Walter baron Snouckaert van Schauburg

 Interviewed by Charles Hermans, 17 March 2010 

Walter hopped on the train to Rotterdam to study Economics that very same day. “Something needed to happen. If I had been aware of the Erasmus Alumni Vereniging (EAV) at the time, I would have definitely joined them.”

In his quest to locate the members of the Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps for whom Pieter van Zuuren made lecture summaries (we refer you to the Alumnieuws issue of 11 January 2010), your interviewer came across Walter Baron Snouckaert van Schauburg, who as a student was fond of working as a tutor. Asked whether he minded if I wore a dinner jacket during our interview, he answered that it was of no concern to him – as long as he didn’t have to wear one.

In 1944, Walter passed his gymnasium B exam at the Nederlands Lyceum in The Hague. After this, he managed to avoid the German Arbeitseinsatz by enrolling in an Economics course at Berenschot in Rotterdam. This roused his interest in the field.

His father, the treasurer of Queen Wilhelmina, knew K.P. van der Mandele, who served as the Queen’s chamberlain in Rotterdam. This gave Walter an opportunity to discuss which view he should hold of the Economics programme in Rotterdam. K.P. had strong views on the subject. For example, in his perspective, the ‘kandidaats’ programme was a self-contained education that left you sufficiently malleable to be formed further by your future employer, according to the principles held at that firm. After which you became a manager. Doctorates were actually more suited to someone working in the R&D department of a large corporation. However, the ‘kandidaats’ was important for acquiring a structured thinking process: learning how to read; how to listen. It’s not about what you study – it’s about the method.

But actually, Walter wanted to enter the military more than anything. After the harsh Dutch famine of 1944-45 (the ‘Hunger Winter’), people felt a strong sympathy for the liberators and the military lifestyle. He had already visited the registration desk in The Hague a few times to enrol in a training programme in England, but was turned away on each occasion due to a lack of transport. Each time round, he had bid farewell to his father with a suitcase in his hand – his mother had died at a young age – but was forced to return home with nothing to show for his pains. At a certain point, he was fed up: he hopped on the train to Rotterdam that very same day to enrol in the NEH’s Economics programme. Something needed to happen!

Back home, there was an understanding that you should finish what you started and that furthermore, it was important to take part in student life – in part because it provided you with the opportunity to be educated by your peers.

In his case, he joined the Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps (RSC) in 1945: after all, this was where a great many of his peers educated each other. His initiation kicked off with the assignment to climb into a half-open window at a location on Eendrachtsweg: that was the entrance for the freshers. He quickly settled in. He found the atmosphere at RSC “most enjoyable” and felt right at home. He was a member of the Corps society ‘De Vogels’, which exists to this day. His entire year club joined the Corps society ‘Hoog Hoeden Veem’, which unfortunately had become so exclusive at a certain point that it is no longer with us.

In the meantime, he enjoyed student life to the full. In his second year, Walter became Vice President, and in his third year, he was appointed as Rector of the Senate. As far as his studies were concerned, he didn’t make that much progress however. He rarely saw the inside of NEH’s location on Pieter de Hoochweg – only to sit for exams. Of course, some professors attempted to lure students whom they hadn’t seen before inside – Professor Visser, for example – but generally to little avail. And some of these professors weren’t that popular to begin with. In his day, they worked a lot with tutors – including Witteveen, a fellow member of the Corps and later Minister of Finance. Witteveen did graduate eventually, in contrast with the famous Leiden tutor Witkam. When they passed his open window, students rowing on Rapenburg Canal would yell “Witkam, it’s time to graduate!”.

After an 18-month hiatus for national service, which he ended as first lieutenant in the infantry, in 1952, Walter passed his ‘kandidaats’ exam in Economics, married and started working for Oranjelijn, a shipping line – owned by a youthful Anthony Veder – that operated services to the Great Lakes in North America. After this, he worked for Banque de Suez in Rotterdam, in part thanks to his knowledge of French, ultimately retiring at the age of 62 as the Director of BNP Netherlands in Amsterdam. He always enjoyed being able to work independently.

He only really started reading after his retirement: biographies of major players in the worlds of business and politics. One book on his reading stack was Trust by political economist Francis Fukuyama, in which the author divides the world into bands of trust that encircle the globe, within which one feels free or not to do business on the basis of trust. As a student, he had already shown a strong interest in Professor Boerman’s Economic Geography course. This concept too divides the world into ‘climate zones’, which indicate where one could expect the strongest economic development depending on the local climate. In addition, Walter was involved in the property business, in which he not only focused on financial returns, but also on nature conservation and the welfare of the wildlife. He did keep the foxes “in check”, however…

Walter was surprised when I contacted him to arrange an interview. For him, his time as a student was more or less a closed chapter – he didn’t give it that much thought anymore: “The past is the past,” and “You shouldn’t get too much in the way of those who come after you.” He does still celebrate the anniversary of his year club with his surviving friends, however – in former times, preferably at the society hall. If he had to choose all over again, he may have considered Law: his youngest son Maurits studied Law at EUR and presently works as a lawyer in Amsterdam. And his eldest son Reyn also read Law, incidentally, and now works as a lawyer in The Hague. He felt strongly involved in the progress of both their careers.

While Walter wasn’t actually aware of the EAV’s existence, if he had been, “he would definitely have become a member.” In fact, he would have joined the moment he became an alumnus! But right now, he was heading with his wife Aimée to TEFAF in Maastricht, where he would be viewing the cornucopia with an economist’s eye.