Ger Schmook

05 June 2019 - 12:20

Ger (actual name Gerard) Schmook was born in the Antwerp boarding house ‘De drij kauwen’ on 17 August 1898. When he was four years old, his father died of tuberculosis. He grew up with his grandparents in Mortsel.

He and Adeline, the girl next door who later became his wife, completed teachers’ training together in 1917. In late 1918, however, Ger was deleted from the list of those to be assigned as teachers, because he had signed a petition to use Flemish at the University of Ghent. His father in law-to-be Louis Terneus, a diamond cutter and active member of the Antwerp Diamantbewerkersbond [General Diamond Workers’ Association of Belgium, ADB], arranged a job for him with the ADB administration, where Ger earned twice what his wife was paid as a schoolteacher.

Ger Schmook

Ger Schmook (ABC Press Service, Amsab-ISG)

Ger Schmook junior


Ger Schmook with his son Ger Schmook junior in the zoo around 1922. (AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerp).

Adeline Terneus with Ger Schmook junior


Adeline Terneus, wife of Ger Schmook, with Ger Schmook junior. (AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerp).

Business trips

Bothered by the roaring trains and noise from diamond-cutting factory, Ger worked on the second floor of the trade-union building on Plantin- en Moretuslei, distributing and dispatching the trade union periodical De Diamantbewerker. Fortunately, he was able to leave now and then to collect union dues from the factory delegates in outlying areas. On these business trips he also visited local museums, historical monuments, and other sights.

The ADB trade union building


The ADB trade union building on Plantin- en Moretuslei in the Antwerp station quarter (Amsab-ISG).


Observing Ger’s broad cultural knowledge, the union board asked him to reorganize the library of the ADB. In 1906 the ADB received a donation of some books and decided to purchase more. The library figured in the broad range of leisure pursuits arranged by the ADB, organized and encouraged by a social work commission. Though untrained as a librarian, Ger Schmook was very well read and eagerly started his new job. While he was still figuring how to set up and run a library, he put some unemployed diamond workers to work writing catalogue cards.

ADB library


The ADB library (Amsab-ISG)


Thanks to sound acquisition policy, the ADB library expanded to become the most important private lending library in Belgium. ADB members could register upon presenting their membership booklet. In 1919 the library had 832 readers. By 1926 their number had increased to 1,261. Opening hours were extended, and Schmook introduced a travelling library for the suburbs. To guide readers in their selection, he arranged the books by genre, for example ‘Rascals and cockerels, as well as odd fellows’ (ne’er do wells), ‘Futuristic’ (science fiction), ‘Handsome blokes, tough women’ (biographies), ‘Life jackets for troublesome foreign words’ (dictionaries and language guides). By then, the library required more space and was definitively relocated to premises on Baron Joostenstraat. City librarian Lode Baeckelmans praised the ADB library as exemplary to the public boards.

Affiche Boekdrukkersverbond


Poster from the Antwerp Boekdrukkersverbond [book printers’ league] for an exhibition, announcing a speech by Ger Schmook, ADB librarian, 1930 (Amsab-ISG). 

Cultural edification

In addition to ordering, describing, and cataloguing books and journals, Schmook felt it was his duty to inform ADB members about social progress and support them in their struggle for a better life, including advice about schools for their children. Until 1930, when the paper was reduced in size because of the Depression, he wrote a weekly column in De Diamantbewerker about art, history, education, and library matters.

Interior Schmook-Terneus residence


The small, modern home of the Schmook-Terneus couple, by architect Van Steenbergen (AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerp).


‘Master’ Schmook was also very interested in literature for children and young adults. In 1920 he formed the Jeugdkring, a group for young people that organized courses and lectures about arts and sciences and arranged excursions. This Jeugdkring was soon discontinued for lack of interested participants. In 1922 Schmook helped at the newly established Arbeidershogeschool [higher education institute for workers], for example by training librarians.

Library of the Arbeidershogeschool


Library of the Arbeidershogeschool in Brussels. (Amsab-ISG)

World Congress

From 1924 the ADB appointed Schmook secretary to the board of the international trade union the Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers. Schmook became indispensable to ADB-chairman Louis Van Berckelaer and earned the trust of the leaders of the Universal Alliance as the organizer of meetings and as minutes’ taker, secretary and simultaneous interpreter.

Ger Schmook


Gerard Schmook, 1936 (Photographer Kurt Klingner, Amsab-ISG)

New career thanks to his ADB ties

In 1937 Schmook was offered a position as curator of the Museum van de Vlaamse Letterkunde (Flemish literature museum, currently the house of literature). In 1945, after Lode Baekelmans retired, he became the Antwerp city librarian. He helped professionalize librarians in Flanders and was an eminent and active member of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Taal- and Letterkunde [Royal Flemish academy of language and literature]. During the Second World War his meticulous ADB library had been ransacked and destroyed. He was asked to chair the commission tasked with estimating the costs of restarting the library. The ADB, however, was unable to afford the exorbitant cost of two million francs. The remaining books were issued on standing loan to workers’ libraries.
Ger Schmook died in July 1985 at age 87 after a short illness, ten months after his son, the geographer Ger Schmook Jr.

Ger Schmook as member of the KVATL


Members of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Taal and Letterkunde. Ger Schmook appears at the rear, far left. (AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerp)


  • Eresaluut aan Ger Schmook in Bibliotheekkunde, 36 (Antwerpen, 1986)
  • Geldolf, Wim, Ger Schmook 80 jaar in: Tijdschrift Antwerpen  25(december 1979)4
  • Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde, 1987
  • Schmook, Ger, Stap voor stap langs kronkelwegen (Antwerpen, 1976)
  • Vermandere, Martine, Adamastos. 100 jaar Algemene Diamantbewerkersbond van België (Antwerpen, 1995)
  • Willekens Emiel en De Moor, Martina, ‘Ger Schmook’ in: Nieuwe encyclopedie van de Vlaamse Beweging, (Tielt, 1998)