Annie Adama van Scheltema

Anna Catharina Kleefstra, (known as Annie Adama van Scheltema), a librarian at the International Institute of Social History, was born in Lemmer on 25 February 1884 and died in Amsterdam on 22 March 1977.

She was the daughter of Jentje Johan Kleefstra, an educationalist and founder of the Brinio School in Hilversum, and Piternella Nanette Dekker. On 24 October 1907 she married the poet Carel Steven Adama van Scheltema. The couple did not have children.

After completing her secondary education at the Brinio School, Kleefstra opted to study German rather than mathematics (her original choice), obtained a teaching certificate and briefly taught at her old school. Encouraged by her teacher Gerard Ras, she joined the SDAP at 21 but was not an active member.

In April 1907, C. S. Adama van Scheltema offered her a position as his secretary via Leo Simons, the founder of the Wereldbibliotheek. He introduced her to a circle of young socialist intellectuals to which N. W. Posthumus also belonged. A few years after the death of her husband (1924), Annie Scheltema was forced to look for work because of financial problems brought on by the Depression.

In the early 1930s she worked as a volunteer at the Amsterdam university library to learn the librarian profession. In 1932 Posthumus hired her to work at the social-historical department of the Economic History Library (EHB) he had founded that same year. He also arranged to supplement her meagre salary by appointing her as the archivist of the SDAP party archive.

When the Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis Fund entrusted the library of F. Domela Nieuwenhuis to the EHB as a standing loan in 1934, Kleefstra was placed in charge of it. Nonetheless, she regarded this collection as an annex and occasionally as an addition to the two major libraries: the EHB and the IISH, which had been established at Posthumus' initiative on 25 November 1935.

Annie Scheltema was subsequently appointed the librarian of the IISH. She zealously collected socialist literature and archives. From 1935 onward, she travelled outside Amsterdam every year in search of acquisitions and visited the local chapters of the SDAP. She was repeatedly sent abroad on complex missions. Her personable demeanour and enthusiasm enabled her to convince those concerned that the institute's interests coincided both with their own interests and with the historical importance of the movement in which they had participated.

She covers this subject and her travels through Nazi Germany extensively in Herinneringen, which, although her accounts were not always accurate (she was well into her eighties when she wrote these memoirs), conveyed the contemporary ambience and offered a sense of the Institute's tumultuous early years.

After the Institute had been closed by order of the Nazi Sicherheitspolizei on 15 July 1940 and taken over by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die besetzten Gebiete, Posthumus assigned her to run the project for the City of Amsterdam that he launched in January 1941. The work involved cataloguing the vast collection of Dutch brochures that the Institute had secured after May 1940 and provided new jobs for the staff members who had been dismissed. In 1943 the Nazis began transporting the Institute's library to 'safety' in Germany. Annie Scheltema witnessed several of the shipments of the two and a half thousand crates.

In May 1945 she found the building empty. The only certainty was that the 165 crates containing the most irreplaceable materials (including those of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) were safe in the care of Arthur Lehning in Oxford. Scheltema invested her boundless energy first in tracing the library and then in rebuilding the institute. Especially during the post-war years she figured prominently in the Institute's general management. She retired in December 1953. Shortly before choosing to end her life, she published her memoirs of her work at the IISH.

  • Text: Maria Hunink, from: Biografisch Woordenboek van het socialisme en de arbeidersbeweging in Nederland, vol II (Amsterdam 1987) p. 77-78
  • The Institute and Annie Adama
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