Otto Heinrich Treumann is born into a liberal Jewish family from Fürth in Bavaria. He was born on 28 March, 1919 and is Max Treumann en Babette Besels’ second child. Otto is an ‘afterthought’; his older brother Franz is nearly twenty when Otto is born.
Otto’s father is a representative for a building material firm and his mother is a photographer and works for several popular magazines. As with many Jewish families Otto’s future is destined to be in medicine, the law or the business world. He attends grammar school first in Fürth and then later in Nuremburg in preparation for an academic education. Unfortunately his future chances are limited when the Nazis take over in Germany.
To the Netherlands
Anti-Jewish regulations and violence soon follow when Adolf Hitler is made Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Jewish businesses are boycotted and Jews are excluded from professions. In 1934 Otto’s brother and his wife Alice decide to leave Germany. They arrive in the Netherlands and settle in Amsterdam where Franz works for a bank.
A year later in September 1935 when the Nuremburg Laws are introduced, Franz’s 16 year old brother, Otto, joins him and Alice in Amsterdam. Despite barely being able to speak Dutch Otto’s talent for drawing ensures him a place at the Grafische School (Art School) in Amsterdam.
In 1936 Otto Treumann starts his course in applied graphic art at the Nieuwe Kunstschool (New Art School) in Amsterdam. Here he becomes friends with Benno Premsela en Jan Bons. He also meets his future wife: Jettie van de Velde Olivier. On completing his studies he goes to work as a graphic designer for Co-op2, a small advertising agency set up by 2 teachers from the Nieuwe Kunstschool.
Member of the resistance in hiding
After the occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940, anti-Jewish regulations are implemented in quick succession and lead to the first raids and deportations to concentration camps in the summer of 1942. When Otto is arrested by the Germans during a raid his sister-in-law manages to get him set free by making an excuse for him. She manages to do this again when Otto is arrested a second time. When the Germans try to arrest him a third time he manages to escape over the roof tops of the house where he lives. A few days later, after Otto has gone into hiding, his girlfriend Jettie gives birth to their son René.
In 1943 Otto returns to Amsterdam and goes into hiding in Jettie’s house. ‘You had to be brave to go into hiding ‘ he says, ‘because officially you didn’t exist anymore. You were as free as a bird. But if you were picked up, then you were finished.’ Otto is active in the resistance while in hiding; It’s his job to make perfect drawings from enlarged photographs of German seals. Other members of the resistance can then reproduce these seals.
When he lived in Germany Otto attended grammar school and learnt gothic handwriting. He’s the best at reproducing these Gothic letters. As an artist he is ideally suited to forge German identity papers, seals and signatures.
He grabs this illegal work with both hands and says: ‘All those years I felt desperate hopelessness and then all of a sudden I could contribute to the resistance against the occupiers.’ Treumann forges all sorts of documents and through his work resistance workers are supplied with false identity papers, money and food or are freed from prison. He is not afraid to forge Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer Hanns Albin Rauter’s signature which is needed to free a resistance fighter from prison.
After the liberation, Otto learns that his parents and grandmother who had fled to the Netherlands in 1939, were murdered in Sobibor in the spring of 1943. His brother Franz has survived. In 1946 Treumann becomes a Dutch citizen and marries Jettie. Four years later their daughter, Babette, is born.
After the war Treumann plays an important role in Dutch design. His posters for trade fairs in Utrecht and Rotterdam become well known. He also works for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the National Ballet. He designs logos for the Anne Frank House, Nederlandse Gasunie and many other companies and organizations. He also designs postage stamps for the Dutch mail.
In 1994 Otto Treumann wins a prize for his work from the Foundation for the Visual Arts, Design and Architecture.
Otto Treumann remained committed to those who were persecuted especially Jews in the Soviet Union. ‘You can’t keep on asking yourself if you could have saved more people during the war, because then you give Hitler the chance to destroy you. There’s an old Jewish saying: ‘Save one life and you save the whole world.’
Otto Treumann died in 2001, his wife, Jettie, two years later.