Skip to main content
Five covers of the magazine Het Onderwater-Cabaret featuring collages.

Title pages of the underground magazine Het Onderwater-Cabaret

Het Onderwater-Cabaret

Curt Bloch’s Satirical Underground Magazine and a Glimpse Behind the Scenes of the Exhibition “My Verses Are Like Dynamite”

Over a period of more than nineteen months, between August 1943 and April 1945, Curt Bloch, a German Jew who had gone into hiding in the Netherlands in 1942, created a unique work of creative resistance: a magazine called Het Onderwater-Cabaret (The Underwater Cabaret). Week after week, Bloch crafted little booklets with artfully designed covers, 95 of them in all. Across 483 poems written in Dutch and German, he addressed developments in the Second World War, the circumstances of his life in hiding, the fate of his family, and the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. With biting irony and sardonic wit, he set straight the deceptions of Nazi propaganda.

Curt Bloch in Hiding in the Netherlands

One of the 24,000 Jews from Germany who fled to the Netherlands in the 1930s was Curt Bloch, whose career as a lawyer in Germany had been terminated by the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service of April 1933 and who was also at personal risk due to his left-wing political stance. The Netherland’s geographical proximity, its positive reputation for protecting religious freedom, and its neutrality during the First World War made the country an attractive destination for immigrants – especially since there were hardly any restrictions on German nationals, at least at first. From early 1933 until 1938, when restrictions were placed upon foreigners’ entry and residency options, newcomers did not require a visa and did not face any major obstacles to working.

Black and white portrait of a white man with combed back hair.

Curt Bloch’s passport photo, undated; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Lide Schattenkerk

On 10 May 1940, the German army invaded and occupied the Netherlands. The Jewish refugees were the first to be subjected to arrests, registrations, and forced relocations. Together with his mother and younger sister Helene, who had followed him to the Netherlands in 1939, Curt Bloch had to move to Enschede in the east of the country. On August 25, 1942, about six weeks after the start of the deportations of Jews from the transit camp Westerbork to Auschwitz, he went into hiding in Enschede; his mother and sister hid in Apeldoorn and later in Leiden. In August 1943, Bloch began to publish Het Onderwater-Cabaret from his hiding place. His pen became, in his own telling, his sword.

Who is Curt Bloch?

Curt Bloch (1908–1975), German lawyer and author of the handmade underground magazine Het Onderwater-Cabaret; pseudonym Cornelis Breedenbeek; fled to the Netherlands in 1933; in hiding there from August 1942 onwards

Read more

OWC Gallery

This selection of three issues of Onderwater-Cabaret, supplemented by biographical information, historical context, and audio and video recordings of poetry recitations, offer a vivid insight into the unique body of work Bloch created between August 1943 and April 1945. While the poems of the second issue, dated 30 August 1943, are still mostly in Dutch with few illustrations, the issue dated 3 June 1944 and the final one, dated 3 April 1945, each contain numerous poems in German as well as pasted-in newspaper clippings, photographs, and other illustrations.

Who read the OWC?

Curt Bloch spent most of his period in hiding at the home of Albertus and Aleida Menneken in Enschede. In the autumn of 1942, the couple additionally took in Bloch’s friends Karola Wolf (1920–2015) and Bruno Löwenberg (1898–1986). After Karola Wolf was forced to change hiding places in May 1943, Curt Bloch, who had fallen in love with her, sent her sealed letters and poems via couriers. In August 1943, he composed the first of a total of thirty-seven booklets under the title Secret Service. Together with these booklets of love poems for Karola Wolf, Bloch also enclosed issues of Het Onderwater Cabaret (OWC) with its predominantly satirical content. Occasionally, Bloch sent batches of several “OWC issues” to his first reader and critic, Karola Wolf. For more than seven months, Bloch worked on both magazines using the same format.

