Andreas Burnier

Pen name of Catharina Irma Dessaur
Born 3 July, 1931 in The Hague
Died 18 September, 2002 in Amsterdam


Andreas Burnier was born as Catharina Irma Dessaur in a Liberal Jewish family in The Hague. During World War II she was in hiding under the name Ronny van Dijk at sixteen different addresses from 1942 to 1945, separated from her parents. She described her experiences during the war in the novel Het Jongensuur (‘Boys’ Hour’, 1969).


After the war she attended high school in The Hague. She started studying Medicine and Philosophy in 1949 at the University of Amsterdam. She did not graduate in either of these fields. She married the publisher J.E. Zeijlmans van Emmichoven (son of anthroposophy pioneer Willem Zeijlmans van Emmichoven in The Netherlands) in 1953. They had a son and a daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1961, after which Burnier returned to her studies. This time she took Philosophy at the University of Leyden. She graduated with honors and continued to write her Ph.D. in Criminology under the guidance of Professor Dr. W. Nagel (pen name: J.B. Charles). During that period she met her first female lover with whom she had a relationship that lasted for seventeen years. 


In 1965, while she was still a student at Leyden University, the literary magazine Tirade published her first story, titled Verschrikkingen van het Noorden (‘Horrors of the North’). In the same year her debut adventure novel Een tevreden lach (‘A Contented Smile’) was published, in which she wrote about her homosexuality in a then unprecedented matter-of-course way. This made her one of the trailblazers of gay emancipation.   


Burnier also was an important trailblazer of the second feminist wave. In the late 1960s she already wrote about the bad fortune to be born in a female body and the cultural disdain that came with it. The originality of her feminist thought often led to conflicts with her sisters in the women’s movement.


Burnier was Professor of Criminology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen from 1973 through 1988. During this time she published novels, essays, letters and articles and often was involved in important debates about society. Her opinions often led to fierce polemics. Her polemical articles against legalizing euthanasia played an important role in the social discourse about this subject that began in 1986.   


Jewish sense of life
Because of her experiences during the Second World War, Burnier was alienated from her Jewish background for many years. But toward the end of the 1980s this changed into a passionate interest which led to her return to Judaism. Until then, her novel Het jongensuur (‘Boys’ Hour’), about her time in hiding during the Second World War, was the only book that explicitly referred to her Jewish background. In het last novel, published in 1997, De wereld is van glas (‘The world is made of glass’) Judaism is the main subject.

Burnier’s work is about more than the themes that were just mentioned. It is steeped in her view of life, which she described in her article Het Joodse levensgevoel (‘The Jewish Sense of Life’): “If I had to label myself, I would say I belong to the spiritual seekers and workers among humanity. With little steps forward and sometimes great falls down, I try to get, or stay, in contact with the Unnameable to which all religions and esoteric systems refer, each in its own way and on its own level. The goal of the human being who chooses this path, is to be able to eventually ‘live in two world’ with her consciousness and let others share in the light she experiences this way.”

Andreas Burnier promoted Jewish learning (‘lernen’) with boundless energy, at first by organizing private study groups. During the last years of her life she worked very hard to help realize a Jewish Study Center for adults. She lived to see the foundation of Jewish Educational Center Crescas in 1999. The center is named for the 14th century chacham (scholar) Chasdai ben Awraham Crescas, one of Burnier’s teachers of Judaism.l

Burnier died in 2002 at the age of 71 from a brain haemorrhage. She was buried at the Liberal Jewish Cemetary in the village of Hoofddorp near Amsterdam. From 1983 through the end of her life she lived with her beloved Ineke/Daniel van Mourik (editor, writer, librarian at the Institute for Women’s History ‘Aletta’ in Amsterdam en steward of Burnier’s literary heritage).  


After her death, her publishing house Augustus published some reissues of Burnier’s work:

Een gevaar dat de ziel in wil (‘A Danger that tries to get into the soul’), a selection of the author’s essays and some important interviews with Burnier; three novels in one volume: Het jongensuur (‘Boys’ Hour’), De litteraire salon (‘The Literary Salon’) and De trein naar Tarascon (‘The Train to Tarascon’); and her only book of poems Na de laatste keer (‘After the Final Time’).

