Hundertook Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht. Her full name is in the imprint of the magazine “Castrum Peregrini”, of which she was the patron. Of these hundred years, however, it was only very few that brought Gisèle van Waterschoot, as the practical everyday name, her place in literary history, the honorary title of Righteous Among the Nations in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and finally a biography of more than four hundred pages.
In the years from 1941 to 1945 the young painter, born in 1912, who had led an eventful, not too purposeful life, became a determined person who, with organizational talent, commitment and great courage, hid several Jewish men in her Amsterdam apartment and thus hid them saved life. After the liberation, she transformed this apartment at Herengracht 401, and later the whole house, into the voluntary community of Castrum Peregrini, which for decades was home to poetry and art and the exclusive magazine of the same name.
A self-centered parasite
This is the story as you know it and how it is still true at its core and what makes Gisèle van Waterschoot’s lasting fame. However, it is a very concise story that became more and more mythical in later retelling, and the protagonist was determined to lead the way. If Annet Mooij now tells the same story in its thoroughly researched version, a lot changes: Who was actually hidden there in the Herengracht? How many people were there? And by whom? This does not change anything about Gisèle van Waterschoot’s courageous life decision to take the side of humanity against terrorism; and yet it is worth telling the detailed story, with all its everyday, quite tangible details on this side of the great heroic moments.
Gisèle’s youth in the Styrian castle Hainfeld and in Saint Louis, in Paris and the Dutch mountains are of picturesque agitation and likewise their tightrope walk between the strict Catholicism of their parents and the loose morals of the artistic bohemian. Then the war begins, the German Wehrmacht occupies the Netherlands, and in the summer of 1940 the artist meets an emigrated German author. But was this Wolfgang Frommel, who will forever remain a defining part of her life, even a serious writer? And what else was he? Frommel was probably what some contemporaries thought he was: a somewhat independent poet and a con man, an educated, charismatic educator and lover – and an egocentric parasite. But when the persecution began, he, who was not a persecuted Jew, came to the Herengracht in search of a hiding place for two Jewish friends. Gisèle van Waterschoot and Wolfgang Frommel created this hiding place with wall cupboards and a hollowed-out piano.