Jan de Vries (linguist)

Jan de Vries (1932)

Jan Pieter Marie Laurens de Vries (11 February 1890 – 23 July 1964) was a Dutch scholar of Germanic linguistics and Germanic mythology, from 1926 to 1945 ordinarius at Leiden University and author of reference works still in use today.

During the German occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War, de Vries was part of the Nederlandsche Kultuurkamer, a National Socialist censorship body corresponding to the Kulturkammer, and prominent in the Ahnenerbe. In a 1940 pamphlet and in radio speeches, he demonstrated sympathy for Nazi ideology; in 1944 he fled to Leipzig.[1] After the war, he was imprisoned and stripped of his academic position.

De Vries was born in Amsterdam and demonstrated anti-democratic views before the war; he had a great enthusiasm for German culture.[1] However, he rejected the doctrine of the "Nordic race", and was frequently criticized by influential Nazis for insisting on differentiating Dutch culture from German, and for specific actions, such as seeking to found a new journal that would be open to anti-Nazi contributions, and planning to make Ethnography a full subject of study at a Catholic university.[2][3] He refused to join the Nazi Party, and in the preface to De Germanen in 1941 warned against "an all too uncritical mode of thought."[1] At his trial for collaboration the verdict was that in spite of "personal moral integrity" he had committed "very serious political errors."[3] He was sentenced to time served in internment and was able to resume his research and publishing while teaching Dutch from 1948 to 1955 in Oostburg, Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.[1] He died, aged 74, in Utrecht.

His scholarly work was not tainted by Nazi ideology, and continues to be respected and often cited in Germanic studies, particularly the two two-volume comprehensive studies, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, still the fullest overview of Germanic religion, and Altnordische Literaturgeschichte, a basic reference work on Old Norse literature. In the Netherlands his translations and his etymological and place-name work were also important.

De Vries became member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1938, his membership was suspended in May 1945.[4]


An ex libris plate from a book belonging to Jan de Vries.

Selected publications:

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 H. van der Hoeven, in Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland, online version http://www.inghist.nl/Onderzoek/Projecten/BWN/lemmata/bwn2/vriesjpml (in Dutch)
  2. Stephanie Würth, Forward to 3rd ed. of Altnordische Literaturgeschichte, pp. xiii-xv, text online at (pdf) (in German)
  3. 1 2 Andries Dirk Kylstra (1998). "Vries, Jan de". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 13. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 108–117. ISBN 3-88309-072-7.
  4. "Jan Pieter Marie Laurens de Vries (1890 - 1964)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
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