The Threat of War

asperges in de sarphatistraat 1945.JPG 

Close to the Netherlands Cancer Institute, the so-called asparagus block the Sarphatistraat in front of the Colonial Institute (now the Tropical Museum). This institute and the adjoining Oosterpark were the local headquarters for the Ordnungspolizei ("Grüne Polizei") and the exercise grounds for the Wehrmacht during WWII. The photograph was taken with a hidden camera. Photography Collection J.W. Hofman. 

1945 sGravesandestraat.JPG

Barricades in the Korte s'Gravesandestraat, directly next to the Netherlands Cancer Institute (mirror image with hidden camera).  Photography Collection J.W. Hofman.


In 1945 the city of Amsterdam faces the threat of fighting between the German occupational forces and the advancing allied forces. 

A report from the clinical director Willem Wassink taken from the annual report of 1945 about the last year of the war: 

" gradually became clear... that the grounds on which our building complex was situated,  would also be part of the combat area which the Germans on this side of the Oosterpark were steadily preparing. It was obvious that all necessary measures needed to be taken for a hasty evacuation if the need should arise. A school building situated in a safer place was made available by the municipal administration and prepared for such an evacuation. Part of our stores, bandages and dressings together with the records were taken there as a precaution.

To our increasing surprise and despite everything, the flood of people seeking help from Amsterdam and the surrounding areas continued and even the outpatient clinics were comparatively well attended, despite the fact that transport was so disrupted. It became increasingly necessary for the other hospitals in Amsterdam, particularly the Wilhelmina Gasthuis, to use our facilities as gradually their X-ray machines broke down or electricity was disconnected. The number of such patients treated or examined has not been included in this report. 

Our power was also eventually cut off,  following a period of power cuts which local people already had experienced, making necessary the use of the emergency generators. We still had to improvise despite all the promises of help (from various authorities continually offering us so-called emergency generators, and the abundant paperwork that had to be filled in). We could only use radium for irradiation. The most sensitive and fragile pieces of the expensive X-ray machines were disassembled as far as possible, and stored in a safer place, protected by thick layers of sand.

All of these preventive measures, which luckily proved unnecessary, provided a distraction that was welcome to  many of the medical and technical staff. We will not quickly forget how the threat of war besieged our hospital nor the anguish felt during this state of emergency, which fortunately lasted only a few weeks. The hospital residents and especially the director found this pressure very grueling.

We inspected treatment books to get an impression of the amount of radium used in milligrams and hours in 1945. This was 10,520 mg during 9962 hours, while in 1944, 7,824 mg, in 8158 hours was used. This strong increase in use is largely explained by the power cuts, when we were only able to use radium for irradiation treatments…"