Although the Mennekens, Bruno Löwenberg, and other friends and visitors to the house knew about and read the OWC, Bloch kept Secret Service strictly confidential. The romance ended in March 1944. Bloch ceased working on Secret Service but continued to correspond closely with Karola Wolf, still sending her issues of the OWC. His numerous letters, carefully preserved by Karola Wolf, provide insightful glimpses into Bloch’s work on the OWC and other writings.

Cover of a Secret Service booklet with a collage of a sailor holding an accordion. Curt Bloch’s head has been pasted over the sailor’s. Sails are visible in the background.

Secret Service no. 27, Seemannsrose (Sailor’s Rose), February 1944; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2023/141/26, gift of Robert Saunders

Black-and-white photograph of two men and three women sitting on chairs in a garden.

From left to right: Bruno Löwenberg, an unknown woman, Helene Bloch, Curt Bloch, and Karola Wolf, probably taken in the summer of 1941; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession TE83 (OndCab)/29, gift of Robert Saunders

The Conservation of the OWC Booklets

Before emigrating from the Netherlands to the United States, Curt Bloch had the ninety-five issues of Het Onderwater-Cabaret bound. In January 2023, four volumes of Het Onderwater-Cabaret and a fifth volume with additional writings arrived at the Jewish Museum Berlin. The individual booklets were carefully separated and conservated to facilitate their use in research and exhibitions.

Paper conservator Stephan Lohrengel gives a glimpse of work behind the scenes, and curators Aubrey Pomerance and Ulrike Kuschel explain the opportunities this conservation opens up for the exhibition and research (in German with English subtitles); Jewish Museum Berlin 2024, script, camera and editing: Peter Wollring

After all, Het Onderwater-Cabaret is very relevant today in a world pervaded by war, disinformation, discrimination, exclusion, and persecution.

Citation recommendation:

Ulrike Kuschel/Jewish Museum Berlin (2024), Het Onderwater-Cabaret. Curt Bloch’s Satirical Underground Magazine and a Glimpse Behind the Scenes of the Exhibition “My Verses Are Like Dynamite”.
URL: www.jmberlin.de/en/node/10232

Collage in grau-blau auf orangem Hintergrund mit blauer Zickzacklinie: der Kopf eines Mannes in einer Taucherglocke, seine Hand umfasst einen Schlauch, daneben ein Manometer.

Exhibition “My Verses are Like Dynamite” Curt Bloch’s Het Onderwater Cabaret: Features & Programs

Exhibition Webpage
“My Verses are Like Dynamite” Curt Bloch’s Het Onderwater Cabaret: 9 Feb to 26 May 2024
Accompanying Events
Exhibition Opening – 8 Feb 2024
Tour of the Exhibition “My Verses are Like Dynamite” Curt Bloch’s Het Onderwater Cabaret: Dates by arrangement (from 9 Feb to 26 May 2024)
Curator Tour for FRIENDS OF THE JMB: 13 Feb 2024, in German
Joodse Vluchtelingen: The Fate of German-Jewish Émigrés in the Netherlands: 3 Mar 2024, in German
Archival Objects of German Jews in the Netherlands: Show & tell for FRIENDS OF THE JMB, 7 Mar 2024, in German
Publications
JMB Journal 26: Het Onderwater Cabaret: Special edition on the occasion of the exhibition
Digital Content
Current page: OWC Online Feature: A Glimpse Behind the Scenes of the Exhibition
Life and Work of Curt Bloch: Essay with biographical insights, JMB Journal 26
“It’s Complicated”: A text by Simone Bloch, daughter of Curt Bloch
“Ik neurie mee ’t propellerlied…”: Essay on Het Onderwater-Cabaret: A Testament to Political Resistance in the Occupied Netherlands, 1943–45
Clandestine Literature in the Netherlands 1940–1945: Essay, JMB Journal 26
All Audio Pieces of the Exhibition with Transcriptions and Translations
All issues of Het Onderwarter-Cabaret: All 95 issues to browse
See also
Survivors in Hiding (National Socialism)
To the Web Project www.curt-bloch.com

Share, Newsletter, Feedback