In november 2015 an anthology of Jewish essays was published: Ruiter in de wolken, Joodse essays en artikelen 1990-2002 (‘Rider in the Clouds, Jewish essays and articles 1990-2002’) compiled and edited by Manja Ressler and Daniel van Mourik. 


Een tevreden lach (novel 1965)
De verschrikkingen van het Noorden (short stories 1967)
Het jongensuur (novel 1969)
De huilende libertijn (novel 1970)
Wetenschap tussen cultuur en tegencultuur (oration 1974 as C.I. Dessaur)
Poëziejongens en het gezelschap van geleerde vrouwen (essays 1974)
De reis naar Kithira (novel 1976)
De zwembadmentaliteit (essays 1979) 
De zwembadmentaliteit ebook (also as free PDF download)
Na de laatste keer (poems 1981)
De droom der rede: het mensbeeld in de sociale wetenschappen: een poging tot criminosofie (essays 1982 as C.I. Dessaur)
De litteraire salon (novel 1983) 
De litteraire salon ebook (also as free PDF download)
De trein naar Tarascon (novel 1986)
Essays 1965-1985 (1985)
Belletrie 1965-1981 (1985)
Gesprekken in de nacht (1987)De rondgang der gevangenen: een essay over goed en kwaad, in de vorm van zeven brieven aan de Platoclub. (essays 1987 as C.I. Dessaur)
Mystiek en magie in de literatuur (essays 1988)
De achtste scheppingsdag: essays 1987-1990)
De wereld is van glas (novel 1997)
En al die onaangenaamheden omdat je geen man bent: brieven van een jonge schilderes rond 1900 / Sanne Bruinier uitg. door Andreas Burnier en Caroline van Tuyll van Serooskerken (1993)
Een gevaar dat de ziel in wil. Essays, brieven en interviews 1965-2002. Collected and edited by Ineke van Mourik and Chris Rutenfrans. (essays 2003)
Three novels in one volume: Het jongensuur, De litteraire salon, De trein naar Tarascon. (2003)
Na de laatste keer. Revised edition.Collected by Ineke van Mourik, Maaike Meijer and Jonne Linschoten. (poems 2004)
Ruiter in de wolken. Joodse essays 1990-2002. Collected and edited by Manja Ressler en Daniel van Mourik. (2015)


Elisabeth Lockhorn, Andreas Burnier: Metselaar van de wereld. (biography 2015)


Andreas Burnier, Knabenzeit. Übersetzung Waltraud Hüsmert. Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin 2016
Knabenzeit. Übersetzung Waltraud Hüsmert, Twenne Verlag, Berlin 1993
Rendezvous bei Stella Artois (Een tevreden lach), Übersetzung Waltraud Hüsmert, Twenne Verlag Berlin 1994
In preparation: Boys Only (translation of Het Jongensuur)

Boys Only
Andreas Burnier's autobiographic novel 'Het jongensuur' about her experiences during the Holocaust is currently being translated into English by Manja Ressler.
This is the first chapter.


