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  • Herman Lodewijk Alexander Visser


    Amersfoort
    Herman Lodewijk Alexander Visser was born on April 24th, 1872 in Amersfoort which during that period had a rather large Jewish community that can be traced until 1676. At that time the town council of Amersfoort leased the loan bank in Krommer Street to the brothers Mozes and Ruben Gomperts, bankers from Emmerik and Kleef. The brothers Gomperts belonged to the first Ashkenazi Jews who came to the Netherlands. Very soon more Jews came to live in Amersfoort. The brothers Gomperts put space in the loan bank at the disposal of synagogue services and eventually there developed – around (tobacco) entrepreneurs like Cohen, Italiaander and Herschel – a thriving Jewish community for which a new synagogue was inaugurated in 1727. Around that time 446 Jews were registered in this small community. About a century later, on May 5th, 1848 Amersfoort (and surroundings) even got a Chief Rabbi, Levie Benjamin Schaap, a tolerant and pious man, who was among the first preachers who spoke Dutch.
    In this well integrated community social care was important: many alms are known to have been given to less well- to- do persons of the same faith. In addition a lot of attention was paid to relaxation in the form of societies and theater companies, etc..
    A well-known person of that time was Dr. Levie Ephraim Visser (1806-1900), son of Kaatje Herschel who, after studying medicine in Utrecht, had practiced medicine in Amersfoort. On May 18th, 1875 he even celebrated the 50 years existence of his practice. Afterwards he became chairman of the Jewish community and remained very active socially as well as in charity.
    With Levie Ephraim Visser we now start the biography of Herman Visser. On April 3rd, 1872 messrs. Levits (verger) and Klein of Amersfoort came to the citizens' registrar in order to announce that Herman Lodewijk Visser, manufacturer, son of Levie Ephraim, had passed away the day before at 9 o'clock in the house on the Cingel, burrough B, number 275, at the age of 25 years. It was a bad break for his wife Charlotte Visser: 22 days after the death of his father, little Herman was born. The very new mother who only less than a year before had married her cousin, had suddenly become both a mother and a widow. Grandfather Levie Ephraim had the Charlotte's brother Jacques and her brother in law Philip Meijers.
    The following official document brings us to the beginning of a new phase in the life of Charlotte Visser and her little son who was in the meantime 5 years old: her wedding to the Dordrecht banker and widower Jozeph Zadoks. On August 3rd Charlotte Zadoks-Visser and her small son were officially deleted from the municipal register of Amersfoort. They had already joined the husband and step-father in Dordrecht; the city where Herman would continue to grow up. The family lived at Groenmarkt where J. Zadoks was registered as a banker.
    Herman attended the gymnasium/high school in Dordrecht. After matriculation he studied law at Leiden and then in Amsterdam, where his parents meanwhile came to live.
    Herman was a member of a students' organization and relaxed from his studies by alternating theater performances and playing the violin. Later in Amsterdam he became a member of the Philosophical Society and the "Reading Museum” (Leesmuseum) on the Rokin. A picture from his study period shows Herman during his student society period. However, people who knew him at a later period describe him as a gloomy, difficult person, who easily lost his temper. From the course of his life it can be reduced that he was an extremely intelligent personality, and his very somber, lonely and withdrawn life would eventually - through the circumstances of war- lead to an end that he had himself decided upon.

    Promotion (Obtaining Ph.D.)
    Herman Visser received his Law Degree on Monday, December 7th, 1896 from the University of Amsterdam which accepted his thesis" Psychiatric supervision in jails". It is a plea for more openness of the judiciary to the difference between criminality and sickness and the acquisition of knowledge to enable the judiciary to distinguish this difference. Visser put his finger on the sore points in society from the point of view of the tension between the individual and the society.
    The search for causes of derangement in humans set him on a course of researching the behavior of the individual in a group or in masses from the point of view of criminality and illness. His probing the reasons of the derangement of people brought him, after his research in the field of criminality and illness towards the quest of the behaviour of the individual in the group or the masses, and towards the behaviour of the masses themselves, as if representing an abstract individual as it where, capricious and amoral at the very least.
    The first part of the plea has in the meantime become an accepted principle, so much so that in present social discussions one seems to be looking for a new balance: the influence of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers is now and then criticized because judges seem to depend too much on them in determining punishment. Visser argued at the time for something that still had to be completely worked out, and immediately cautioned for the need of a balanced system. I.e. the judiciary should have enough knowledge of psychiatry in order to [come] arrive as much as possible at an objective assessment of the situation. For a regular observation and the necessary care there ought to be "separate institutions to care for the insane prisoners".

    Lawyer
    A year after receiving his Doctoral degree in 1897, he established himself as a lawyer and solicitor in a house on the Herengracht no. 595. According to the inhabitants' register of Amsterdam he also lived at other addresses, but it is not clear whether he also moved his practice each time. In a telephone register of 1915 he is in any case listed as living on the Keizersgracht, together with office hours. One cannot judge how well his law-office flourished without further research, but one can presume from the known facts that Herman Visser did not have a thriving practice.

