Anyone living outside the Netherlands or the Flemish speaking part of Belgium will probably have never heard of Wim Kan.
It is actually not that easy to describe what he was, his title was cabaretier ,which is French for Cabaret performer. But I think the term ‘stand up comedian’ would be more relevant nowadays, even though that doesn’t really describe it accurately either.Because he cracked jokes, sang songs he had written himself, told stories.
He was one of the ‘Great 3’ cabaret acts of the Netherlamds, together with Win Sonneveld and Toon Hermans.
In 1936, he established the ABC Cabaret, which soon became one of the most successful Dutch cabaret groups, in which several artists debuted who later became famous.Wim Kan’s wife,Corry Vonk, was also a member of the group.
In 1940, the ABC Cabaret was touring the Dutch East Indies.(Now called Indonesia)While they were on tour in Indonesia, which was a Dutch Colony at the time, Germany invaded the Netherlands therefor Wim Kan and his Cabaret company could not return to the Netherlands.
On 8 December 1941, the Dutch government-in-exile declared war on Japan. Wim Kan was called as a conscript with the KNIL. The Royal Dutch Indies army. He was assigned to the Department of War as a radio broadcaster.By March 1942 all of Indonesia was occupied by Japan.On Friday the 13th of March, Wim Kan was made a prisoner of war, with POW number 71502.
He survived 13 Japanese camps. Probably because of his fame he ,did enjoy some protection of hard physical labour, but he was not completely exempt from working on the Burma railway.
While he was in the camps he did do what he always done, entertain. He continued doing shows albeit in adapted form, and he continued writing songs. He also kept a diary of his years under captivity. These diaries were only released relatively recently.
Mt Dros, who was one of the 15,170 Dutchmen who survived the Burma Railway, said in an interview with a Dutch newspaper” The performances of Wim Kan were like small rays of light, and made us feel like we were home in the Netherlands again albeit for a short time.”
Shortly after the war ,on November 6,1945 Wim Kan staged a benefit show in Bangkok for former prisoners of war. The show was called ‘Mystery in Budapest’
Wim Kan and his wife returned to the Netherlands in 1948, where he became an even bigger star as when he was before the war.
When the Japanese Emperor Hirohito came for a state visit to the Netherlands October 1971, Wim Kan strongly protested and urged the Dutch government to get the Emperor tried for war crimes.
Wim Kan died age 72 on September 8, 1983.
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New York Times