City of Light 1945

They were standing behind a fence. This time I wasn’t dreaming, unlike that time when I saw two priests walking with a boy between them, dressed in a black skirt. I wasn’t quite sure about the boy. Clothing was scarce, but a faded, short cotton skirt, why should he be wearing that?
The prisoners of war were real. They stood huddled close together in a private garage, the door of which had been pulled open and replaced with bars. Most of them were under twenty, some no older than fifteen. Blond and dazed.
Seeing them there, in their oblong cage, gave me a hot sensation of freedom. For many days I had been roaming the city, without fear, but also without joy. The forty boys in their pen made me feel certain, for the first time, that it was over.
I walked back, stood on the other side of the street right across from the garage and yelled: “Krauts!” Apparently they didn’t understand me right, because one of them mimicked a kiss with his lips. Another one beckoned me.
‘Come here, you…’
I understood a little german. Hitler had forced us to learn it in elementary school.
‘No,’ I shouted ‘Schweine! Krauts!’
One of the prisoners shook his fist at me. I wished a Canadian would pass by, who would shoot and kill him. Imagine we would have dared to shake our fists, only a month ago.
‘You will be shot dead,’ I shouted over my shoulder while walking away. And because I happened to know that word also: ‘Heute abend.’
Even as prisoners they were still insolent. We would never be able to keep all of them locked up forever. Before we knew what happened, they would rebuild their factories and make weapons again. Of course they wouldn’t be allowed to have an army anymore. But given a few thousand Krauts with guns, buried in their gardens, or hidden between old newspapers in their attics, they would assault us again. With impotent fear and hatred I thought of the worst words I knew: ‘Asshole-cads. Murderers. SS-men.’
Our liberators, cheerful boys full of good will and vague ideas, were no match for this nation of professional killers. If only I could warn someone, a general or a minister, that they should at least see to it that those Krauts didn’t get their mitts on any weapons.
A little later, at the bombed out square, I’d forgotten all about them. I decided to play blindman’s bluff. I often played this game in the evening with Tessa, when we were allowed to take a walk after dinner. Now I wanted to try it in the daytime, and by myself. It was still too early for the swimming pool anyway. With my arms stretched out stiffly in front of me, eyes almost closed, I walked staggering and groping along the buildings. Someone spoke to me.
‘Y’all shouldn’t do that. Y’all shouldn’t make fun of it.’
I opened my eyes and saw a grey man in a grey suit, deep lines in his cheeks.
‘It is a disability which y’all shouldn’t make fun of. And y’all could fall in those holes too.’
Uncle Sem with the purple cheeks used to say when we were visiting: ‘I will keep an eye on you!’ and then, smiling, he pinched my cheek.
I was terrified, there in his dark stairway. Now he was dead (‘didn’t come back’) and I finally saw the holes I had this indefinable fear of. Uncle Sem couldn’t keep me there anymore and the Krauts were behind bars.
I didn’t know if they or the Allied forces had bombed the holes in the city. It wasn’t just rubble, but also halves of floors that were suspended in the air, sometimes still with a table on them, or a bed. An iron bedstead, its mattress burned or looted.
‘Ce qu’il a commencé par l’épée, je l’acheverai par la plume,’ I told the man. Whenever we were caught doing something by strangers, Tessa and I pretended to be French. I had learned maxims from the quote book.
‘What did you say?’
‘Honoré de Balzac.’
The man shrugged. A woman with a wicker basket passed by, walking on wooden shoes.
‘A little strange,’ the man told her. ‘Or maybe a Belgian refugee.’
The woman nodded in agreement.
They let me go. I didn’t dare to play blindman’s bluff anymore. Walking the ‘swimming pool’ walk from the Dutch children’s book Kees de Jongen, I continued on to the community pool.
The sign by the entrance said that this hour was for boys only. There was a long line at the ticket box. I joined them.
With my short hair and this long raincoat they won’t notice anyway, I thought.
And I was right. I got a ticket, walked with the others through the damp corridor where strange noises could be heard. In the changing cubicle, a shelf that doubled as a seat locked the door, no one could get in, and I was very contented.
In my black cotton swimsuit I walked towards the medium-deep pool. I glanced at my chest for a second. A fat boy, I thought, reassuring myself.
After swimming one lap, I got out of the water to go to the deep pool.
‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ A boy stopped me.
‘It’s not for girls now. You have to come back later.’
‘I have a ticket,’ I said, pushed the boy away and got back into the water.
A little later the pool attendant whistled for me to get out of the water. The boy was standing next to him, and others approached, curious. All of them were wearing swimming trunks, I saw.
‘She has to leave, she is a girl,’ the fattest boy said.
‘You heard him,’ the attendant said. ‘You have to go. This hour is for boys only. Didn’t you see the sign?’
Humiliated, I got dressed. The assholes. Later, I would ring the bell at a house.
‘Ma’am, I’ve just come from the swimming pool. Your son’s clothes got wet accidentally. He asked me to get him dry pants and other things.’
‘Oh, do you know him?’
‘We are school friends.’
With those clothes I would change on the heath, just outside the city. If I buried my girls’ clothes there, I would be able to live as a boy from then on. No one would have the guts to chase me out of the pool after that…
All of a sudden I remembered the looks of the attendant and the boys. From my short hair to my breasts, to the crotch of my black swimming suit. The bastards. Well, I would never swim again, or only in countries where there were no separate hours for boys and girls.
Slowly I walked through a street in a modern suburb. I looked at the houses one by one to see if a boy of around thirteen years might live there. A boy who currently wasn’t home.
‘Ma’am, your son asked if I would get him dry clothes.’
‘Who are you?’
‘I am a friend of his.’
‘Alright, come on up.’
‘Give me short and long trousers, please, so he can choose which ones to wear.’
But I didn’t dare to ring the bell after all.

When we got back after the war, my father and I, we were standing downstairs in a landing. Then my mother, half crying and incoherent, let us come upstairs. In a strange bourgeois room with yellow wooden furniture, she embraced my father. I was standing in a corner between the door and a cabinet. A blue beret on my short shaved hair, a long blue gabardine raincoat that reached far below my knees.
‘Who is that boy?’ my mother asked eventually.
‘Which boy?’
‘The one you brought.’
‘But darling, that is Simone.’
‘Child, I didn’t recognize you at first. You have changed so much.’
‘How y’all doing, mother?’ I asked.
‘She speaks so strangely,’ my mother said.
‘That is dialect. She had to adapt in the village, for her own safety. She will unlearn it, don’t worry.’
‘We should find other clothes for her soon,’ my mother said.

Everyone was sitting at the table in the house on the Bloemlaan. It was yet another temporary house, as we were still waiting for the liberation of the Western part of the country.
‘You’re late,’ my father said.
I told him about the Krauts behind the fence in the garage.
‘Serves them right,’ my mother said, while she put the food in covered dishes on the table.
‘Let them be treated like animals,’ my father said. ‘That is still better than they deserve.’
‘Did you really see it?’ Tessa asked.
‘They were Wehrmacht Krauts,’ I said. ‘They were still wearing their stinking uniforms, but the stripes and other things were taken off.’
‘If I had seen them, I would have spit in their faces,’ Tessa said.
‘Finish your dinner, sweetheart,’ my mother said.
Tessa’s parents were transported from Westerbork to Auschwitz. There, they were gassed to death, her father after six months, her mother after a year.
Tessa’s father had been a violinist in the Eastern Symphony Orchestra before the war. Her mother was a singer.
I was not allowed to talk about music in Tessa’s presence. Even the radio was switched off immediately after the news if there was a concert. It wasn’t that Tessa reacted overly sensitively, but my parents felt they ‘were doing something’ this way.
I didn’t talk about the swimming pool. They hardly ever asked what I did with my free time.

After dinner Tessa and I went for a walk.
‘Look, stars,’ I said, pointing over the heath that bordered on the Bloemlaan. ‘During the war I read a story about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. If you could travel faster than light, you would end up in the past.’
‘How is that possible?’ Tessa asked. ‘Would you arrive in the past of earth? Or the stars?’
‘Whatever you want, I think. I would like to travel to ancient Persia.’
‘Or to the time before the war,’ Tessa said. ‘Is it already possible?’
‘No, he just discovered it. They don’t have a machine for it yet.’
‘A time machine.’
‘Yes. If we meet someone, shall we ask him: “Sir, do you have a time machine?”’

‘Sir, do you have time machine?’
‘What do you mean?’ the man asked. ‘Do you want to know what time it is?’
‘No Sir, we want a time machine.’
‘I think you are being very impolite,’ the man said.
‘Oh, really? Do you want to fight?’ I assumed a boxing posture.
‘Oh, c’mon,’ Tessa said.
‘I could have taken him easily,’ I said. ‘Such a weak asshole. Here, feel how strong I am.’ I flexed my biceps, hard as steel after years of farm work.

In my bedroom I took my cousin Jacob’s uniform that he’d left with us from the closet. He was a sergeant in the liberation army.
I made a ball of handkerchiefs, which I shoved in the pants. I looked very manly now. Even in a bathing suit I wouldn’t have been chased out of the swimming pool. But I couldn’t think of a way to swim with a ball of handkerchiefs without them getting wet and slipping out.
After I had looked at myself in the mirror, front and side, I undressed. I went to bed, switched off the light, and began my exercises. They were a series of magical formulas and images, which should help me acquire the missing sex organs, and would also shrink my breasts to their natural flat state.
Often I thought I saw the beginning of results the next morning. My chest seemed a little flatter, and I thought I felt the beginning of a swelling of which nature had sadly deprived me at birth. When I took off my pajamas, I was deeply disappointed each time. But I didn’t give up. I just made the magical thought formulas gradually more frequent.
For several reasons a quick transformation was necessary. In the first place, my female anatomy and physiology shouldn’t last much longer, or my body would be spoiled forever and the change would be impossible.
In the second place, it was humiliating for me, as a boy, to be treated as a girl by others much longer. The ridiculous girls’ clothes and accompanying playing habits and other behavior became increasingly tortuous.
In the third place, I wanted to be a sailor or a pilot, and women were banned from both professions.
In the fourth place, I noticed that as you got older, the hateful difference in freedom between boys and girls got worse.
I pitied my parents though, that one day I would stand before them as a boy. They were so happy that I was a girl, they assured me time and again. But there was nothing to be done. They would have to console themselves with Tessa as their foster daughter.
I was amazed that so many people were men in this life, and that of all people I had to be a girl. It was a matter of luck. You had a fifty percent chance at birth to be a boy. Why did I have such bad luck?
Incredible bastards, like the germans, murderers, Dutch nazis, really stupid boys like Koos Westra, dull ones like Hein ter Velde, still were all men.
Lots of girls didn’t care that they had to wear weird clothes that inhibited them when playing, or that they would have to do the dumbest and most boring work at home, if they wanted to get married. I did care.
What did God have against me that he hadn’t let me end up on the good side, like the forty Kraut boys in the garage, like Koos, Hein, my cousin Jacob, tens of thousands of soldiers in the liberation army, like half of all people?
I tried to imagine what it was like to be born a boy. You wouldn’t be amazed about it. It wouldn’t seem a big deal that your body was right the way it was. That you could play soccer, roam the city at night and talk to girls, swim at the boys-only hour. Choose a profession and work in that profession after you married and had children. That you didn’t have to do frumpy things like needlework or setting the table. That you were part of the people who achieved something in the world: soldiers, scientists, ministers, explorers, engineers, directors and not of the silly half that had to do the same housework no matter if they were high or low class. Who didn’t earn money themselves, who had to doll up like peacocks to please the other half.
I understood that if you were born a boy, you would think it normal to be a boy. You wouldn’t be able to imagine what it was like to live in a female body as a human being and live the role of a woman.
I saw the Canadians in my mind’s eye, who drove into villages, beaming, during the liberation. They looked strong and confident. I saw the girls who threw themselves at them, who offered themselves like things. Things to be used.

Usually I walked to and from the high school, which was located in exactly the opposite part of the city in relation to the Bloemlaan. I was used to walking long distances, with bare feet or clogs, and now I even had discarded soldier boots, given by the Red Cross.
One afternoon I was tired and tried to hitch a ride like many other children did.
A Canadian jeep stopped. A corporal of about forty years old was behind the wheel, a soldier of around eighteen years old sitting beside him. I wanted to sit in the back of the jeep, but they wanted me to sit in the front, between them.
After we rode for a short while, the youngest Canadian put his arm around me and began to stroke my breast with his left hand. I was surprised that this felt so nice. I would never have thought that something so sensitive, vulnerable and cumbersome could provide such delight. So this was what breasts were for!
And then I got scared. I didn’t want to be stroked by a Canadian boy, not even if it caused this pleasant sensation.
‘No,’ I said. ‘Do not. No!’
I looked at the older driver, who surely would forbid this. But instead of scolding the soldier who could have been his son, he only laughed. He said something encouraging to the boy and to me:
‘Kiss him. He is nice.’
I knew there was more brotherhood between men than between women. Now I saw how far that comradeship went. The driver had a higher rank, he was much older than we were, he was in charge. Still he was with the boy, against me.
The soldier tried to kiss me, but I turned my head away. Now the driver also put his arm around me and stroked my other breast. His hands were rougher that those of the boy, who was quite beautiful, very blond and soft, but his touch wasn’t unpleasant either.
At a bend in the road the driver had to use his hand to steer, but first he gave me a soft push which made me fall against the soldier. He tried to kiss me again, in vain, kept stroking my breast, and grabbed my skirt with his other hand.
‘No!’ I yelled in my poor English. ‘I will there out. Stop!’
Wrestling ensued. Almost crying, I begged the older driver: ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’
All of a sudden he stopped and let me out of the car. It was a quiet road through a wooded area. The boy wanted to jump out of the jeep and come after me, but the driver stopped him.
‘Do you want to get back in?’ he beckoned. I shook my head: no. He said something to the boy. They both laughed and drove away.

