17.06.1897 Haarlem - 27.09.1984 Bergen Teacher
Name in the resistance: Van den Berg. Ravensbrück: July 1944 – January 1945
member of the Dutch Parliament 1946-1948
Wijbrecht (Brecht) Willemse was born in Haarlem on June 17th 1897. Her father Johannes Hermanus Willemse was a sailor; her mother Clasina Catherina de Leur was involved in the socialist community Walden, founded in 1898 by the Dutch writer Frederik van Eeden. Brecht was given a socialist and humanistic upbringing. She was educated to be a teacher at Montessori primary school.
She taught at a Montessori school in Amsterdam from 1925 to 1940. She became a member of the Dutch Communist party (CPN) and wrote articles in De Voorbode, a communist newspaper for women.
In 1922 Brecht married the visual artist Peter Alma. They were married for sixteen years until they divorced in 1938. Brecht married fellow party member Leendert van den Muijzenberg in August 1940. Together they set up the illegal CPN in Rotterdam and helped to raise money for illegal workers and their families (het Solidariteitsfonds).
In the resistance Brecht van den Muijzenberg-Willemse called herself Van den Berg. In July 1944 Brecht was betrayed, arrested and deported to concentration camp Ravensbrück. In January 1945 she was released. Many saw her as a positive force among the prisoners.
In June 1946 Brecht was elected to be a member of the Dutch Parliament for CPN. She was a specialist in the field of education, social matters and public health. In the 1948 elections Brecht lost her seat. Her political views started to move away from the partyline and she was expelled from CPN in 1958. In April 1949 Brecht divorced Leendert, but she always kept his last name, Van Muijzenberg.
Soon after the war Brecht committed herself to the cause of commemorating the plight of the Dutch women in Ravensbrück. Already from 1947 she was a member of the first group of former prisoners, the “Reunie groep”. In the 1950s there existed two Ravensbrück committees in the Netherlands: CVR, that was run by members of the Dutch Communist Party (CPN) and another that was non-communist. The latter was led for a few years by Brecht van de Muijzenberg.
From the very beginning she was also involved in the work of the International Ravensbrück Committee. In 1957 she participated in the committee’s meeting in Ravensbrück which was dedicated mostly to the contributions of the various national prisoner groups to the establishment and the design of the museum at the former camp site. And she helped to expand and to consolidate the relations between the national committees of former prisoners.
During her entire life Brecht advocated educational reform. Maria Montessori had set up her innovative Montessori schools in the poor districts of Rome in the early 20th century and according to her socialist views Brecht was convinced that this should be done in the Netherlands as well. She was a good public speaker and organizer.
Brecht Van den Muijzenberg-Willemse died in Bergen on September 27th 1984.
Sources: Willemse, Wijbrecht in: Biografisch Woordenboek van het Socialisme en de Arbeidersbeweging in Nederland (BWSA).