During the Second World War, Van de Velde was head of the Architecture Department of the Commissariat General for National Reconstruction. The municipality of Perwez (Walloon Brabant) was badly hit by the German bombardments. From his position, Van de Velde contacted the mayor of the stricken Perwez, Léon Deprez. Their working relationship soon turned into a friendship relationship. This is shown by the 22 letters that Anne Marsia found in 2022 in the estate of her deceased mother, Deprez's wife.
Donation sheds new light on Henry van de Velde's private life
Deprez - he must have had the opportunity to do so as mayor - regularly sent food parcels to Van de Velde, who lived in La Nouvelle Maison in Tervuren with his daughter. Van de Velde regularly collected packages of bread, butter, bacon and tobacco in Brussels. From time to time the families visited each other.
Van de Velde's letters to Deprez are a testimony of his loneliness during the war. The architect lived in relatively difficult circumstances, especially during the war winter of 1944. He was worried about Nele, who was traumatized and whom he hardly dared to leave alone. The packets of smoking articles from Perwez were intended to distract and calm Nele.
Van de Velde turned out to be ignorant of the fate of his other children and grandchildren, who lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Java. That ignorance gnawed. He expressed his feelings in the letters to Deprez. Van de Velde was shocked when he heard that one of his grandsons was fighting on the German side, he wrote in April 1945. The boy - a son of his deceased daughter Helène, who was married to a German - had been called up for the Volkssturm. Only after the war did Van de Velde learn that the fate of his daughter Anne was even worse. She died in April 1945 of her hardships in a Japanese camp.
Henry and Nele
The letters raise many questions. Why was it that a celebrated architect, who was still a civil servant, had income from commissions and also received a pension, was so poor? Did Van de Velde have other friends who helped him through the war years? The love for Nele that speaks from the letters is striking. She needed care, but at the same time she was Henry's support after the death of his wife in 1943.
In addition to Henry's letters, the donation also contains three documents from Nele. A letter from 1943 and two postcards from 1959 and 1960 that Nele sent to the family Deprez. Henry had just died, but Nele still lived in the bungalow in Oberägeri, the Swiss village where Van de Velde had spent the last ten years of his life.
Thanks to the Henry van de Velde Foundation and the Marsia family, the war letters from Henry van de Velde to Leon Deprez could be preserved in the collection of the Boekentoren.