Sometimes I was allowed to accompany my parents to the Red Cross office. There were lists of people there who survived the german concentration camps, but who were now in Sweden, for example. There were also lists of people who were dead or assumed dead. Survivors had seen how they were tortured and murdered.

The longest lists were those of names without anything written after them. Those people were not in liberated areas, but there wasn’t anyone who could say they saw them die, either.
Whenever I joined them, my parents asked about the same list of names, about forty relatives and friends. I asked about Werner Bijl.
Werner and I had been at the school for children with stars for a year, before it really started. He was my friend. He was so good at math that he was the best, even at the Jewish school. He mostly got As, sometimes an A+. He also was good at language, but he wanted to be an engineer.
During the break, when we were playing horse and rider, together we were an invincible team.
His tall stature, blond hair, blue eyes and advantageous last name provided him with a good chance at survival, or so I thought.
One day it said, after his name: ‘Probably deceased.’
‘What happened to him?’ I asked the lady behind the desk.
She looked at me, leafed through some papers, and told me what a survivor had reported.
Werner was put on a transport with his mother (his father was already dead) to a camp in Poland. Many people died on the train, and later, when they had to walk through the snow, countless numbers had fallen. Werner survived for three months in the camp. Then, a survivor saw how he was taken to the gas chamber with a group of other children. That man himself was sick. He saw the children go there, nothing more.
‘And now?’ I asked. I heard my own voice from afar and saw myself standing at the table: a little girl with an almost completely shaven head, in a raincoat that was much too long.
‘We are waiting for confirmation by others,’ the lady said. ‘Then we will be certain.’
‘So he is actually dead?’ I asked.
‘Gassed,’ the lady nodded.

It was already dangerous to walk around in the city, but once, just before we went into hiding, I was allowed to go play with Werner. He had things to do physics experiments with. The afternoon I visited him, he taught me how to make electrical switches, parallel or in series. We made lamps go on and bells ring.
His mom came to get us for tea at four o’clock.
I could see she was interested in her son’s experiments.
‘Werner will be an engineer,’ she told me with a German accent. ‘He will go to Delft later. Won’t you, Wernerchen?’

The Long Road Back to Judaism
This is a translation of the Introduction by Daniel van Mourik for Ruiter in de Wolken, an anthology of Jewish essays by Andreas Burnier


“Who is Andreas Burnier and why?” This is a question a high-school teacher of Dutch asked her students in the mid-seventies in the town of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, and this became a household expression among our family and friends ever since.
Indeed, who was this extraordinary woman I have known for thirty years as professor, writer, friend, partner and lover?

Was Andreas Burnier Catharina Irma Dessaur, called Irma, the child that was born on July 3, 1931? Was she Ronnie van Dijk, the ‘Indonesian’ child who was hidden at sixteen foster homes under this gender-neutral name she chose for herself? Was she Reinier, a, because of her gender marginal, member of the elitist men’s club Castrum Peregrini? Was she Andreas Burnier, the writer behind her male pen name? Was she C.I. (Ronnie) Dessaur, a professor of Criminology with a background in philosophy? Or was she Atara, the assimilated Jewish woman who returned to Judaism and was called to the Torah in shul by this name?
And then there are nicknames friends gave her, like The Old Wizard, Old Sappho, and the ones she gave herself en with which she signed her letters: Esquire Burnier; your Housewife; your Teacher; your Learned Brother; a Circus Kid; your Tugboat Sea Captain. And still I haven’t mentioned the sneering descriptions she received from critics without any understanding of the esoteric, as a woolly witch.

All of these names, nicknames and descriptions hint at Andreas’ playfulness and elusiveness, her indestructible sense of humor and self-mockery, but also at her inner conflicts: the feeling of being born in the wrong body, her anger about what she called ‘gender-fascism’, the despair of having been persecuted because of her Jewishness, the longing for not being labeled in any way. They also speak to the different aspects of her personality. The names show the layers of her existence as in a geological excavation. A stratification in which the layers are not always clearly separated nor always go in the same direction. They cross one another, but there is one that as it were cuts vertically through all of them, one which she herself once described as follows:

‘If I have to label myself, I would say I belong to the spiritual seekers and workers among humanity. With small steps forward en sometimes a huge crash downward, I try to get, or to stay, in contact with the Unnameable to which all religions and esoteric systems refer, each in its own way and on its own level. The goal of the person who chooses this path, is to be able to eventually exist permanently ‘in two worlds’ with her consciousness and let others share in the light she experiences.’

