My twin sister Maria and I (Henriette Margarethe Karoline) were
born in Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic) in 1936 to Felix
Laqueur and Gerda Oestreicher-Laqueur. Our father was a doctor. We
lived together with my grandmother Clara Oestreicher-Kisch and our
elder sister Beate.
In April 1938 the entire family fled to Amsterdam in fear of the German
invasion. OnMay 10, 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, dashing our
hopes of escaping from Europe. The German occupying forces made us move
several times: to Leiden, then to the coastal town of Katwijk, then
inland to Blaricum and finally back to Amsterdam in 1943.
Attending school was no longer possible for me and my twin sister.
Beate had been there only a month when it was announced that Jewish
children were forbidden to go to school. Our father taught us to read,
write and do arithmetic at home. Our history lessons were a combination
of bible stories, mythology and art history.
In the ‘Drillingsberichte’ (Triplets Reports), letters from my father
to relatives and friends in the period 1937-1943, he made frequent
references to our educational development. The letters also reveal his
fear of the constant threat of arrest. When my family was arrested on
November 1, 1943, I was lying in bed with a note on my bedroom door:
diphtheria – infectious. My father had had the foresight to arrange
this. The result was that the truck that took my family away deposited
me at the Jewish hospital in Amsterdam.
Two and a half months later one of the nurses put on my coat and took
me to the exit, where I was told to say ‘hello auntie’ to the lady
waiting there. The following day I was taken by train to Deventer and
then on the back of a bicycle to a farmhouse in Gorssel in Gelderland.
At the farmhouse I was given a warm welcome by Jantje and Herman
Braakhekke. They spoke the local dialect and lived on a small farm with
three cows, pigs, chickens, and a water-pump outside the door.
From then on I was known as Elly Strijker from Rotterdam. I had a
wonderful time in Gorssel. My foster sister Annie was born at the end
of August 1944. I tied a bow to her cradle for every ounce she grew.
Liberation came in April 1945 with the Canadian forces shelling the
Germans in the field behind the farmhouse. Once the Germans had fled,
we could come out of the potato cellar, where we all were hiding. Later
that month I was able go to school for the first time in my life.
My sisters returned in July without our parents who had died from
typhoid fever following their liberation in Germany. Beate and Maria
stayed with me at the farm to recuperate. They told me stories about
the camps in the whitewashed stables where we played ‘camp’ and
‘train’. What do you do when you do not share an experience? You play
along, shocked and bewildered.
In September the three of us went to live with Wil ter Laag-Koning and
her children Ineke and Anton in Bergen, where we attended the
Bosschool. Two years later our aunt Lisbeth Birman- Oestreicher and
uncle Otto Birman welcomed us to their home in Amersfoort, where we
attended the gymnasium. At this time I changed the spelling of my first
name from Helli to Helly. My nickname was Helios, hence the small
star/sun I used later to sign my ceramics.
In 1954 I went to study at the Kunstnijverheidsschool (now the Gerrit
Rietveld Academie) in Amsterdam. Four years later I finished my studies
in ceramics. I married Reynoud Groeneveld in 1959 and went to live in
Delft. There I eventually established my own studio. I received my
first commission in 1961 and had my first exhibition a year later in
Wassenaar. My work attracted attention because it was unconventional.
In 1963, Reynoud graduated with a degree in architectural engineering
and in the spring of the following year our son Rogier was born. We
spent 1965 in London, where the swinging sixties made life a party. On
my kitchen table I created new work for the group exhibition Nieuwe
Vormen van Ceramiek (New Forms of Ceramics) that opened in the autumn
of 1965 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. When we returned to
Amsterdam in 1966, Reynoud went into partnership with the architects
Patrice Girod and Abel Cahen. After our daughter Larissa was born in
1966, we moved into our own house that Reynoud had remodelled
My sister Maria and her husband Joop and their two children lived
practically around the corner from us and our children and theirs
attended the same nursery, primary and secondary schools. We celebrated
feast days such as Sinterklaas, Christmas and birthdays with the whole
family, including aunts, uncles and grandparents.
In addition to making my own work, I gradually took on other
professional responsibilities such as acting as secretary of the
Nederlandse Vakgroep Keramisten (NVK), founded in 1975.
In 1977, I was asked to teach in the sculpture department at Artibus
Utrecht (now HKU, Utrecht School of the Arts). In the summer of 1979, I
became the lecturer in plastic and spatial form studies in the
foundation course at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, for which I devised a
The list of my activities and exhibitions can be found in the main archive of this website.
Biography of Helly Oestreicher
||born as twin sister of Maria in Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic)
||entire family flees to the Netherlands
||arrested by the Germans and placed in the Jewish hospital in Amsterdam
||ives in hiding with the Braakhekke family in Gorssel
||reunited with her sisters; parents and grandmother did not survive
||together with her sisters lives with the Ter Laag family in Bergen
||together with her sisters moves in with Lisbeth and Otto Birman-Oestreicher in Amersfoort
||gymnasium in Amersfoort
||studies at the Kunstnijverheidsschool in Amsterdam
||marries Reynoud Groeneveld and moves to Delft
||works during the summer and autumn in Helsinki, Finland
||establishes studio in Delft
||moves to Amsterdam
||Reynoud graduates as architectural engineer
||birth of son Rogier Herman Mathijs
||lives and works in London
||birth of daughter Larissa Lucia
||moves to current address in Amsterdam
||co-manages the estate of Maria Austria
||establishment of Stichting Maria Austria-Particam
||teaches at Artibus Utrecht
||teaches at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam
||after the death of Lisbeth Birman-Oestreicher places her work in the Textielmuseum, Tilburg
||establishment of Stichting Maria Austria Instituut (MAI)
||death of my sister Beate Oestreicher
||death of my twin sister Maria Goudsblom-Oestreicher