Table of contents

Overview of the illegal and clandestine publications collection

  • Contents: a collection of illegal and clandestine publications that were printed without government permission during World War II.
  • Size: more than 860 items.
  • Access: can be found via the KB catalogue. Available for inspection in the Special Collections reading room; cannot be lent out.
  • More informationPaul van Capelleveen.

About the illegal and clandestine publications collection

During World War II, most publications were strictly controlled. Books were generally printed in small runs and under difficult circumstances, and permission had to be requested from the German occupiers to obtain certain quantities of paper. Some printers were arrested and executed.

To get round this, more than 1.000 literary texts and songs were printed in secret during this period. These are known as illegal and clandestine publications. Clandestine publications were printed without the occupiers’ permission. Illegal publications were printed and traded in secret, because they would have been banned otherwise. The former often do include the authors’ names, but illegal publications generally used pseudonyms, as the authors, artists and printers involved would find themselves in trouble otherwise.

Some of these publications were printed out of a sense of patriotism and a longing for freedom, while others were sold to provide financial support to the resistance against the occupying forces. Literary publications containing short stories, songs and poems were particularly popular, but more political books were published this way as well. Many of these publications used high-quality paper from pre-war reserves and included colourful illustrations.

Background of the illegal and clandestine publications collection

World War II publications became popular collectors' items after the war. Many of these editions are described in Dirk de Jong's standard work Het vrije boek in onvrije tijd (1958). A supplement to this work was later published by Anna E.C. Simoni, titled Publish and be Free: a Catalogue of Clandestine Books Printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945 in the British Library (1975). Three-quarters of the editions described by De Jong are part of the KB collection, often in multiple copies. Through purchases and donations, the collection has expanded over the years; it even includes publications not described in these bibliographies. 

Accessibility of the illegal and clandestine publications collection

The collection can be accessed digitally via the KB catalogue. The physical collection can be consulted in the KB's Special Collections reading room. We also organise presentations for groups on request.

Related collections

The KB also owns a large collection of propaganda and Nazi literature, including many publications by the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB), as well as a collection of posters distributed during the war.

Literature about the Illegal and clandestine publications collection


  • Capelleveen, P. van. ‘7770 unieke kunstwerken. H.N. Werkman en de deiningen van De Blauwe Schuit, 1940-1944’. De Boekenwereld 31:1, 2015, pp. 2-9.
  • Faassen, S. van. ‘Het bijzondere boek in de Tweede Wereldoorlog’. Het ideale boek. Honderd jaar private press in Nederland, 1910-2010. Vantilt, 2010, pp. 117-133.


  • Jong, D. de. Het vrije boek in onvrije tijd: bibliografie van illegale en clandestiene belletrie. Sijthoff, 1958.
  • Simoni, A.E.C. Publish and be Free: a Catalogue of Clandestine Books Printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945 in the British Library. Martinus Nijhoff/British Museum Publications for the British Library, 1975.