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Written for possible inclusion in The Baha'i Encyclopedia. Posted with permission of both the author and of the editor of the Encyclopedia project.

Netherlands:
History of the Baha'i Faith

by Will C. van den Hoonaard

1993-11
Netherlands. Pop. 14,815,000; area 41,785 sq.km. (16,133 sq.mi.). A kingdom in northwest Europe bordered by the North Sea on the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east. The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces, and is often called "Holland," a name taken from one of its main provinces. The capital is Amsterdam.

The people of the Netherlands, the Dutch, have a heritage of mixed Scandinavian, French, and Celtic blood. The language is Dutch. Forty percent of the population is Roman Catholic, while the Dutch Reformed and other Protestant Churches claim another 31% of the population.

Early Bahá'í History. Shoghi Effendi termed the Dutch "intelligent and forward thinking people" (personal correspondence, July 1948). The earliest attempts to teach them the

Bahá'í Faith date back to December 1913 when Daniel Jenkyn (b.1884), from England, traveled through the Netherlands. He received a Tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá in recognition of his efforts. It is also known that `Abdu'l-Bahá revealed a Tablet [when?] for J. Isbrucken, a woman in The Hague. The teaching work in the Netherlands received considerable stimulus from an American Bahá'í, Louise Drake Wright, who visited the country on the instructions of Shoghi Effendi on three separate occasions: the summer of 1932 (Amsterdam); March-June 1933 (Amsterdam and The Hague); January-April 1934 (The Hague). During this time she met with women's and peace groups, Quakers, Theosophists, Esperantists, and female leaders of thought such as the founder of the Netherland Girl Guides, and she cultivated contacts with the major libraries in Amsterdam and The Hague.

The first Dutch Bahá'í appears to have been a Mr. Mesdag, who became a Bahá'í in Egypt, and visited Shoghi Effendi in Haifa in 1925 (Arohanui pp.6-7).

The Hague, seat of the Dutch government, became the earliest Bahá'í center in the country, although its Bahá'í status was not continuous. The earliest Bahá'í family in the Netherlands were the Tijssens. Emma Margaret Tijssen, née Hartmann (1888-1979), was a German Bahá'í who had come to The Hague in 1937 with her husband, Otto. Their son, Walter Frank, and his wife, Dora, became Bahá'ís soon thereafter.

The Tijssens were joined in The Hague in the autumn of 1937 by Mr. and Mrs. Max and Inez Greeven. Mr. Greeven (1869-1961) was an American businessman who had become a Bahá'í in New York in 1927 and moved to Germany in 1930. The family's move to The Hague in 1937 was due to business restrictions in Germany; the Greevens remained in Holland until 1940. Captain Jacob Asmus Liebau, of Vlissingen, near Rotterdam, was in contact with the Greevens and the Bahá'í Faith in 1939. In that year, Cptn. Liebau translated into Dutch Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, The Kitáb-i-Iqán, and The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, which were then published in Holland by Mr. Greeven. Cptn. Liebau did not officially join the Bahá'í Faith until [June 1952?], under Mrs. Straub.

It was not until 1946 that the European Teaching Committee (ETC) was formed under the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States. In June, the ETC asked Miss Rita van Bleyswijk Sombeek (1903-1981), a Dutch woman who had spent the war years in the United States and become a Bahá'í during that time, to return to the Netherlands to pioneer. She and her (non-Bahá'í) sister, Mrs. Georgette (Jetty) Straub (1906-1979), sailed from New York on 25 September 1946 and arrived in Rotterdam, Europe's most important port city, on 4 October. By January 1947, Mrs. Straub had joined the Bahá'í Faith. The sisters made contact with Arnold van Ogtrop, who became a Bahá'í between October 1946 and February 1947. The date of his official registration was not until ca. 1952.

Another pioneer was John Carré who set sail from New York for Holland on 12 March 1947, followed by Charlotte Stirratt on 26 March 1947. Under Shoghi Effendi's instructions to concentrate efforts on Amsterdam, Mr. Carré stayed in nearby Bussum. Miss Stirrat landed in Rotterdam and stayed to help with the work there for three weeks, then moved to Amsterdam. Rita van Sombeek took up residence in Amsterdam as well, and began to hold Bahá'í meetings in her home, beginning on 29 May 1947. Mrs. Straub remained in Rotterdam (where her husband was the head pathologist at the Rotterdam hospital) and concentrated on carrying out more translation work.

Jan Piet de Borst, of Wassenaar, although not the first person in the Netherlands to accept the Bahá'í Faith, was the first to officially register in the Bahá'í Faith, enrolling in Bussum, 3 August 1947. Next to join in that city was Hans Slim, of Wassenaar, on 20 August 1947. The third new believer was Miss Josephine Caroline Diebold, an elderly resident of Amsterdam, on 21 March 1948; fourth was Denise Sohet, from near Wassenaar; and fifth and sixth were Amsterdam residents Miss Frieda van Houten (who shortly left for college in Geneva) and Harry [Herma?] Bernard Dieperink, both on 4 April 1948.

