VU alumnus Lambertus Zijp (101) spent World War II in hiding and studying law from his safe house.
In his upstairs flat in Amsterdam-Zuid, he looks back on the past century and VU Amsterdam, which has been a common thread throughout his life. „Some people think I’m joking when I tell them how old I am."
You studied from a safe house. How come?
„I started attending lectures and did my ‘kandidaats’ exam (first year, ed.) on the Keizersgracht in 1942. In 1943, the Germans issued a directive that students had to sign a loyalty declaration. If you did so, you were allowed to carry on studying. If not, then that was the end of that. I refused to declare my allegiance. Just like the universities, which were then forced to close. Those who refused to sign were considered enemies, and so we had to go into hiding. Not without good reason, because the SS knocked on my parents’ door twice in the middle of the night to pick me up."
What was life like in those days?
„I spent those years at my safe house in Soest, mostly in the attic. I sat up there for days at a time, with my nose in the textbooks that my father dropped off every now and again. To kill time at night, I’d read novels or books by Van Lennep. Have you ever read any of his work? No? Well, if you ever have time on your hands, then I can recommend them."
„It sounds idyllic if I talk about it like that, and indeed it was sometimes. When the peaches in the orchard were ripe, for example, and I ate so many that I felt sick. But at the same time, I was trapped in the house. At night, I was sometimes woken up by the planes flying from England to Germany and then back again. I once saw a plane shot down as I watched through the window. Also, I couldn’t correspond with my fellow students or my wife-to-be. As a young man of 23, I was sometimes quite lonely."
„When I was ready to sit an exam, I’d write a letter to the professor in question and tell him I was ready for the oral examination."
„I’d look forward to taking oral exams. When I was ready to sit an exam, I’d write a letter to the professor in question and tell him I was ready for the oral examination. I remember well how Professor Oranje took the train to the station in Baarn and then a coach to the house. After talking about the study material for half an hour, he would leave again."
„After the war, on 12 June 1945, I had to report to the faculty to take my Master’s exam. Once there, the professors said they found it so extraordinary that I had done all the exams that they didn’t think it was necessary to make me take an exam again. ‘You can have your Master’s without sitting the exam,’ they said. I was gobsmacked."
The end of the war didn’t mean that you stopped being involved in its ramifications, did it?
„That’s right. Soon after I graduated, a friend of my father’s called him and said: ‘Your son is a lawyer, isn’t he? I’ve got a job for him.’ The job turned out to be with the Military Authority, the temporary government in the Netherlands at the time. My job was with the ‘Purge Committee’, whose task it was to determine who had been in league with the enemy. As the secretary, my job was to document the trials of NSB members and sympathisers. Sometimes I had to go to Amsterdam-Oost, where they were held in warehouses and slept on straw. It was pretty tough. I started work at 9 am and only finished at midnight. Several alumni from the VU worked there."
How did the rest of your career go after that?
„Some time after that, I got a letter from an insurance company, a predecessor of Delta Lloyd, asking if I wanted to go and work for them. It appealed to me and, what’s more, the salary was higher. I used my first salary to finally buy the textbooks that I couldn’t buy when I was in hiding."
Lambertus en his wife
„Part of my job entailed regularly dealing with annuity clauses, a tax benefit in life assurance policies. I thought, let me ask one of my former professors, Professor Hellema, if I can do a PhD on that subject. He wasn’t sure about it, but said I should just start writing it and we would see. I started writing and it took two years, all in my spare time, to write my thesis. I wrote it out by hand, and my wife typed it up using a typewriter. After two years, I reported back to the university and I obtained my doctorate."
Getting your PhD wasn’t the last link you had with VU Amsterdam, though. I’m told you have a real VU Amsterdam family.
That’s right. My eldest son studied Geology there, my second History and my daughter studied Medicine. And several of my grandchildren studied at VU Amsterdam too. That is exactly what my father would have been proud of."
„The green VU Amsterdam collection box stood on my parents’ mantelpiece for many years."
„My father was a wholesaler here in Amsterdam. He only completed primary school, and yet he was asked to be the deacon of the church. That is where he became friends with lawyers and doctors among others, people who were a bit higher up the social ladder at the time. My father used to say: ‘If you can expand your knowledge, you’ll get further in life’. He was the one who insisted that I go to grammar school and then go on to study at university, something that he himself could only dream about as a shopkeeper in those days. The green VU Amsterdam collection box stood on my parents’ mantelpiece for many years.
In 2011, you were awarded a Royal Medal for the great deal of welfare work you have done. What was your reason for doing all that work?
„I was asked to do it, and if a charitable organisation wants to have a lawyer on the board, then you can hardly say “no”. So I went from one thing to another. You come across other people, interact with other types. I recently resigned from my last position – secretary at a community centre. I am now a citizen without office. Now I have more time to spend on my other hobby: painting."
„By the way, you’re not going to print this all, are you? Surely not?"