A story of human courage, compassion, endurance and resilience
During the Second World War, the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam South harboured a secret: three Jewish families were in hiding in the two attics high on both sides of the organ. What began, in their mind, as a temporary shelter for six weeks became a refuge for three years. The story of the Breeplein Church is one of courage, hope and trust, a story full of wonders… the birth of a perfectly healthy baby, and, during a raid three weeks before the liberation, the fact that the families were not discovered.
Curious about the full story? Read the book The Organ Attics – People in hiding in the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam, written by Anja Matser.
No resumption yet of Guided Tours
Rotterdam, 16 july 2021
The guided tours of the Organ Attics in the Breeplein Church will not be resumed yet. First it was the pandemic that put a spoke in the wheel for one and a half years, now it is the summer holiday season. The Organ Attics have always been closed to the public during this season.
The Executive Committee of the Organ Attics Foundation Rotterdam will decide in the beginning of September if, considering the development of the number of corona infections, it would be safe to resume the visits to the Organ Attics.
That decision will be published immediately both on the website as well as on Facebook.
Would you like to receive notification of resumed guided tours? If so, please fill in the form on the Guided Tours page.
Refusal to accept the results of the petition
The Protestant Municipality of Rotterdam South (PGRZ) has refused to accept the results of the petition “Preservation of the Organ Attics for a vigilant and resilient Rotterdam” in public. On Wednesday, 7 July 2021, Henk den Haan, who discovered the Organ Attics, would hand over the bundled signatures to Jitse Kok, acting chairman of the PGRZ. The handover would take place in front of the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam South.
At the agreed time, half past four, Henk den Haan, some signatories and the board members of the Organ Attics Foundation Rotterdam were at the Breeplein Church. But the PGRZ representative was glaringly absent because, as their statement said, they did not want the media attention on the handover of the petition results.
Henk den Haan was not discouraged. He explained yet again the importance of preserving the Organ Attics, and then, together with a few of those present, went to the address of the scribe of the General Church Council PGRZ. There he handed over the folder with more than 2100 signatures.
The photos show Henk den Haan, some of those present in front of the Breeplein Church and capture the moment of delivery at the home address of the scribe.
Eric Matser, chairman of the board of the Organ Attics Foundation Rotterdam, said that he finds the PGRZ’s attitude incomprehensible. “It is disrespectful to the thousands of signatories, many of whom are members of their own (PGRZ’s) congregation.”
There is little progress in the court case around the preservation of the Organ Attics. We are still waiting for the ruling of the classical committee for management matters on the appeal that the Organ Attics Foundation has lodged. The verdict of the civil court is expected at the end of August.
For more information, see further down this page.
MAX to make a documentary about ‘The Secret Annex of Rotterdam’
Hilversum, June 18 – Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Mayor of Rotterdam, calls it ‘The Secret Annex of Rotterdam’. He refers to the organ attics of the Breeplein Church in South Rotterdam. During the Second World War, three Jewish families from Rotterdam hid here in two tiny, bare attic spaces without daylight. Thanks to the protection of the families of the pastor, the sexton and church members, the refugees managed to survive the war. In 2022, the broadcaster MAX will be making a documentary about this special hiding place, the people who hid there and their protectors. In addition, the documentary will present the struggle that today’s volunteers are going through to ensure the survival of this special place.
When Rebecca Andriesse’s grandfather was looking for a safe hiding place for his granddaughter and her husband Maurice in 1942, he knocked on the door of the sexton of the Breeplein Church. In secret, the sexton decided to shelter the young couple in the tiny room next to the organ. Later, Maurice Kool’s parents were also sheltered there. The pastor constructed a hiding place in a second attic for the pharmacist couple De Zoete. In the summer, it was boiling hot in the attics and in the winter freezing cold. The refugees thought they would only have to spend six weeks in this hiding place, but it took almost three years before the war ended. In the winter of 1944, even a baby was born in this shelter.
