Een schuivende moraal
: De naoorlogse constructie van een (zelf)beeld van broers en politieagenten Jan en Adriaan Smorenburg

Translated title of the thesis: Shifting morals: Postwas (self)perceptions of brothers and policemen Jan and Adriaan Smorenburg
  • J. Oosterloo

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Adriaan and Jan Smorenburg were brothers and grew up in the same family. They chose the same line of work by joining the police force of the city of Utrecht. The latter had not been Jan’s first choice. Artistically gifted, he had endeavoured on a path to a career as a painter, but due to the lack of good earnings in that field, he switched to policework in 1921. His younger brother Adriaan followed in 1927. Both remained in service throughout the Second World War. Similarities end there, as Adriaan performed regular uniformed duties, did not engage in enforcing anti-Jewish policies and helped the resistance, where Jan joined a special police unit responsible for tracking down Jewish inhabitants that had gone into hiding. He handed the Jewish arrestees over to the German occupier. The vast majority did not survive the war. Adriaan and his wife provided a safe home to the young Jewish girl Loes and were the reason she did survive.
    In this thesis, I endeavoured to answer the research question how moral aspects in postwar reflections on the conduct of Jan and Adriaan Smorenburg in Utrecht during the Second World War can be interpreted? In order to do so, I analysed how memories and reflections from those directly involved (family, witnesses, victims, colleagues) compared with each other and with perceptions formed in popular discourse and academic historiography on Dutch police during the Nazi-occupation in general, and on Adriaan and Jan Smorenburg in particular. The written primary source material consisted of postwar statements by Jan, letters to family by both brothers, and testimonies from witnesses, victims and colleagues given between 1945 and 1949 during the criminal investigation against Jan Smorenburg for collaborating with the enemy. Oral primary sources comprised of Loes van den Ancker-Susan, who had been in hiding with Adriaan and his wife, and of Ko Smorenburg, grandson of Jan, both interviewed for this thesis in 2019. For contextualising and interpreting the above, I studied previously conducted research on wartime policemen, Jewish children in hiding, and children of (grand)parents who collaborated with the Nazi’s.
    In line with historiography on the Second World War, archival material on Jan, as a perceived collaborator, is abundant, whereas material on his brother Adriaan is almost non-existent, just as is the case with other Dutch police officers who had quietly tried to resist the Nazi’s, not in grand and heroic ways but nonetheless often lifesaving. This silence was partly due to the complex situation of shifting morals in which police officers found themselves. During the war, from an official point of view, they performed their duties well when they enforced or facilitated anti-Jewish policies. After the war, those who had done so, were arrested and interred, like Jan. Yet, those who had refused or avoided facilitating the Nazi-regime and helped the resistance instead, were, once the war was over, often frowned upon by their colleagues for presumably leaving others to do the dirty work. They mostly kept silent after the war.
    The few findings in this research showed that moral judgment on Adriaan was unanimously positive. As regards to the conduct of Jan during the German occupation, there was no consensus. Jan wrote approximately eighty pages of autobiographical statements between 1945 and 1950, while in internment camps, which can be interpreted as vindication. He admitted his wrongdoings in hindsight, while claiming no full knowledge of the fate of the Jewish people at the time he arrested them. In judging Jan, the relational context seemed relevant. His grandson Ko tried to find explanations for the path his grandfather took, but also appeared to negotiate between explaining and understanding. Ko drew attention to Jan’s personality, as did relatives of Jan during the postwar criminal investigation. All of them admitted Jan had made devastating mistakes, but they emphasized Jan’s excellent pre-war track record as one of the best police officers in Utrecht. They all stated that he was driven and ambitious by character, but not intrinsically a bad person. Previous research on children of (grand)parents who were presumed to have collaborated during the war, showed similar mechanisms. For many (grand)children, negotiating often also involved a sense of loyalty towards the parent or grandparent as well as their own perception of wright and wrong. Victims, witnesses, judges during the criminal trial and historians until this day found no excuses in circumstances or personality and collectively judged harshly on Jan and his conduct during the German occupation.
    It is not up to a researcher to pass moral judgment, merely to analyse moral aspects of perceptions formed by others, which was the aim of this research. Rather than producing definitive answers, this research raised more question, though. What if Jan had stayed the artistic course and had never joined the police. Would he still have been exposed to the national-socialist ideology to the extend he was as a police officer handling several cases involving members of the NSB, the Dutch national-socialist party? And why did Adriaan not appear as witness in the criminal file of his brother Jan or in any other form of communication with or related to his brother? Can this be attributed to their diverging political beliefs and, consequently, the different ways in which they carried their policework during the Nazi-occupation? The research for this thesis did provide a further insight in the various ways in which individual Dutch police officers carried out their duties, while giving a not yet explored broader perspective on the, up until now one-dimensional, historiography on Jan Smorenburg.
    Date of Award11 Dec 2020
    Original languageDutch
    SupervisorSusan Hogervorst (Supervisor), Hinke Piersma (Supervisor) & Gemma Blok (Examiner)

    Master's Degree

    • Master Kunst en Cultuurwetenschappen

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