She wrote these words in 1985 and they were quoted by Chris Rutenfrans in his introduction to the collection of essays Een gevaar dat de ziel in wil (‘A Danger that wants to invade the soul’). There was no sign of her ever returning to Judaism in 1985. In the same article from which the quote above was taken, she writes that there is little that binds her to Judaism. Or maybe the justified fear of those demons that bring people to murderous frenzy. She recognized the nostalgia in other Jews, the basic feeling of insecurity. On the positive side, she related to the love for and the gift of words.
Her return to Judaism would only take place at the end of the 1980s. Before this, fear and insecurity remained a big issue.
She told journalist Elisabeth Lockhorn in an interview in 1996:

‘In America, in Boston, a Jewish family approached me. The man asked: “Do you know where we can find a kosher restaurant here?” I thought I would die on the spot. My immediate reaction was: what if the police overheard us… In Amsterdam, I was afraid to walk to the Europaplein, because of the Jewish bookstore Joachimsthal there. People might think I was going there! It was pathological. Whoever hears this, will probably wonder why I wasn’t committed to the closed ward.’

In this interview she was speaking about the 1970s; she was not committed to the closed ward, but had become a successful professor and author. But the road back to her Jewish roots was a difficult one. In the 1980s she slowly began to accept her Jewish past, in part unconsciously by dreams that strongly affected her, partly because of outside events. Together we visited places where she had been in hiding, Jewish cemeteries, we visited Westerbork, and together with her ex-colleague at the department of Criminology, she visited Dachau.

In the autumn of 1989, after her father’s death, all of a sudden everything changed. Andreas lost her fear and got into contact with religious Judaism. In the Jewish rituals around her father’s deathbed and after his death she recognized her own spiritual inner world. As if those worlds always had been one, but were separated by a wall of fear. And then things went very fast indeed. ‘I feel quickened,’ she said, and ‘it is as if I am on a slider.’ She approached Rabbi David Lilienthal of the Amsterdam Liberal Jewish Congregation, became a steady visitor in shul, learned Hebrew and in good Burnerian tradition she collected a large Jewish library in a very short time. We traveled to Israel in 1991 (Andreas had traveled all countries surrounding it, but never Israel), made Shabbat on Friday night and sang parts of the service and other Jewish repertoire in the car, we made Jewish acquaintances and friends who slowly but surely became mishpoche (family). Ever more often Jewish jokes were exchanged across the dinner table. Andreas bought herself a tallit (prayer shawl), was called to the Torah in shul, and whenever she was lerning (studying Jewish texts) or meditating, she would wear a yarmulke. We had seiders at home, we experienced the High Holidays intensively, mezuzot were placed, and no shrimp or strip of bacon was allowed at home anymore. We began to lead a Liberal Jewish life. Increasingly Andreas wrote articles and lectured about Jewish subjects. Or maybe it’s better to say: she wrote and spoke about the same subjects as before, but now in Jewish ‘wrapping’ as she herself put it. Especially the esoteric Jewish tradition, Kabbala, was the focus of her interest.
With Rabbi David Lilienthal, the other Liberal rabbis and publicist Manja Ressler, she participated in the work of translating the new siddur, or prayerbook, for the Liberal Jewish Congregations in The Netherlands, which was eventually published in 2000. In 1999 she was co-founder of Crescas, a Jewish educational center for both Liberal and Orthodox Jews. She also taught courses there, until her unexpected passing in 2002.

