History of the Resistance Museum Amsterdam
The Resistance Museum was founded in 1984. The museum was moved to Plancius Building in 1999. The museum expands in October 2013 with a special children’s museum.
The relocation of the former synagogue in the Rivierenbuurt in Amsterdam South, to the new, centrally located and more spacious Plancius building, in 1999 was an important step for the museum, which has undergone a stormy development since its inception. The establishment of the Resistance Museum took place fifteen years earlier.
On April 24, 1984, the first meeting was held of an upcoming board of a foundation whose purpose was ‘to the establishment and maintenance of a museum dedicated to the opposition to National Socialism and fascism’. At that time there was no money, no accommodation and no collection. But the time was right for a resistance museum. The museum would be open a year and a half later.
Series of initiatives
The people from the resistance wanted to show what had happened and warn about a repetition of the events of the Second World War. The establishment of the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam fits into a series of initiatives by former resistance people in the 1980s. Throughout the country there were Youth Information Committees and commemoration places were erected everywhere and monuments were built. It was a support in the back that there was a need in the education for the message of the former resistance.
Resistance and Persecution 1933-19nu
In 1980, resistance people from different political directions had worked together for the first time in the organization of a resistance exhibition in the Royal Palace on the Dam, entitled Resistance and Persecution 1933-19 now. In a short time this exhibition was visited by 60,000 students. The Amsterdam 4 and 5 May committee noted an increasing demand for their educational panel exhibitions. This was referred to in the recruitment campaigns for the museum.
Synagogue in the Lekstraat
In a short time, governments, funds and companies made considerable sums available. And the foundation soon had a building. The Jewish Congregation could no longer afford the maintenance of the synagogue in the Lekstraat after many believers had moved to Buitenveldert in the seventies. The building from 1937, by the architect Abraham Elzas, was built in the style of the New Objectivity. The municipality of Amsterdam wanted to keep it because of its architectural value. The Jewish Church wanted to abort it.
Thanks to the negotiations of the vice-chairman of the Resistance Museum in formation, a solution was found. The Jewish Congregation agreed on 6 September 1984 with the proposal to rent the main building to the Resistance Museum. The municipality of Amsterdam promised to take on a large part of the renovation costs and to support the new museum with a structural contribution of 100,000 guilders per year. This laid the foundations for the opening of the Resistance Museum in the 1985 commemoration year. The design and interior design were provided by Pieter Hildering in collaboration with Marten Rozenbeek.
On 19 November 1985 the museum was opened by Prince Bernhard. Mayor Van Thijn spoke the words: “Now that so many eyewitnesses are alive, it is important to bring their story and their material together. Because there is an opportunity to record authentic testimonies now, which will no longer be possible soon. That is the core. That’s what it’s about. That is the great meaning of this moment. That explains why forty years after the liberation such a new initiative starts today. ‘
Number of visitors is growing
In the years after the opening, a series of improvements and minor renovations were carried out. The changing exhibitions and educational activities received a lot of publicity. The number of visitors – 11,000 in the first year – increased steadily. Initially a large part of the work was carried out by board members and older volunteers, who had been involved in the resistance themselves. Gradually, young people took over their work. Since 1990, when the museum was recognized by the national government as one of the five museum institutes of the Second World War of national significance, the number of paid employees could be increased from 1.6 to 3.8 formation.
From the beginning it appeared that the synagog building in the Lekstraat had limitations. The museum was mostly struggling with lack of space. In addition to students who were shown around the museum in groups, more and more tourists – especially from the English speaking countries – also found their way to the Resistance Museum. ‘A bugger to find, but worth it’ wrote one of the travel guides. The number of visitors stagnated after a peak of more than 20,000 visitors in 1995.
Ten years later
For a further growth, moving to a centrally located location seemed necessary. Ten years after the opening it was clear that the museum itself – the permanent one – was in need of renewal. The Second World War received a lot of political attention in the nineties. This mainly concerned the financial satisfaction of various groups of victims. It involved large sums of money that in practice could partly receive a cultural or educational destination.
This was the time to invest in a well-equipped, centrally located museum that would appeal to visitors without knowledge of the subject in the future. Management and staff still had a large dose of fighting spirit. It succeeded in ‘getting’ politics and bringing together 7.6 million for the purchase, renovation and refurbishment of a new building.
The new accommodation was given a reception hall, workshops, a spacious depot, a separate room for changing exhibitions and an entrance hall for small exhibitions. The new permanent set-up was twice as large (600m2) as the old one, in the building in the Lekstraat.
The new permanent exhibition, assembled by the museum staff and designed by Ars Longa, was opened on 28 April 1999. Prince Bernhard, patron of the Resistance Museum, performed the official opening act by printing the story at the press on a small press by Jesse, printer of the illegal Parool.
The collection has been presented in a new way in the new museum. The objects, photographs and documents mainly illustrate personal experiences of people from the occupation time. The collection of the Resistance Museum has since the establishment of the museum in 1985 become one of the largest collections in the Netherlands about the occupation and the resistance in the years 1940-1945.
Many people have kept their tangible memories from the war years and donated to the Resistance Museum. They are often unsightly, improvised objects and documents, which are given historical value, especially in combination with the story. The museum has therefore always strived to record these stories, on paper or in the form of interviews on soundtracks. It was almost obvious that, after the museum moved to Plancius, they were incorporated in the new permanent set-up.