By 26 September 1947, John Carré had left the Netherlands for a pioneering post in Madrid, returning briefly in 1948. Charlotte Stirratt had moved to Lisbon, Portugal, by November 1948. The Bahá'í community of the Netherlands had also lost Rita van Sombeek, who had returned to the United States on 18 August 1949 in order to uphold her American citizenship, after which she pioneered to Sweden. She was back in Amsterdam by 1951, but soon left to pioneer in Italy and then Luxembourg. At last, she traded her American citizenship for permanent residence status in the Netherlands to serve the Cause until the end of her life, sharing a home with her widowed sister, Jetty, in Doesburg and later in Zeist.

As various American pioneers left Amsterdam, others arrived from the United States, to strengthen the work in the Dutch capital, many of them living for shorter or longer durations at 63 Jan Luyckenlaan, Amsterdam. Eleanor Gregory Hollibaugh had arrived as a pioneer by 2 September 1948 and alternated her place of residence between Amsterdam and The Hague, staying until 6 October 1949, when the European Teaching Committee transferred her to Luxembourg. Mrs. Hollibaugh came back to Amsterdam in October 1950 when Mildred Eileen Clark (1892-1967) and George Clark--who had arrived in Amsterdam in January 1950 from Norway--exchanged posts with her. Hollibaugh moved her place of residence to The Hague on 24 September 1951. Although she returned to the United States on 30 April 1954 to tend to family matters, she was back in the Netherlands (in Bussum) by November of the same year.

Edward L. Bode (1906-1976), an engineer, and his wife, Mary Hotchkiss Bode (1896-1969), arrived in Amsterdam in late March 1949 and stayed until January 1950. The Bodes returned to the Netherlands in October 1959, and subsequently resided in Arnhem, The Hague, and Rotterdam. In early 1969 they left for a new post at Madeira.

The movements of these early pioneers and the small increase of new believers resulted in the holding of the first "Summer Gathering" in Bussum in August 1949, the forerunner of later Dutch summer schools. Other early enrollees included Luis deFretes and Antoinette (Nettie) L. Rijnenberg (d.1957), of Indonesian background.

After the successful formation of an organized Bahá'í community in Amsterdam and Bussum, The Hague became the center of Bahá'í work, then Rotterdam. The European Teaching Conference in Scheveningen in the summer of 1951 boosted the Bahá'í work in The Hague, including the enrollment of several believers in The Hague. The first new believer in Rotterdam was Louis Gustave Löhlefink on 8 February 1953.

The West Frisian Islands of the Netherlands were opened in October 1953 by two German pioneers, Geertrui Ankersmit and Ursula von Brunn. They were followed in November 1953 by Elsa Maria Grossman (b. 1896). All three were named as Knights of Bahá'u'lláh for the Frisian Islands.

The fifth (mainland) community to be opened to the Faith was Zandvoort, with the entry of Mr. and Mrs. Adelman into the Bahá'í Faith in October 1956. The first Bahá'í of Leiden, Walter Italiaander, who enrolled some years after 1958, was a boarder of Mrs. Nosrat Rabbani. The second Leiden Bahá'í, Annemarie Niessink, later married one of the Persian pioneers, Masu'd Mazgani.

By 1959, there were only 63 Bahá'ís in the Netherlands and an appeal was made by the Hands of the Cause to the Persian Bahá'í community for the settlement of Bahá'í families in the Netherlands. Some 38 Persian Bahá'ís responded, mostly families, and, as a consequence, it was possible to establish spiritual assemblies in Arnhem, Delft, Haarlem, Leiden, Rotterdam, and Utrecht.

The 1960s saw further developments in the spread of the Bahá'í community. In 1965, the remote post of Vlieland was opened to the Bahá'í Faith. The first regional teaching conferences were held in 1968. The next year, the Dutch Bahá'ís sponsored the first International Youth Conference.

The early 1970s witnessed innovative teaching endeavours, including the formation of the music group "Great Day," and the audacious plan of placing an eye-catching poster (with a rising sun) in all train stations of the country.

Institutional Development. There was no Bahá'í group as such in the Netherlands as at 20 November 1946; a year later, there were seven Bahá'ís in Amsterdam alone. The first local Spiritual Assembly in the Netherlands was that formed at Amsterdam on 21 April 1947. The Bahá'ís of Bussum and Rotterdam were eligible to vote in its election as well. By 30 May 1951, the localities of The Hague, Bussum, and Rotterdam each had enough Bahá'ís so that three groups could be created, separate from the Bahá'í community of Amsterdam. The first Spiritual Assembly of The Hague was formed at Ridvan 1952. An unsuccessful attempt was made to form a Bahá'í group in Utrecht, in 1954.