    Researcher
    Herman Visser was clearly attracted to research, and apart from that also relaxed with music and good friends. Nevertheless, Visser has been able, also through his law practice to sharpen his insight in the human being.
    The developments in the world (during that period) almost forced him to put his mind on this and thus Visser switched in his work from criminal law and psychiatry to the more philosophical and social aspects. Although Herman Visser would stay quite a lot in Amsterdam, he had chosen for a withdrawn study environment. This was to be in Voorst, but he often visited his friends and the institutes he needed for his research.

    Voorst
    On April 24th, 1924 Herman Visser officially established himself in Voorst, at Rijksstraatweg 100. That day was his 53rd birthday. In the municipal register of Voorst it says: unmarried. Also: "Religion: None". Under "Office, Profession or Business: None". He would live until his death in the house called "Kerkzicht" (Church View), not considering the many other places he lived in, for the time being. The subsequent inhabitants have kept this house as much as possible in its original state. The person who knew him most intimately was Mrs. Boucher-Vernede, a widow, who was registered there between 1936 and 1941. Among others she wrote: "Mr. Visser was very reserved (…) and lived a very solitary life (…). Whilst at home, he studied much and regularly. He had an extensive library and wrote a lot (…)"
    Visser's second cousin Warendorf wrote: "He (Visser) was a rather shy man who as a child impressed me as being somber and introverted. He did not speak much. This typical unmarried figure could obviously not easily make contact with other persons. It was, therefore, even more striking that he wrote a book on the psychology of the masses, which is, as I seem to remember of a more philosophical than psychological nature." There are, however, many other conclusions which one can draw from the factual material: Visser did indeed – as a counter weight – seek the conviviality and companionship of others, such as his friends at the Institute, the Deventer fair, playing the violin, acting in the theater, etc. He was all that, apart from the fact that he himself could also regularly be found with his friends in Amsterdam.
    Visser was undisputedly a hospitable man and was considered a good host. It was the life of a man who attended 'circles' and who had a well-developed social life. Visser thus also attended the Oranje Society in Zutphen, where discussions were held while enjoying a glass of good wine. This ended in 1940 when he, being a Jew was forbidden to take part. This society mentions him as one of the members who perished during the war.
    In Voorst Visser worked at his studies with discipline. He established the "Voorster Circle" – a group of men poring over scientific and cultural subjects. Each year between December and March Visser attended scientific congresses among others in Greece, Egypt, France, Morocco, Spain and Austria. In 1923 he visited Vienna, where the Pan-European movement was established. Visser embraced the unification of Europe. In 1925 he established the journal "Mensch en Maatschappij" (Man and Society), of which he would be editor and reviewer until his death. This journal proposed to lay the boundaries of law in a scientific way as a contribution of the Dutch speaking cultural society to human culture as he saw it.
    When Hitler ascended in 1933 it was immediately clear to Visser that European foundations would be rocked in the future. It is noticeable from his gradual withdrawal from society and the various circles of which he was a part that the events had made a great impression on him. The war had also reached The Netherlands and that which Visser had feared in his darkest moments and had accurately described in the field of mass psychology, was going to happen.
    In 1942 he asked for his will to be made in order to ensure the safety of his belongings. He then awaited further events. These came with the summons for transportation to the concentration camps. A few days later the mayor of Voorst could announce that after checking it turned out that no Jews were present in that municipality, except those of mixed marriage and that the house of Visser was empty. In the will that he left behind on June 12th, 1942 it says the following: "
    I herewith make known my express wish that my remains be cremated and that this ceremony take place in all tranquility, without flowers or wreaths, in the presence of at most a few persons. Neither a preceding announcement nor the spreading or keeping of the ashes will be appreciated."
    It happened as described above, after Mr. Visser took his own life on May 28th, 1943 in order not to give the Germans themselves the opportunity to do so. His remains were honored in the way he wished and which so much suited him.
    His legacy has as its purpose to praise individuals, who can serve as an example to society by their behavior or deeds, or by their creations of art, or by their fight against the follies of the masses in whatever form and so strengthen themselves and us to
    offer a defense against groups or masses that went astray.
    It is an assignment that is as important today as it was at the time it was given: it is as timeless as the life and work of Mr. Visser.

    Sources:
    Dr. Els Ruijsendaal: Leven en werk van Herman Visser
    50 jaar Visser - Neerlandiaprijzen
    Edited by: Els Ruijsendaal, Pauline Beernink and Jenny Bleijenberg
    ANV- series, number 8
    Biografische informatie mr. H.L.A. Visser

    ANV-Visser-Neerlandiaprijs – The ANV manages the Visser-Neerlandia Fund, being the most important fund.
    This fund is made up from the estate of mr. Herman Lodewijk Alexander Visser, philosopher and scientist.
    Herman Visser is also recorded in the Joods Biografisch Woordenboek:
    http:/www.jodeninnederland.nl/

    Genealogical information:
    Mentioned – in part details – in the Duparc family genealogy file at Akevoth (the Dutch Jewish Genealogical Data Base).


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