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In memoriam: Dr. Frits Bernard

Dr. Frans E.J. Gieles, in KOINOS # 51 (2006 # 3)

Following a short but apparently intense illness, Dr. Frits Bernard passed away in a hospital in Rotterdam on 23 May 2006. This was quite sudden and unexpected, in view of the many travels he still embarked upon and all the other activities he still carried out.

Frits grew up at a time when sexuality was hardly spoken about, let alone homosexuality, let quite alone boy love. In his student time, a student was not allowed to read anything about homosexuality without personal permission from the professor. Frits had to figure out his own way. Insofar as there was any literature, he began to read it.

He graduated in psychology from the University of Amsterdam, his special fields of interest being psychopathology and criminology. Following this study he was apprenticed in psychoanalysis. He graduated from the Catholic University of Nijmegen.

After World War II he began to publish. He worked in a number of countries, including Pakistan and Spain. He fluently spoke several languages and also published in many languages.

Frits was not a solitary scholar, but an amiable and wise man with many contacts. The late Dr. Edward Brongersma was a friend of his. They set up a small group within the gay organisation COC in The Hague, and both were writing for Vriendschap, the COC magazine at the time. They did this under the pen names Victor Servatius and O. Brunoz, until the COC began to reject these gentlemen and their articles.

The Dutch Society for Sexual Reform (NVSH) did not do this. At the initiative of Frits, a working group was started within the NVSH which obtained a formal status in 1973, and organised a large conference in Breda in 1974. This was the start of a much broader liberation movement within – and eventually outside – the NVSH. Frits, so to speak, is the grand old man of this movement. He remained active for a very long period, and in Germany he was also involved in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Humane Seksualität, where he will be sorely missed. He was known the world over, participating in conferences and appearing on television in several countries.

Frits was a champion. He has always had to fight prejudice and ignorance. Neither his formative years, nor the time of his great passion for travelling and working, nor the last years of his life were easy. Evidently, he kept track of global news with great interest and concern.

When in the legacy of the late Dr. Edward Brongersma and his foundation material was found which once was legal but due to changes in the law was later ruled illegal, an ‘anti-pedophile activist’ concluded that the Bernard Foundation would ‘therefore’ also have such material. She passed this idea on to the media, who jumped on the matter eagerly, leading the public prosecutor to decide that an investigation was called for. This took up a lot of time, and Frits chose to take a back seat during the investigation. None of the media who had shown themselves so eager later reported that no illegal material had been found. The Bernard Foundation, which now manages his legacy of book, can be reassured.

A scholarly, active, wise and congenial man has suddenly departed from us, and following his own wish has been cremated in a quiet, private service involving only his family. We have to go on without him.

For an impressive list of publications by Frits Bernard, see
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