The next thrust in the development of Bahá'í institutions in the Netherlands took place in 1955. The month of October saw the establishment of the Benelux Regional Committee (the precursor to the Benelux National Spiritual Assembly), and the organization of the first all-Dutch meeting on 12 November 1955. In 1957, the Netherlands Bahá'í community joined those of Belgium and Luxembourg, to form the regional National Spiritual Assembly of the Benelux countries, headquartered in Brussels. In April 1962, the Netherlands created its own National Spiritual Assembly, with its seat at The Hague.

The purchase of a property, 27 Riouwstraat, The Hague, to serve as the national Bahá'í Centre was finalized on 15 September 1955; the building was dedicated on 18-20 May 1956. Since 1987, Bahá'ís have also a national conference centre, "De Poort."

A national endowment, between The Hague and Leiden, was purchased, as well as, in 1971, a property in Benthuizen (Zoetermeer) for use for a Bahá'í House of Worship, with the help of a contribution from the United States Bahá'í community.

Mas'ud Mazgani, an instructor of the Persian language, and Lout van Veenendaal, a technologist, were the first members of the Auxiliary Board appointed in the Netherlands [when?].

Official Recognition. In 1963, the Netherlands National Spiritual Assembly was registered at the Ministry of Justice as a religious organization. Ted and Olga Ruys of Delft held the first Bahá'í marriage, in 1959.

Distinctive Contributions. On 17 December 1919 and July 1920 `Abdu'l-Bahá revealed a Tablet addressed to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in The Hague.

A woman of Dutch descent, Gertrude Buikema (her father was from Groningen), served as one of the earliest editors of Star of the West, a Bahá'í journal which was published by the United States Bahá'í community between 1910 and 1924. Another Dutch Bahá'í of note was Rosey Pool, who was one of Anne Frank's school teachers.

Rita van Sombeek and Jetty Straub, beginning in 1947, accomplished the translation of many of the Bahá'í Writings. Rita did a new translation of the KI. Mrs. Straub translated the Persian HW, the Arabic HW, BNE, and Selected Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. During the second Seven-Year Plan (1946-53), translations into Dutch were done for Bahá'í Prayers, Bloemlezing/Bahá'u'lláh, and De Weg naar een Menswaardig Wereld. The first edition of a Dutch Bahá'í magazine was issued in the Fall of 1955. 1966 witnessed the first publication of a Frisian Bahá'í pamphlet.

The Dutch Bahá'í community has served in the international arena of the Faith, as well. In late 1951, Harry Dieperink left for Zululand, the first Bahá'í to settle in that area. Dutch Bahá'í settlers have gone to Indonesia (formerly the Dutch West Indies). For example, Piet van der Borst and Hendrik Buys left Holland to pioneer in Indonesia in 1949. Arnold Zonneveld (1933-1983) spent 23 years pioneering--three years in the barren arctic region of Spitsbergen, and then (from 1966 onwards) the rest of his life in Cochabamba in Brazil. During the Nine Year Plan (1964-1973) Dutch oversees pioneers established a Spiritual Assembly in Suriname (formerly a Dutch colony), at Paramaribo. The Dutch Bahá'í community also purchased a temple site in Usumbura, Burundi.

Growth of the Bahá'í Community.

In 1948, there were 11 Bahá'ís in the Netherlands, and the community stayed under 100 believers until 1962 when it reached 110, with nine spiritual assemblies. By 1973, at the end of the Nine-Year Plan, there were 365 believers in 72 localities and 16 spiritual assemblies. At the completion of the Five-Year Plan in 1979, there were 525 Bahá'ís in 110 localities with 27 spiritual assemblies. The Seven-Year Plan saw, in 1986, .... Bahá'ís in 140 localities and 30 spiritual assemblies. In 1992 ....

Sources.

Bahá'í Dawn, Manchester. Manchester: Bahá'í Assembly, 1925, p. 8.

BW 13:909-911; 15:460-61, 547-49; 16:566-68; 17:474-6; 18:763-65, 824-25.

Effendi, Shoghi. Letter to Rita van Sombeek, 6 July 1948.

European Teaching Commitee Records and Minutes, 1946-48, National Bahá'í Archives, Wilmette, Illinois, United States.

Star of the West, 2 March 1921:315.

UHJ Message to Netherlands Bahá'ís, Ridvan 1964:1.

Wright, Louise Drake. "Pioneer Introduction of the Bahá'í Faith to the Netherlands,"in Bahá'í World (1938-40), vol. VIII: 877-884.

Lottie Tobias (1993) "Uit de Nederlandse Bahá'í geschiedenis." Bahá'í Vizier, 31: 164-171.

---- (1984) "Bahá'í Geschiedenis--Nederland." A paper presented on occasion of Theme Day, Amsterdam, 15 April.

References to the Netherlands and its inhabitants in Bahá'í writings.

TDP, p.41.

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