Helly Oestreicher
Visual biography


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 inventively.
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 new curriculum.

The list of my activities and exhibitions can be found in the main archive of this website.

Biography of Helly Oestreicher *1936

1936 born as twin sister of Maria in Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic)
1938 entire family flees to the Netherlands
1943 arrested by the Germans and placed in the Jewish hospital in Amsterdam
1944 ives in hiding with the Braakhekke family in Gorssel
1945 reunited with her sisters; parents and grandmother did not survive
1945 together with her sisters lives with the Ter Laag family in Bergen
1947 together with her sisters moves in with Lisbeth and Otto Birman-Oestreicher in Amersfoort
1948-1954 gymnasium in Amersfoort
1954-1958 studies at the Kunstnijverheidsschool in Amsterdam
1959 marries Reynoud Groeneveld and moves to Delft
1960 works during the summer and autumn in Helsinki, Finland
1961 establishes studio in Delft
1962 moves to Amsterdam
1963 Reynoud graduates as architectural engineer
1964 birth of son Rogier Herman Mathijs
1965 lives and works in London
1966 birth of daughter Larissa Lucia
1967 moves to current address in Amsterdam
1975 co-manages the estate of Maria Austria
1976 establishment of Stichting Maria Austria-Particam
1977-1980 teaches at Artibus Utrecht
1979-1990 teaches at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam
1990 after the death of Lisbeth Birman-Oestreicher places her work in the Textielmuseum, Tilburg
1992 establishment of Stichting Maria Austria Instituut (MAI)
1997 death of my sister Beate Oestreicher
2009 death of my twin sister Maria Goudsblom-Oestreicher