On 25 November 1935 the International Institute of Social History was established. Although two gentlemen are known as the founders: Nicolaas Posthumus, economic history professor, and Nehemia de Lieme, bank director, all the elements that led to the Institute's establishment had been put in place by a woman (who remained in the background): Annie Adama van Scheltema-Kleefstra.
Annie Adama (1884-1977) was a widow of nearly fifty years old when she had to find a job in the midst of an economic depression. In 1932 she became librarian of the Economisch-Historische Bibliotheek [Economic-Historical Library], a creation of Posthumus in the same year.
Annie developed into a passionate collector of archives and libraries. She had been married to the socialist poet C.S. Adama van Scheltema and knew nearly all the leading figures among the Dutch social-democrats. Moreover, the couple had many international contacts from their six years' travel throughout Europe. Annie thus had become an enterprising networker before that concept even existed.
In April 1934, when she was in Paris at a conference, she met Franz Kursky, one of the leaders of the Eastern Jewish Bund. The Bundists were on their way to the United States and needed money badly to cross the ocean. Their archive was for sale.
Adama hurried back to her director Posthumus to tell him about her findings. She also suggested the name of a man who might be able to finance the project: Nehemia de Lieme, zionist, sympathetic towards social-democracy, and director of the Central workers' insurance company and bank.
On 3 October 1934 their first meeting took place. Adama remembers, apparently without any bitterness or harsh feelings:
"I went with Posthumus to [De Lieme in] Scheveningen, he left me waiting with a cup of tea and went in alone. Fifteen minutes later he came back joyously and said - Nehemia de Lieme supports my idea to buy part of the Bund's archive, he will ask the Board...."
This purchase of the Bund archive for 8000 guilders was to be the basis for the founding of the IISH a year later.
Annie Adama further helped build up the Institute by adding the huge collection from the anarchist Max Nettlau - 'to the extent of three class rooms' -. She wrote:
"I saw this old grey head under the shining of the lamp, and I realized that by undersigning those pages [of the contract] he sold his life."
In a compassionate and ingenious way she managed to ship hundreds of crates full of books and archives from eastern Europe to the west. "Aber das war doch Transito!" [But it was just transit luggage!] she told the Gestapo, when they asked her how this could happen in 1939 under the Nazi regime.
After the war she went to much trouble to trace part of this material, which had been transported eastwards once again by the Germans.
In 1953 Adama retired from the institute, in 1977 she ended her life.
This true collector left a box full of pictures and papers about her own life, unremarked, in her home in Amsterdam on the Vossiusstraat. In 2002 the former residents of this house remembered the box and contacted the IISH.
More photos in the IISH catalogue.
Text: Margreet Schrevel