Monday, October 11, 2010

Amenuensis Monday - Lodewijk Wesselo's World War Two Letters

I've been steadily working on Lodewijk Wesselo's letters. Currently I'm working on the letters he wrote during World War 2. In the beginning of the war he's still writing letters to his brother and sister-in-law in the Dutch East Indies, but later on the letters are to his brother in Voorschoten, Zuid-Holland, the Netherlands.

Sometimes, when I am transcribing these letters, I stumble across something which I just don't understand. Most of the times, it's just one sentence that makes me go: "huh?" This time, it was this specific sentence:"

"Nothing more to do in the business, we open at 9 and close at one, on Monday's the whole day, with permission from the police because of illness."

The business he's talking about is a store that sold jewelry and objects made of precious metals like gold and silver. The date of the letter is 10 October 1944.

Now, I understood why they didn't have much to do, but what I couldn't understand was why he would need permission from the police to close early, or even the whole day. So I turned to the people at a forum about World War Two, thinking it probably had something to do with the war. The answer I got surprised me, to say the least.

Appearently, the law in those days about the opening hours of shops was much more strict. The police were the ones enforcing those laws. In those days, certain types of shops were closed on certain days. Stores that sold food items were often closed on Wednesday afternoons, whereas clothing and jewelry shops were often closed on Mondays. If you as an owner were in the store after closing hours, you had a high chance of a police officer coming by to check on you, making sure you weren't trading outside of authorized hours. So, you had to notify the police of any changes in openingstime.

I never knew this, and according to the people on the forum, this meddling happened as late as the 60s! It wasn't, as I thought, connected to World War Two at all. Instead, it was just as society was at the time, and I merely lacked the proper knowledge about how things worked back then. So it goes to show, that every historical document, especially things like letters, should be seen in light of the time they were written to make sense!


  1. Fascinating. And you're right. We have to keep things in context and not just focus narrowly on the individuals. Great post.