A Man Hiding from the Nazis Made 95 Issues of a Highly Creative Zine (1943–1945)

Copy­right by Char­i­ties Aid Foun­da­tion Amer­i­ca thanks to the gen­er­ous sup­port of the Bloch fam­i­ly; restora­tion and dig­i­ti­za­tion: Jew­ish Muse­um Berlin. This per­tains to all images on this page.

Per­haps at some point in the future,

the poems in your tongue I com­posed,

will be brought to your notice,

and if so, to delight will I then be dis­posed.

— Curt Bloch, Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret

Zines typ­i­cal­ly tend toward the ephemer­al, owing to their small cir­cu­la­tions, errat­ic pub­li­ca­tion sched­ules, and the unpre­dictable lives of their cre­ators. 

Curt Bloch’s zine, Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret (The Under­wa­ter Cabaret) defies these odds.

Bloch not only pro­duced an impres­sive 95 issues between August 1943 and April 1945, he did so as a Ger­man Jew hid­ing from the Nazis in the rafters of a pri­vate home in the Dutch city of Enschede, not far from the Ger­man bor­der.

His cut-and-paste illus­tra­tions are part of a long-stand­ing zine con­tin­u­um, made pos­si­ble in part by helpers who fur­nished him with pens, glue, news­pa­pers and oth­er col­lage-wor­thy mate­ri­als, in addi­tion to food and oth­er neces­si­ties. 

His print run was sub-minis­cule. Dupli­cat­ing his work was not an option, so Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret cir­cu­lat­ed in its orig­i­nal form, passed from hand to hand at great risk.

The zine’s title is a play on onder­duiken (to dive under), which Dutch peo­ple under­stood as a ref­er­ence to the 10,000 Jews hid­ing from the Nazis in their coun­try.

Ger­ard Groen­eveld, author of The Under­wa­ter Cabaret: The Satir­i­cal Resis­tance of Curt Bloch, cred­its the “huge orga­ni­za­tion” who helped Bloch and oth­ers sequestered Jews with cir­cu­lat­ing the zine:

(It) includ­ed couri­ers, who brought food, but who could also bring the mag­a­zine out, to share with oth­er peo­ple in the group who could be trust­ed. The mag­a­zines are very small, you can eas­i­ly put one in your pock­et or hide it in a book. He got them all back. They must have also returned them in some way.

It’s noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle that all 95 install­ments sur­vive. Many zinesters fall short of pre­serv­ing their work, but Bloch could not ignore this pro­jec­t’s per­son­al and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

Aubrey Pomer­ance, co-cura­tor of the Jüdis­ches Muse­um Berlin’s upcom­ing exhib­it, “My Vers­es Are Like Dyna­mite, Curt Bloch’s Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret”, notes that “the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of writ­ings that were cre­at­ed in hid­ing were destroyed.” 

For half a cen­tu­ry, these zines were known to a select few — fam­i­ly mem­bers, their orig­i­nal read­ers, and a hand­ful of guests whom Bloch enter­tained by read­ing pas­sages aloud after din­ner par­ties in the family’s New York home. 

Pomer­ance sus­pects that Bloch always intend­ed for his work to have a per­for­mance aspect, and that the cou­ple who shared his crawl­space quar­ters may well have been his first audi­ence for dit­ties like the one below.

Hye­nas and jack­als

Look on with jeal­ousy

For they now seem as choir­boys

Com­pared to human­i­ty.

Bloch’s daugh­ter, Simone, who describes her dad as a smar­tass, is work­ing on a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to his work. Read more about Bloch’s zine at The New York Times.

The images on this page thanks to the gen­er­ous sup­port of the Bloch fam­i­ly; restora­tion and dig­i­ti­za­tion comes thanks to the Jew­ish Muse­um Berlin.

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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