In 1935 the International Archives for the Women's Movement (IAV) in Amsterdam was founded by three Dutch feminists: Rosa Manus (1881-1943), Johanna Naber (1859-1941) and Willemijn Posthumus-van der Goot (1897-1989). The goal of the IAV was to promote the knowledge and scientific study of the women's movement in the broadest sense of the word. The three women wanted to establish a center in which the cultural heritage of women would be collected and preserved.

The beginning years of the IAV were prosperous. Rosa Manus donated the books and papers of Aletta Jacobs, the first woman medical doctor in the Netherlands and the leader of the Dutch women suffrage movement, who had died in 1929. Rosa Manus was the first president of the IAV. She succeeded in obtaining very important material by using her many national and international connections. The IAV published a yearbook in 1937 and in 1938. By 1940 around 4000 books had been collected, as well as several archives, many pictures and periodicals.

There came an abrupt end to this flourishing beginning of the IAV. On July 2nd, 1940, less than two months after the Germans occupied the Netherlands, the German "Sicherheitsdienst" (Security Service) knocked on the door of the IAV, told the two women who were present to leave, and sealed the door. Several days later the Nazis removed the complete content of the IAV to Germany: all the books and archives, even the curtains and furniture were taken away. This happened only weeks after Rosa Manus had brought the valuable papers she had received and collected during the more than 30 years she had been active in the women's and peace movement.

Charlotte Matthes, the IAV-treasurer at the time, immediately protested against the confiscation. The reason the Germans had for closing the IAV was that it was an international organization. And because its name began with an A, it was one of the first to be closed. They explained their action as follows: "Die deutschen Frauen haben es sich gewünscht" (the German women wanted it).

After the war all possible efforts were made to trace and retrieve the stolen property. The many contacts with women and women's organizations in Germany and Eastern Europe were used to find out the whereabouts of the books and archives, but in vain. There were only two minor successes. Thanks to Graswinckel, a member of the committee for the recuperation of goods from Germany, the IAV regained a tenth of its possessions in 1947. In 1966 Ivo Krikava, librarian in Hradec Králové in Czechoslovakia, discovered four books, which had the stamp of the IAV in them. He sent them back. After that, there was no news.

And then suddenly, more than fifty years after the theft, in January 1992 there was a small announcement in a Dutch newspaper, made by the Dutch historian Marc Jansen. He had visited the Osobyi Archive in Moscow where he had discovered archives from Dutch organizations and persons. Among the collections there were 25 boxes containing (some of) the lost archives of the International Archives for the Women's Movement. After the many fruitless attempts to retrieve our material, the news about this discovery seemed like a miracle to us.

At first it looked as if the Dutch archives would soon be returned to their home country. The Dutch state archivist Ketelaar visited his colleague in Moscow and signed an agreement. But since then many months went by and nothing happened. In February 1994, Mineke Bosch and Myriam Everard, both researchers in women's history, decided not to wait any longer. They went to Moscow to see the archives of the IAV themselves. They only had a few days, but that was enough time to go through all the boxes superficially. The boxes contain a lot of interesting material, such as the early archives of the IAV itself and something as unique as an album offered in 1906 to Aletta Jacobs by Hungarian suffragettes.

When it became clear that the IAV archives would not be returned shortly, the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam was kind enough to have all the papers put on microfilm, for which we are enormously grateful (33,663 shots on 14 films). The films made it clear that the papers were not filed in any logical order. Thanks to a grant from the government we could make prints from the films: almost 35,000 copies. The pre-1940 international women's movement came back to life. A good deal of the papers and photographs were indeed from Rosa Manus, but also from other feminists as Jacobs and To Bouwmeester. There were records from organizations like the Dutch Association for Woman's Suffrage and the Business and Professional Women.

At least remarkable is the fact that among the IAV-archives there were documents which do not belong to us, such as letters from the publisher Albert de Lange, minutes from the Synagogue in Amsterdam, and documents in German and French. It seems as if many stolen archives were mixed up at some point during the transport or storing. Of course, this could also imply that another part of the IAV-archives will be retraced sooner or later. Let us hope that the latter will happen, and that the 4,000 books and periodicals that are still lost will be recovered as well.

Annette Mevis, Archivist, International Archives for the Women's Movement, Amsterdam

GETTING TO THE SOURCE A “Truly International” Archive for the Women’s Movement (IAV, IIAV now Aletta): From its Foundation in Amsterdam in 1935 to the Return of its Looted Archives in 2003
Francisca de Haan © 2004 JOURNAL OF WOMEN’S HISTORY, VOL. 16 NO. 4