The song of Frieda Belinfante in the world
While Frieda Belinfante was a Dutch cellist and a conductor of a professional orchestral ensemble, she was also a spy and fought as part of the resistance against the Nazis in the Second World War.
Belinfante showed how the passion that helped her to create music as the first woman in Europe to become an artistic director also helped her to fight against those who would oppress others.
More importantly, as Belinfante pointed out later, following her heart and following her principles are ultimately the same.
She said: “I’ve always helped people, whether they’re worth it or not comes out later. They haven’t all been worth my effort, but the effort was worth it.”
Frieda Belinfante: A musical upbringing
Belinfante was born on 10 May 1904 in Amsterdam. Her Jewish father, Aron Belinfante, was a concert pianist and a music teacher.
The young Belinfante began to learn the cello at the age of 10 and graduated from the Amsterdam Conservatory. She made her professional debut in the Kleine Zaal recital hall of the Concertgebouw at age 17.
Unfortunately, her father died a few months later due to cancer and left their family without much financial support.
Belinfante studied under a cello teacher in Paris and went on to direct high school, college, and professional chamber ensembles for several years.
She was then invited by the management of the Concertgebouw to form Het Klein Orkest in 1937, a chamber orchestra. This made her the first woman artistic director and conductor in Europe.
Frieda Belinfante marries despite misgivings
At that time, Belinfante was in a long-term relationship with Henriette Bosmans when she met a man who she eventually married, even for a brief time.
As she put it, the man was relentless in his pursuit of her, even bringing a gun to shoot himself if she didn’t marry him.
“He made up his mind that he couldn’t live without me, and he wanted to marry me. And I said, “I’m not the marrying type really”,” she said.
“I don’t think I can love a man that way. I don’t think so. I just always have great admiration for women”,” she added.
Despite her protestations, she eventually agreed to marry him. The two eventually separated on good terms, with her husband leaving behind a string of failed marriages.
Frieda Belinfante’s involvement in the war
At the time, Europe was slowly descending into the Second World War and the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis.
Belinfante became involved in the fight through her friendship with Dutch artist Willem Arondeus, an openly gay man, who was a leader of the Raad van Verzet (Resistance Council) in the Dutch resistance.
Belinfante helped the resistance by forging documents for Jewish people who needed to escape the country. To ensure that these people wouldn’t be caught again, she suggested they destroy the original documents.
This led to the plan of the destruction of the Amsterdam public registry on 27 March, 1943.
Because she was a woman, she wasn’t allowed to go on the mission. This is why she survived the purge that followed that had many of her comrades executed by the Nazis.
Frieda Belinfante’s flight and survival
Belinfante hid herself in a disguise for three months before she left Amsterdam with the help of the resistance. She crossed the borders of Belgium and France.
Together with a companion, she made it to Switzerland and they crossed the Alps on foot.
Unfortunately, they were captured soon by Swiss authorities. Belinfante was given refugee status because her former teacher, Hermann Scherchen, verified that she was a Dutch citizen.
However, her companion was sent back to die because the Swiss were not accepting single men as refugees. Belinfante lamented this, saying that if she had lied to say that they were married, she could have saved him.
Belinfante was sent to Montreux, where she worked for a short time as a farm laborer before she was repatriated to the Netherlands with the end of the war.
Frieda Belinfante’s struggles in life
Unfortunately, while she was in a refugee camp, people whispered behind her and spread rumors about being a lesbian.
Likewise, her return to the Netherlands showed her that those who had fought for freedom had been forgotten.
She said: “Things didn’t change. We thought everything would be better, politically better, and nothing, nothing changed.”
That’s why in 1947, she went to the United States. From New York, she settled in California in 1949 and joined the music faculty in UCLA where she returned to her music.
She formed the group the Vine Street Players, an orchestral group, in 1953, and this became a permanent orchestral ensemble in Orange County. She also helped form the Orange County Philharmonic Society.
But rumors about her love for women spread and her contract wasn’t renewed in 1962. She said: “I don’t make love or haven’t made love publicly. I conduct publicly. I play publicly. That is for the public.”
Frieda Belinfante: Recognition and death
Finally, her role in the war became the subject of a documentary, “But I was a Girl,” a film about the queer experience in the Second World War funded by the Dutch government.
In 1994, she was interviewed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where she said of her role to break the law to save lives: “I thought the law was wrong… So, I took the law into my hand and changed it.”
“I don’t understand people that can only live for themselves. I can’t understand it. Where do you get your happiness?” she said. “There must be somebody who needs help. There always is.”
A year after, she died at the age of ninety from cancer.
Orange County would later acknowledge Belinfante’s role and contributions in the war by establishing a “Frieda Belinfante Day.”
For more about Belinfante, check out the video below: