Mussert the Millionaire
On 7th May 1946 Mussert (1894-1946), Leader of the NSB, the Dutch National Socialist Movement, was executed. At the time, he owned a major printing company (comprised of three firms), was director of a thriving publishing house and of various foundations, and owned antiques unrightfully taken from their Jewish owners. He also owned some five houses, one of which had been acquired likewise from Jewish property owners. He was also owner of a substantial estate, acted as moneylender to the mother of his mistress, and owed hundreds of thousands to the tax authorities. How did Mussert acquire so much money? And how does the image he projected as a reasonably respectable bourgeois man, as he was painted by the well-known historian L. de Jong, correspond to the fraud, the corruption, the extortion and the threats to which he was debit?
Everything can be traced back to the year 1934 in which Anton Adriaan Mussert (Ad) was forced to choose between his job as civil engineer at the Provincial Department of Public Works in Utrecht and membership to ‘his’ NSB. Civil servants were not permitted to be members of the NSB or of a string of other revolutionary associations. Mussert, together with NSB co-founder C. van Geelkerken, made a choice in favor of the NSB. His angry response was: “I was given no choice but to be kicked out and shall, just as Mussolini and Hitler, earn my bread by writing. Van Geelkerken will be my secretary. (…) We shall endeavor to live, but not from the contributions of the movement. We will not become ‘Bonzen’”. ‘Bonzen’ was the Dutch term of abuse popularly in use at the NSB for social democrat leaders; they lived off the money contributed by third parties, as was alleged by the NSB. This was not how Mussert wished to become.
Before long, he founded the Nenasu with the aid of his right-hand man Kees van Geelkerken. In Dutch, Nenasu is an acronym for Netherlands National Socialist Publishing House. This became a veritable goldmine.The Nenasu published the weekly journal Volk en Vaderland (1933) and four years later also Het Nationale Dagblad, as well as a large number of books and pamphlets and sundry fascist and national-socialist periodicals.All profits went to Mussert exclusively.
The Nenasu publications were printed at the printing company of Bosch in Utrecht, owner and publisher of Het Utrechts Dagblad. A VOMAG press was acquired on which amongst others Volk en Vaderlandwas printed. The press was German property and in 1935 it was put under seal by the judicial authorities. A court order and a higher appeal followed, after which the seal was lifted. The printing company of Bosch, however, wanted to rid itself of the NSB as a client. Mussert established his own printing company in Leiden: Van Nifterik. He held four fifths of the shares in his possession, which had in part been paid by member donations. For many years, this was the NSB’s principal printing establishment.
Then, the May days of 1940 approached. The occupation brought with it a change in Mussert’s behavior. The man who had hitherto appeared to the outside world as a paragon of decency and respectability was capable of acting completely without mercy.
Mussert sent A.J. van Vessem, the regular attorney of the NSB, to Bosch to inform them that Mussert was interested in buying the printing company. The company refused and also refused to submit a list of shareholders. There were several Jews on the list, who would be forced to relinquish their securities (‘hostile capital’) to the occupiers. Van Vessem bought those shares; from the occupier. This presented the NSB with a crowbar: it was shareholder and, as such, had access to the names and addresses of the other shareholders, who were being put under pressure.The company refused to cooperate. Pressure was increased: committee members and the board of managers were arrested and imprisoned until they surrendered. The daily newspaper Het Utrechtsch Dagblad was banned from publication. As a result, the value of these shares plummeted and Mussert was able to acquire four fifths of them cheaply; for the Nenasuand as his own personal property. This allowed him to acquire the premises of Bosch in Utrecht, including the presses and the flourishing enterprise.He deployed a relation by marriage as its deputy manager.
Now, he had access to substantial premises where he could put the great presses that were kept in storage in Rotterdam to use for the Nenasu.These presses had been used in Rotterdam to print the catholic daily newspaper De Maasbode.
De Maasbode, hard hit by bombardments in May 1940 but nevertheless still operational, was acquired by Mussert in the same way in which he had come to own the printing company of Bosch. The story about Mussert and De Maasbode is described superbly by Hans Vermeulen in his book on the history of this newspaper, the “best in the Netherlands”: De Maasbode, de geschiedenis van ‘de beste courant van Nederland.’ Just asHet Utrechts Dagblad, De Maasbode was also prohibited and its shares plummeted. Shareholders were put under duress and forced to sell their shares at rock-bottom prices.