After having been away for so long, she dove into Judaism as if she wanted to make up for all the lost years. How is it possible that she felt at home in Judaism as quickly as she did, acquired knowledge at high speed and shared it in a way that made it seem she had done this all her life and had never been away?
For the outside world, whether it was that of scientists, literary critics, feminists or homosexuals, it had been difficult to understand Andreas’ path for many year already. She would not conform to any -ism and was both conservative and progressive, both imaginative and rational. She looked more like a man than like a woman, she was a gender bender avant la lettre. On top of that, she was the woman with the many names. Her background was Jewish, but her choice to return to Judaism and religious observance was something completely new for the outside world. Every time people thought they understood her, she took a seemingly different road. But in fact, it was not a different road. About religion, she always said: ‘I haven’t changed, my religious, spiritual feelings and ideas were always there, the specific contents were always mine, but in Judaism I have found the coat that fits me best.’
She loved Jewish tradition, but the fact that she was a woman and a homosexual, was decisive for her choice for Liberal Judaism. In an interview with Dutch-Jewish writer and journalist Ischa Meijer, she once said in her typical ironic way:

‘If I, God forbid, had been born a man, I would maybe have become an orthodox Rabbi. But because God, our Lord, has saved me from this fate and let me be born as a woman, and because of my experience during the war, I was able to make this extensive detour and eventually made the choice to embrace very progressive and very liberal Judaism.’

Andreas committed to Liberal Judaism but that didn’t prevent her from finding her own way within it. She studied Jewish tradition in all its diversity and went further than what is usual in Liberal Judaism. She was interested in Jewish mysticism, Kabbala, and her earlier affinity with exceptional men like Van Gogh, Alphonso X the Wise, Giordano Bruno, Plotinus, Marcello Ficino and Rudolf Steiner was expanded to include the Maharal of Prague, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Yitzhak Luria and many others.

Andreas’ life is like a classic story: the story of the Prodigal Son, or the tale of the King’s quest for a treasure that turned out to have been hidden under his throne in the palace all the time. It is like many hero tales, quests with dangerous adventures that end with a happy homecoming, and usually that is the end of the story.
But Andreas’ return to Judaism didn’t mean an end to her torments and fears. When you get home, you can take off your harness, but that also means you become vulnerable.
The 1990s were also the years of increasingly open anti-Semitism, cruel actions by Neo-Nazis, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, attacks on synagogues in several cities all over the world and other frightening incidents. She was afraid of a relapse, a renewed attack on Jews, on feminism, on homosexuality, and on religions that are based on free, independent thought and individual spiritual experiences. She didn’t want to go to battle again, be an activist again and get involved in public debates. In this respect she was tired: “Let others do this for a change. I want to spend the last years of my life studying religious and spiritual subjects, writing and teaching within the Jewish community.” And that was what she did, with great passion, of which the essays in this collection bear witness.
But the bitter side of Andreas’ reality would not be pushed away completely. In 1997 the novel De wereld is van glas (‘The world is made of glass’) was published, essentially a work of desperation. In the first chapter she writes, in a letter to an unknown Rabbi:

“What I want to ask you, is not why this world is so horrifying in many ways. […] More or less precise answers to the question of evil I can find myself in literature, Buddhist or Kabbalist. My question for you is, why am I still chained to my anger about all the coarseness, the willful ugliness, the evil and the innocent suffering that it causes in this world? What made me fall into this well and how can I escape? Is it possible that, like Joseph in Torah, I ended up in this well because of my own naive bluntness, and will I, like Joseph, after even worse ordeals, be released from my chains? Will I eventually be able to mean something for the inner liberation of others? Is it narcissistic arrogance to long for that and to strive towards it?”

“Whoever wants to reach the soul, has to go through the looking glass, through the void, through the fear, through nothingness.” These are Andreas’ own words, from her 1965 debut novel Een tevreden lach (‘A contented smile’). She went through the looking glass and was never able to leave that world behind her completely. Andreas’ looking glass world was the world of persecution, fear and murder, which kept her apart from Judaism for a very long time. Fortunately she eventually found Judaism in all its positive abundance; this collection Ruiter in de wolken (‘Rider in the Clouds’) is the result of this. If there is one philosophy of life that fits Andreas Burnier/Ronnie Dessaur, it is Judaism. Her many-faceted, fascinating personality found its place in the people, the culture and the religion: the intimate connection between culture and religion; humor and seriousness; the combination of day-to-day Judaism and the meditative and mystic; the life-long learning, but also the playful youth, the sharp and creative thinker, the maternal father of the house, the scholar in whom reason and emotion go hand in hand, the raging prophetess, inspired teacher, mystic, and the beloved from Shir Hashirim (‘Song of Songs’).

May her soul be bound in the bundle of eternal life and eternal light.

Daniel (Ineke) van Mourik
3 juli 2015

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