Struggle for Preservation
After the war, the shelters were forgotten. Rotterdammers were busy rebuilding the city and were focused on the future. In the church, too, those difficult war years were no longer spoken of. The organ attics were not rediscovered until 2006. Every year thousands of students are given guided tours of the attics, organized by Organ Attics Foundation Rotterdam.
One of the volunteers is Anja Matser, author of the book ‘The Organ Attics, People in hiding in the Rotterdam Breeplein Church’. “Especially at this time, where discrimination and exclusion of people because of their skin colour, or their religion, or whatever, seems to be acceptable, this story must continue to be heard. It teaches us what can be achieved through sheer courage and perseverance. We then realize that people find the strength to trust each other even in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances, when betrayal is ever present. Heroism that can and should inspire us.”
The future and survival of the Organ Attics hangs by a thread
Rotterdam, February 18, 2021
The Court of Rotterdam will shortly rule if the sale of the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam South should be revoked. The ruling is critical for the preservation of the Organ Attics in the church.
The owner of the church, the Protestant Municipality of Rotterdam-South, has sold the building in its entirety to the Levend Woord Council. Two foundations – The Organ Attics Foundation and the Friends of the Breeplein Church – as well as numerous local councillors have contested this sale, because no provisions have been made for the continued existence of the Organ Attics and the Friends of the Breeplein Church. This is despite repeated assurances given that these provisions would be made.
Without meaningful consultation
There has been no meaningful consultation with the new owner of the church, the Levend Woord Council on the use of the various spaces and on the accessibility to the Organ Attics. It is, therefore, now uncertain whether the Organ Attics Foundation Rotterdam can continue to offer guided tours or whether the Attics can continue to be visited in the future. This will especially affect thousands of school children since the visits to the Organ Attics are a popular part of visual/graphic education.
(Incidentally, the Attics are currently closed due to the Corona regulations).
An available solution
A proposal to provide a solution to this issue has been on the shelf for more than four years. In 2017, Stadsherstel (City Renewal) declared its willingness to buy the church in its entirety and to fund and carry out extensive and overdue maintenance. The foundations have drawn up a plan which can satisfy all parties. The Levend Woord Council can continue to rent the church for its services, and the Friends of the Breeplein church can continue with their singing and concerts.
A professional Museum
As part of this plan, it is especially important that the Organ Attics Foundation can restore the hiding places. This will not only enhance the Attics but also make them safer for access. In addition, it will give them the status of a professionally curated museum with a visitors’ centre. Various funds have now promised to fund the necessary work.
Secret Annex of Rotterdam
Mayor Aboutaleb has referred to the Organ Attics time and again as “the secret Annex of Rotterdam”, adding that this wonderful story of courage, trust and tolerance must be passed on the new generations.
It is now up to the Court.
Who will pick up the challenge?
The Stichting Orgelzolders (the Organ Attics Foundation) is looking for male or female tour guides.
- Would you like to delve further into the history of the Jewish families who were in hiding at the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam during the Second World War? And learn more about the motives that drove their helpers?
- Would you like to ensure that this story of the Organ Attics continues to be told?
- Do you think that persecution and discrimination should no longer exist? And that this opinion should be encouraged in and shared with school children and all young people?
- Are you willing to be a tour guide for the Organ Attics, enthusiastically telling the story to young and old visitors and answering their questions?
- Do you feel that not being paid for this work is of no importance?
Then you only need to do one thing: send a mail to email@example.com
Let us know:
- Your name, age, address, and telephone number
- Subject of study or occupation
We will contact you as soon as possible.
Thank you in advance for your initiative!
Dilia van der Heem
Read the book The Organ Attics
The English version of the book on the families in hiding in the Organ Attics
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, the book about the Jewish families in hiding in the Breeplein Church in Rotterdam has been translated in English.
In this book, the author Anja Matser tells the improbable but true story of the six adults and a baby born during their long period in hiding. Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, has written the introduction.
Both The Organ Attics (€ 10) and the original book in Dutch, De Orgelzolders. Onderduikers in de Rotterdamse Breepleinkerk (18,95), can be bought via this website. Please go to the page “The Books” for more information.