Marcellus Benjamin Keezer (1903-1993)
Marcellus Benjamin Keezer was born in Amsterdam on the 11th of April 1903 into a family of Dutch-Jewish descent. His father was a well-regarded antiques dealer with a shop in the city, and Marcellus worked for his father’s company, dealing mostly with securing imports and exports of antiques, while he studied at the École du Louvre in Paris.
After returning to the Netherlands, he took his experience working with imports and exports to Metz & Co, a well-known and high-end department store in Amsterdam. Selling everything from fashion to furniture, the company had a smaller space in The Hague, which was where Keezer was working when the war broke out.
At first, he was able to keep working, and joined a resistance group in The Hague, but in 1941 Metz & Co’s Jewish owner was deported, and then, in August 1942, the highest SS and Police leader in the occupied Netherlands, Hanns Rauter, attended a fashion show at Metz & Co, and wanted to 'ask Keezer some questions’.4 Keezer knew that if he didn’t go into hiding, he, too, would soon be in danger.
Aged 39, Keezer fled The Hague by bicycle. He was sheltered in nearby Leiderdorp by the ceramicist and member of the resistance, Meindert Zaalberg. It was here that Keezer first taught himself the basics and artistry of pottery. After hiding with Zaalberg for a time, in 1943 Keezer moved to the nearby village of Oud Ade, where he was hidden in a chicken coop, thus earning the nickname 'Kippen Kees' ('Chicken Kees', Kees being the Dutch abbreviated version of the name Cornelius, but also a play on words on Keezer's last name) amongst other members of the resistance.5 As well as his artistic pursuits with ceramics, Keezer also created jewellery throughout his time in hiding, in both Leiderdorp and Oud Ade. Made with tools brought with him and out of silver book locks Zaalberg provided, Marcellus practiced as a way to pass the time, as well as earning some money after they were sold through Metz & Co.
Keezer continued to work with the resistance, specifically the groups 'Talboo' and 'De Geuzen', located around the town of Oegstgeest. Through his network, Keezer was able to link up several resistance groups, resulting in their cooperation. In late 1944 and early 1945, Keezer and his fellow resistance members were involved in a number of armed robberies, the aim of which was to collect money and food for people in hiding and for the survival of the resistance. The most notable robbery that Keezer was involved in was at the Rotterdam Bank in February 1945, but he also took part in raids on several farmers that were considered to be war profiteers or collaborators.
In May 1945 all resistance groups were collectivised into the formal Internal Armed Forces ('Binnenlandsche Strijdkrachten') organisation. Keezer was part of the Specialist Section of the Oegstgeest unit of the Binnenlandsche Strijdkrachten. After the war formally ended, he became involved with the MFAA, specifically as a Netherlands Art Representative for the MFAA Branch of the Office of Military Government for Greater Hesse. Stationed at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, Keezer served first as the deputy of Monuments Man Hans L. C. Jaffé, the Dutch Commissioner General for Restitutions. Keezer eventually replaced Jaffé in 1947 when the latter resumed his work as curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Keezer determinedly investigated works of art, archives, cultural objects, and even furniture that the Nazis looted from the Netherlands. He spent much of his time in the field, following every lead and visiting numerous repositories for looted art. One humorous example of his apparent haste is a November 1947 parking ticket he received for leaving his vehicle in a restricted zone outside Military Government headquarters in Wiesbaden. Through determination and skilled detective work, Keezer secured the return of hundreds of Dutch-owned works of art and cultural objects, including a pair of settees belonging to the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, which he located in a barn near Hungen, Germany. Other items he found included antique desks of drawers, bronze sculptures of Buddha, and numerous paintings. In May 1947 he undertook an investigation in Maulbronn, Germany, where he discovered a collection of paintings in watercolor and oil, many of which were Dutch-owned. The paintings had been stolen from the Netherlands by the Gestapo and handed over to Nazi art dealers Wilhelm and Anny Ettle.
In February 1948, Keezer received a telegram from the Netherlands Recuperation Service informing him that his post would soon be terminated. Keezer was filled with alarm. While many of the most high profile works of art had long since been returned to Amsterdam, Keezer knew firsthand that much work remained unfinished. He appealed to his superiors, stressing the continued need for Netherlands Art Representatives in Wiesbaden. Due in large part to his efforts, Keezer’s post was later filled by Capt. Leo S. Bannet.
After his involvement with the MFAA, in 1949 Keezer returned to Oegstgeest and started work as a ceramic artist. He lived in a windmill called 'De Valk' ('the falcon'), and organised several art exhibitions there, many of which included his own work. In this time he was married, and became the father of two children.
In 1950 he was hired and appointed as the organiser and administrator of the National Old Art and Antiques Exchange, held each year in the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft. This position Keezer filled for many years, surely much to the delight of his father. He also kept working as an artist, wrote articles and book chapters on ceramics, and kept exhibiting. When the windmill became too small for his exhibitions in 1955, Keezer and his family moved to the farmstead 'De Hofstee' in Leiden, with plans to make it into a cultural centre.
Keezer remained active as an artist, art expert, organiser and presenter until late in his life. He died on May 27th 1993 in Oegstgeest.