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Dirk P. Graswinckel ( 1888-1960 )

Jonkheer Dirk Petrus Marius Graswinckel was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on October 30, 1888 as the son of a Royal Dutch Army Officer, Augustinus Frederik Karel Graswinckel, and Anna Elisabeth van Eeten.His father eventually rose up the ranks to Major-General in the Dutch Army and was subsequently knighted in 1908. Because of his father's profession, the family moved from one garrison to the next throughout Dirk's youth. In 1906-1907 Dirk was called up for National Army Service. Rather than following in his father’s footsteps, he left the army when his service period was up and entered the University of Leiden in 1910. Graswinckel began studying medicine but transferred to law the following year.

Although the Netherlands were to remain neutral throughout World War I, the Dutch army was mobilized in 1914. As a Lieutenant on the Reserve List, Dirk was called back into active service and served four years as a Lieutenant in an infantry battalion. Though his studies were thus interrupted during his service, he determinedly returned to the University of Leiden and graduated in 1919.

Graswinckel’s long archival career began in 1920 as a Volontair at the National Archives in The Hague, and as a Commies (Executive Officer) /Chartermaster at the State Archives of Overijssel in Zwolle beginning in 1921. At Zwolle, he was extensively involved in accessioning archives in the collection and became noted for his calm and positive attitude. Yet, the heightened humidity of the archival storage spaces where Dirk worked resulted in him developing a slight rheumatism. Consequently, in 1924 he applied for a new position at the State Archives of Gelderland in Arnhem.

At Arnhem, Graswinckel continued his work of accessioning archives as well as branching out into international partnerships. In 1926 he brokered a groundbreaking deal between Dutch and German archives for the return of archival records that had changed hands during disputes along the countries’ borders. This deal was the first of many Netherland-German archival transfers brokered by Graswinckel over the following years.

In May 1927 he married Johanna Abrahamina Breda Kleijnenberg (1889-1973). Although the marriage was generally a happy one, the couple was to remain childless.

In 1933 Graswinckel was transferred to the National Archives in The Hague in order to lead the Second Division, the sector tasked with negotiating with national Ministerial Departments about the sentencing and disposal of 19th- and early 20th-century Government records. Through this work Graswinckel came to appreciate the value of newer archives and the need to manage them well. He also became acutely aware of the threat of a war with Germany, and in 1938 outlined his advice and guidelines for the removal and safekeeping of Dutch archives during war. That same year, he became a member of the Exam Commission of the National Archival Education Course.

As Graswinckel had feared, the Dutch Army mobilized in 1939. When he was once again called to serve, he was named Major in command of the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment. His battalion was placed in a reserve position and did not see action until Germany's invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940. With the Netherlands’ surrender on May 15, 1940, however, Graswinckel was sent to Germany as a prisoner of war but was soon released. He devotedly returned to archival work by the end of June.

In 1942, the German occupying administration employed Graswinckel to put his earlier advice regarding wartime archival preservation into practice. He was heavily involved in the relocation of Dutch archives from the country's coastal provinces to protected depots inland. Though Graswinckel was by this time highly regarded as a reliable, knowledgeable archivist, he was also considered to be an 'inveterate and fierce opponent of national-socialism' by the Dutch National-Socialist Party (NSB) and was not nominated to become the Dutch National Archivist in 1943 when the position became vacant.

At the end of 1944, Graswinckel was on holiday in the province of North-Brabant, which had been partly liberated by Western Allied forces in the wake of Operation Market-Garden. The Allies had also liberated the islands in the province of Zeeland, and were liberating further parts of North-Brabant from the West. Breda was a city where the two fronts met. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the commander of all Dutch armed forces, set up his headquarters at Breda on November 20, 1944. When the Allies liberated the town where Graswinckel was staying, he promptly reported to the Dutch Headquarters at Breda and was employed in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section unit on behalf of the Dutch government.

In April 1945, Graswinckel was recalled temporarily to fill in as Military Governor of the Western Utrecht region, but in October he was appointed as a liaison officer with the Commissariat-General representing Dutch Economic Interests in Germany- a post he would keep until March 1948. In this position, he would work tirelessly for the restitution of Dutch records and archives. Meanwhile, as of January 1, 1946 Graswinckel was named Dutch National Archivist.

MFAA Officers evacuated entire libraries and archives from Nazi repositories to the Offenbach Archival Depot for sorting and classification. It was here at Offenbach that Graswinckel assisted the American officer in charge, Capt. Seymour J. Pomrenze, and then his successor, Capt. Isaac Bencowitz, in identifying Dutch items among the masses. As the sitting Head Archivist of the Royal Netherland National Archives in The Hague, Graswinckel was appointed by the Netherlands Mission for Restitution to the Netherlands to be the official Dutch representative at the Depot. As early as September 1946, more than 300,000 books had already been restituted to the Netherlands.

In his post as Dutch National Archivist, Graswinckel had begun plans for the creation of a new national archival education institute devoted to the preservation of Dutch archival records. His plans included the securing of proper storage for archival material, the sentencing and disposal of recent (including wartime) Government records, the creation of repositories for photographic material and the standardizing of new archival guidelines. His plans eventually came to fruition in 1955.

In 1948, UNESCO invited Graswinckel to be one of the founding members of the International Council of Archives (ICA). He rose to Vice-President of the ICA in 1950 and President in 1953. Although the majority of his colleagues held negative views regarding the role of German archivists during the war, Graswinckel remained committed to diplomacy between the Netherlands and Germany. His role as lecturer at the Marburg Archival Institute in 1950 was a symbolic call for cooperation between the two countries.

Though Graswinckel resigned as National Archivist in 1953, he remained at the National Archives as an honorary consultant. He was promoted to Colonel in the Army's Reserve in order to lead their Art and Archives Protection Section while also serving as a member of the National Monuments Council, Protection during Wartime section beginning in 1955/1956.

Graswinckel continued to work tirelessly for the preservation of Dutch archives until he died suddenly in 1960 at the age of 71.

Graswinckel’s unwavering diligence, diplomacy and easy-going attitude resulted in not only good relations with the U.S. Army but the return of enormous quantities of Dutch archival material to the Netherlands. In March 1946 Capt. Seymour J. Pomrenze, Director of the Offenbach Archival Depot, submitted an official Letter of Appreciation recognizing Graswinckel’s “time and effort above the call of duty” and “valuable aid and voluntary services.”*


*The Foundation wishes to express thanks to Dutch author H.J.Ph.G. Kaajan, and Bas de Groot, English translator, for their contribution to this biographical profile.