Mussert needed substantial funds to make purchases such as these. No problem: the Ministry of Finance had reserved almost Dfl. 877,000 in war damages for the moment in which De Maasbode was to be resurrected as aRotterdam establishment and to construct new buildings and start to operate again in a rejuvenated Rotterdam. In exchange, the authorities were the owner of the premises and the presses, and were not willing to sell them. This meant that Mussert would not benefit from the shares and a conflict ensued between the NSB and the Municipality of Rotterdam, who forbade Mussert to transport the presses to Utrecht. F.E. Müller, the Mayor of Rotterdam, who was a prominent member of the NSB, interfered. Overruling his own civil servants, he signed his name to the document granting permission for all equipment to be brought to Utrecht. His fellow party member F.L. Rambonnet, General Authorized Representative for War and Defense Damages (Ministry of Finances), paid Mussert the Dfl.877,000 that had been kept back for the reconstruction of Rotterdam.With this sum in his pocket, Mussert was able to purchase Bosch, including its real estate.
When the war broke out, Mussert owned one house, in which he and his wife, Rie Mussert-Witlam, were living. We can surmise that part of the money that came out of the war damages compensation and which had been handed to him personally was used to buy more real estate. Mussert bought a house in Zeist, an enormous house facing the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, a house on the Maliebaan in Utrecht and a house in The Hague.
There was something interesting about the last two houses. Maliebaan 145 was directly adjacent to the residence of the NSB’s regular lawyer Van Vessem; its owners, the Van Ginkel family, were however opposed to the NSB. Mussert sent one of his minions to sway them. The owners, including old man Van Ginkel, who was getting on in years, were threatened with plastering their walls with NSB symbols and with claims. This was repeated several times, to conclude every time in a discussion between Mussert’s minion and Van Vessem, who was closely involved in the whole procedure. The residents of Maliebaan 145 began to feel threatened and moved out; Mussert bought the house and rented it to Van Vessem as office space.
Van Vessem did more business with the Mussert family; he bought several residences in Amersfoort, near Utrecht, with and for Mussert’s sister-in-law Theodora Mussert-van der Kaay, which had been robbed from now departed Jews by the occupant. This was an investment. Mussert himself was also not averse to stolen Jewish property sold cheaply by the occupant and bought a charming residence on the Kapelweg in The Hague.This house was around the corner from that of his niece Helena Mijnlieff-Verburg, the mother of his mistress Marietje. The reason behind this purchase was an obvious one; if the Great Leader were to be installed on the throne in The Hague, he would choose his Marietje (21 years old at the time) as his bride to accompany him. They could both then move into the house on the Kapelweg; around the corner from mother Helena. Rie Mussert-Witlam, Mussert’s wife – and aunt – was eighteen years older than Mussert, and, according to Mussert, was suffering from cancer.
With Marietje, he took out a substantial advance on a longed-for second marriage. Purchases had already been made to accommodate all the pomp and circumstance with which Mussert and Marietje intended to surround themselves. Out of stolen Jewish property belonging to Paul May and his wife, who had committed suicide on 15th May 1940, a huge antique dinner service and valuable antique chairs had been bought. A Persian carpet measuring forty square meters was bought from the Kröller-Müller family. Pieces such as these were put away in storage by Marietje’s mother Helena. Mussert also furnished Dfl. 70,000 for a house for Marietje and her mother when they were evacuated from The Hague to Naarden, near Utrecht.
After the war, substantial share packets were found in a safe that had belonged to Mussert which was buried in Marietje’s garden, plus Dfl. 20,000 in cash. In his own house, a huge number of household effects were found, as well as in the various nooks and crannies where Mrs. Mussert had hidden her silver and gold, jewelry, silver cutlery, and some paintings.
All of this cost a great deal more than the Dfl. 877,000 in war damages that had been paid. Mussert derived a more than adequate income from theNenasu. The printing company made substantial profits, which were allocated by Mussert. According to his own word, he was able to retain an annual sum of several tens of thousands for his own use during the occupation.
The group’s auditor’s reports, which have all been preserved, show that this did indeed concern thousands of guilders. There was a great deal of matter printed, and a great deal of money spent: the two newspapers, journals in specific fields, textbooks, novels, children’s books, posters and many pamphlets. Members were also only too happy to contribute to the firms.
Reading the auditor’s reports that were made before and during the occupation, it is not difficult to notice with what little transparency the commerce driven by the NSB was set up; one of the motives behind this being that they did not want to make it any easier for the tax authorities.Only a little was kept back for taxes; after the war a tax debt of half a million guilders was owed. Including interest, this came to around six hundred thousand guilders.
Why was this debt never paid? Mussert’s fellow party members at the Financial Department, where M. Rost van Tonningen and Rambonnet occupied high positions, were doubtlessly liable. Mussert was not stupid: he knew that there was not a single tax collector who would dare knock on the door of the NSB Headquarters on the Maliebaan in Utrecht to seize his property. Whether or not Mussert had kept more money hidden from the tax authorities in yet other hiding places remains unknown.