Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Jef Last and Jan Nijholt

In early 2015 the IISH acquired the papers of  Jan Adam Nijholt. Nijholt, born in Almelo in 1903, was a member of the Arbeiders Jeugd Centrale [Workers’ Youth Federation], and throughout his life he was in search of the spiritual and “higher things”. After studying chemistry in Delft, in 1928, as a chemical engineer, he moved to the Dutch East Indies, where he went to work at the Laboratory for Chemical Research in Buitenzorg, later Bogor.
Nijholt's papers are especially interesting for the IISH because of the c. eighty letters and postcards sent to Nijholt, mostly from abroad, by the leftist writer and Asia expert Jef Last. They corresponded with one another from 1951 to 1971. They both travelled greatly, and were at home everywhere, and nowhere. Moreover, they shared a fascination for men and male worlds. Last had a family. Nijholt was unattached, and homosexual, although he seldom used the term. In a letter written in February 1966 Last described Nijholt as “the only friend from whom I have no secrets”. In an undated letter, there is a suggestion that the two men might go travelling together. Last backs out though, complaining about Nijholt’s penchant for the “insufferable petty bourgeoisie”. However, he warns Nijholt against an “‘adventure” in Naples, which could only lead to robbery or disappointment and disgust”.

Nijholt was also active in the associational life of the Dutch East Indies. He was, for instance, a board member of the Vereeniging voor Kampeerhuizen [Society for Camping Houses]. During the Japanese occupation Nijholt remained in office at the Laboratory, and also after Indonesian independence. In 1946 and again in 1952 he returned to the Netherlands on leave, returning permanently in 1955. Later, he worked on behalf of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Ceylon, where, as a strict vegetarian, he aimed to modernize the cultivation and processing of cassava.
Nijholt remained a respected figure in the Indonesian community in the Netherlands right up until his death. He supported many young Indonesians who came to the Netherlands to study. Nijholt died in 1984 as the result of a traffic accident in The Hague.

Bouwe Hijma



25 August 2015