AMSTERDAM — During World War II, a quirky children’s book was published in Holland under the pseudonym El Pinter. One book depicts children flying on the back of a sparrow. Another example is attached to a balloon and floating. There are pop-up books in which people and animals snuggle up to trees, and paper-cutting activity books.
The book sold thousands of copies and became popular not only in the Netherlands, which was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940, but also in Germany.
Books did not just entertain children in the bleak times of war. Behind the pseudonym El Pintor was a Jewish couple named Galinka Ehrenfest and Jakob Krut. They used the name El Pintor to mask their heritage, funded the Dutch resistance movement with the proceeds of their picture books, and aided Jews hiding from the Nazi regime.
Linda Horn, who wrote a book published in Holland about Ehrenfest’s life, said they did so at great risk.
“Secrecy was very important. People couldn’t write down what they were doing,” Horn said of those who worked for the Dutch Resistance. “There are very few sources.”
El Pintor also includes works by other artists and writers who worked with Ehrenfest and Kloot, producing about 20 children’s books and games in the early 1940s. Currently, 23 of his books, including copies of all titles published in Dutch, one of his published only in German, and several translations, are on sale this week at the New York International Antique Book Fair. will be
Peter Kraus, owner of Ursus Rare Books, which sells the collection, says Dutch collectors have acquired the collection piecemeal over the course of 30 years.
Kloot hails from a large blue-collar Jewish family in Amsterdam, while Ehrenfest was born in what is now Estonia. Her father, Paul Her Ehrenfest, moved her family to Leiden, Holland in 1912. He was a noted physicist and friend of Albert Einstein. According to an article published in New York Times front page In 1923, when Einstein fled from Berlin to Leiden, Pohl planned to stay “until the general situation improved and the anti-Semitic hatred subsided in Berlin”.
Ehrenfest spent several years in the United States in the early 1930s when he attended art school in California and began painting regularly. She then returned to Holland, where she enrolled at the New Art School in Amsterdam, founded by artists who had fled Germany. The school was then forced to close by the Nazi regime, which remained part of Holland until her 1945 German surrender.
It was at the New Art School that she met Kloot. They moved together in 1936 and married five years later.
In 1940 Krut founded a small publishing house in Amsterdam called Korunda, and El Pinter began publishing children’s books. Ehrenfest became a creative powerhouse to draw and write stories, while Clute managed the business.
Publishing books was difficult under the Nazi occupation. Paper was scarce and expensive, and official permission was required to print books. Approved books were serialized and allowed to be published, sold in bookstores and, in El Pintor’s case, exported to Germany.
In 1941, the Nazi regime forced the transfer of Jewish businesses to non-Jews. Kroot did so and handed it to someone he knew, but he remained involved in the operation.
Klaus, who sells the El Pintor collection, says that apart from the strong stories behind the books, what makes them unique is their diversity. There are picture books, activity books, and early chapter books. Some are roughly the size of an adult’s palm, while others are much larger, like thin coffee books on his table. Horn said they were all intended to get children to think and play differently than other, more traditional books of the time.
“The book encourages kids to mess around, paint on a white wall, and create interesting things like that,” Horn said.
Thousands of copies were printed, but Kraus says there are very few left, probably because it’s a children’s book. “Children’s books tend to be scarce,” he said.
As the war continued, Clute and Ehrenfest became deeply involved with the Resistance, helping people escape Nazi persecution. Kroot often traveled around the country, helping those in danger find places to hide.
In 1943, Nazi officers arrested Krut and his business partner in Leiden. They let go of their partner, but Kroot, 26, was deported and sent to Westerbork, a temporary camp in Holland, and from there to Sobibor, an extermination camp, where he was killed.
Ehrenfest was pregnant with her first child when Krut was arrested. Shortly after, she gave birth to a stillborn baby. She tried to continue working on her book, like her El Pintor, but ultimately proved too difficult without Kloot and with the growing dangers and challenges of wartime. .
Ehrenfest survived and published his last book as El Pinter after the war was over. She stayed in Holland, where she died in 1979. she was 69 years old.
“This is a terrifying moment in history, and it’s a paradox that something this terrifying has such an aesthetic monument,” said Klaus, staring at El Pintor’s book. “At least this man and this couple are remembered.”