfs-Homblen on the bank of the Voer river.


Desert

In 1961 Nettie Bromberg and Huub Steijns made their first trip to Israel. She found it a liberating experience: in Israel she did not stand out because of her appearance; she was a child of the people of Israel. She briefly played with the idea of emigrating but decided against it – she did not want to do that to Huub. She anxiously followed the Jewish-Arab wars. She was very progressive in her political beliefs, condemning fundamentalism, both from a Jewish and an Arab perspective. She felt that the Palestinian problem should be solved in consultation and that violence should be banned. Jerusalem fascinated her to no end. Countless are the drawings and watercolours that she made of the Eternal City, first from the hills on the south side of the city, later from the east side, from the Olive Mountain. The desert was also a continuous source of inspiration for paintings and drawings from several locations in Eilat. To her, it was the ideal location for reflection. She was a follower of Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher of Portuguese-Jewish descent,

and of Constantin Brunner, who worked out Spinoza's ideas and theories. They placed unity, infinity, eternity and the absolute opposite the relative and the limitedness of human perception thereof. Nettie created magnificent pencil drawings of both philosophers, as well as of Magdalena Kasch, Constantin Brunner's secretary. Apart from consignment work she painted portraits of people who fascinated her, trying to fully identify with their thoughts and views in the process. For a portrait of Einstein she ploughed through all of his works. Her first portrait of the famous physicist was named Painting of the Week at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum around 1947. She also portrayed Franz Kafka and Primo Levi, an Italian chemist of Jewish descent who had worked in the Auschwitz lab and many years afterwards, described in horrendous detail what he had seen in the destruction camp and what he thought about it.


The Thinker

Nettie, too, was haunted by the war. The image of The Thinker kept following her. He also appears in the painting about her arrest in 1943 that she made in 1953. 'Opgepakt' (arrested) was the name her brother gave to the painting. The woman with the arm in a sling clearly is Nettie: shortly prior to the arrest she had broken her arm in a cycling accident. It is likely that the other people in the painting are imaginary. Nettie did not like to have to explain her work. "A painting is not something to talk about, but to look at", she used to say.
She also made seven paintings with the intention of generalising the sorrow of persecuted minorities, the so-called In Memoriam series. The paintings relate to the Warsaw ghetto. One of the paintings was based on the famous photo of the terrified little boy who raises his arms in surrender to German soldiers.

The other six paintings are derived from photos made by the Romanian photographer Vishnijack. One features a group of Jewish adolescents covered with a big, red X-mark, indicating that these young people were crossed out by history. Nettie Bromberg produced many paintings of Jan Bool, her loved one who died during the war, and of Huub Steijns, her husband whom she took care of until his death in 1989. He lived to be 93 years old and donated his body to science. Huub's death took away her excuse to hide, but public appearances simply weren't her forte. She therefore decided to go back to Israel, where she ended her life's work by creating a series of thirteen watercolour portraits of Huub Steijns. At the bottom of the thirteenth portrait she wrote: This is the last and, in my opinion, the best.



Nettie Bromberg died on 17 June 1990. She was buried on the Mount of Peace in Jerusalem.

MuseumEinHarodBefore her departure to Israel she had established in her will that a Foundation would manage her estate and make it accessible to the public. Her brother Paul became the chair of the Nettie Steijns-Bromberg Stichting; Ronny Naftaniel, the Director of the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, was named secretary-treasurer, and Otto Treumann, a well-known graphic designer from Weesp, a member of the board. In keeping with Nettie's last wish that her collection should reside in a museum in Israel, all of her work will go to Ein Harod, a kibbutz with a well-known museum located 40 km south-east of Haifa. Hence they go from the birth land to the Promised Land, where they will join some of Nettie's works already on display there.

Lohamei Hagetaot, the kibbutz of veterans from the Warsaw ghetto, has her largest canvas on display: a portrait of Janus Korczak, the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw.

The time has come; tomorrow morning it will happen, Janus Korczak wrote on the eve of his death in 1942. I cannot enlighten the darkness of providence. I can only hope that my and my children's imminent death by suffocation will have a surprising purpose: of waking up humanity.

Nettie Bromberg pursued the same in many of her works. Her paintings convey a message. They are stories. And therefore I want to end with the verse from Leo Vroman with which I started:

Come tonight and tell me stories
Of how the war has disappeared
Then repeat them a hundred times over:
And watch me weep time and again..


Jan van Lieshout



Select a Gallery

  • BenGurionPortrait Drawings
  • MenuhinPortrait Paintings
  • LochameiHaGetaotRacism and Injustice
  • EijsdenEijsden landscapes
  • JeruzalemIsraeli landscapes
  • NegevDesert