On the 125th Birth Anniversary of Stalin 

Theun De Vries

W. Vic Ratsma

Theun de Vries was born in 1907 in the village of Veenwouden in the northern part of the Netherlands. From the time he was a youngster he displayed a concern for people who suffered under oppression and displacement, a concern he maintained throughout his life. The pen was his most effective and most eloquent weapon, as he wrote more than a hundred novels, as well as many poems and other literature. One of his most famous books, Het Meisje met het Rode Haar (The Girl with the Red Hair) written in 1956, depicts the life of Hannie Schaft, a young girl and an anti-fascist communist. This book left an indelible impression on many people and has also been put on film. De Vries also wrote a novel under the title Wilde Lantaarns (Wild Lanterns) in which he depicts the class struggle as it unfolded between farm labourers and the bourgeois farmers in the northern provinces of Holland.

The generation of Theun de Vries grew up during a time of economic depression and the rise of new ideologies like socialism, communism and fascism. In 1936 he became a member of the Communist Party of The Netherlands, motivated by the strong anti-Hitler position this party was taking. During the second world war and the nazi occupation of Holland, when writing progressive literature was dangerous, he often wrote under an alias, but this did not prevent his detention and imprisonment in a concentration camp. Even there he wrote poems, which were smuggled out by a trusted guard. Despite the deploring conditions in the camp, which de Vries describes as being a ‘terrible time’, one positive aspect was the high degree of the solidarity among the political prisoners, who consisted of Communists, Social Democrats, Christian Reformed people and Catholics. Despite their individual differences they were united in the view that after the war a different society should be built.

During the fifties he became president of the Dutch – Soviet Friendship Society and made a number of visits to the Soviet Union. As time went on he became more and more critical of the direction Soviet society was taking and found it to be anything but a ‘workers paradise’. On the contrary, he describes it as a huge coldhearted bureaucracy with a lot of mendacity. He very much regretted that the Communist Party of the Netherlands still faithfully followed in the steps of the Soviet Union and that the leadership of his Party made the same mistakes. By 1971, after 35 years as a member he had had enough and resigned from the Party.

Today, Theun de Vries is retired and lives in Amsterdam. In 2003 the Literary Museum in The Hague organised an exhibition providing an overview of his life and writings.

Reference materials used for this article:

Interview with Theun de Vries published July 11, 2003 in ‘Tribune’, the monthly publication of the Socialist party of Holland.

De Groene Amsterdammer, May 5, 2001.

Rode Tribune, http://www.geocities.com/rodetribune/theunjun03.htm 

Two Poems on Stalin

Theun de Vries

         1879 – Stalin – 1949

Holland’s mills, in sombre weighty movement
cast their view upon a low
to carry the grey skies
of the old and passing year.

From the land of reeds and friendly streams
rises the west wind, like a strong young man,
rising up under his own weight,
and conquering both sea and land.

Speak now, words, quietly and charged
with all the power of this wind-swept land
greet the greatest of all comrades
Sing for him this melody of Holland

We know you: to us you are no stranger,
but the one imbued with all the patience
with which the mills, in their grey meadows
are filled, while milling eternally.

We know you for you have the firm
unassailable strength of basalt
that breaks the storm in fierce
with which it assaults Holland’s garden.

We know you, for you are the skipper
with the hard and dark-brown hand
who guides the clipper along marsh and mud-flat
steadily to the safety of the land.

We know you for you have been created
from the same dark clay as we
in which all great images lie asleep
of a people, undivided and free.

With head raised above everyone
but with feet on motherlands’ ground
that supports the lives of thousands
unrestricted and yet in secret bound.

It is from the people that you took your courage
from the people the dream, that keeps them alive
from the people all of the patient desire
from the people the will, that constructs and creates

’Leaders go, but the people live forever’ –
But in the heart of the new order it is
indelibly inscribed:
Stalin, – leader, brother, comrade!

          Moscow, March 9, 1953

In the mournful silence of the ancient square
Old guards waited, for the final time, comrades, young and old
Fathers held their children higher when the hearse came near
Through the dark throngs of the masses, it glowed like a morning flame
But the proud red flag with which people, happily singing
Had greeted him in bygone years on this same square
Now covered this friend and father, laying in his deepest sleep
As the sombre tones of mournful music sounded.
On the shoulders of his nearest he was carried one more time
He, who taught them liberation and to live in freedom
He, Lenin’s pupil and comrade through the difficult years
Was taken again to Lenin’s side in the comradeship of death
Cannons boomed lonely, all work and labour ceased
To Red Square they flocked likes doves to a dovecot
The thoughts of millions, their vows filled the air
For the dead hero, who now rests from his superhuman work
He will rest, he will sleep, but what he created holds power and breathes
Among the people it lives, it stirs them to heroic acts
Until no hiding place can be found where slavery can thrive
Until the brotherhood of people can celebrate Stalin’s name in peace

In memory of Joseph Stalin

Gori, December 21, 1879 – Moscow, March 5, 1953

Translated from the Dutch by Vic Ratsma

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