5th Stop

de Bijenkorf Amsterdam, Dam 1, 1012 JS Amsterdam

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de Bijenkorf Entrance from Dam Square

Benno Premsela

A designer whose courage changed the Netherlands

Born:
1920 in Amsterdam
Died:
1997 in Amsterdam
Portrait of Benno Premsela

Benno Premsela

A designer whose courage changed the Netherlands

Born:
1920 in Amsterdam
Died:
1997 in Amsterdam
Portrait of Benno Premsela

The Story

The Bijenkorf was a beloved department store that was seized by the Nazis during the occupation and run into the ground. In the 1950s, a young designer named Benno Premsela revived it and became a cultural icon by designing avant-garde window displays. There are photos of people crowding the Damrak to see his windows unveiled.

In 1964, this respected public figure went on TV to talk about his life as a gay man, becoming the first person to do so without obscuring his identity. Two years earlier, he’d taken over leadership of the COC, the longest-continuously-running gay rights organization in the world. His predecessor had used a pseudonym, but Benno was determined to be out in his activism.

He was determined not to hide ever again. Benno and his brother had gone into hiding during the Nazi invasion. After Liberation Day, they discovered that they were their family’s sole survivors. Benno said later, “The end of the war meant a kind of liberation. Nothing more could happen to me than what I already went through.”

That fearlessness led him to show Dutch audiences that someone they admired was gay, to fight to overturn an antigay law, and to help establish the Homomonument. The courage Benno got from his losses turned him into a beacon that helped guide the way towards equality.