In December 1940 Gisèle van Waterschoot van der Gracht rented the 3rd floor of Herengracht 401 as a pied-a-terre in Amsterdam. In that period, she was painting the portrait of her friend Adri Roland Holst in Bergen NH. During that occasion she met the exiled German poet and journalist Wolfgang Frommel. He and two of his Jewish students from a boarding school in Eerde looked for a shelter from Nazi persecution. Gisèle offered her apartment at Herengracht 401. They gave it the code name Castrum Peregrini, after a pilgrims castle in the holy land that was never captured, as a good omen so to speak.
The group and a larger circle of friends focused on art and poetry to stay mentally sane, with Gisèle and Wolfgang being their teachers, mentors and friends. Gisèle did not join the Kulturkammer and therefore could officially not work as an artist. Still with clandestine private assignments and the support of her vast network she managed to feed the group and maintain the place as a bubble of hope and warmth in the darkest periods of their lives. After the war the group realised they had become a family and Gisèle, bit by bit, acquired the whole house and turned it into a foundation under Dutch law. In 1981 she could also acquire the neighbouring building in the Beulingstraat and connect it with Herengracht 401. Art, poetry and friendship, that bound the group in times of the occupation, became the drivers of the post war community. They used Castrum Peregrini to name the foundation and its magazine that the group started to edit.
Wolfgang Frommel lived in the building until his death in 1986. Gisèle lived and worked in the house until her death at the age of 100 years in 2013.
A vast and illustrious network of personalities have left their traces in the house,- be it the famous post war mayor of Amsterdam, Arnold D’Ailly, who stepped back from office to marry Gisèle, or Max Beckmann, Georg Baselitz, Marguerite Yourcenar, Roland Holst and many more. Still today the community tradition of Castrum Peregrini is maintained with its core staff living and working in the building.
In 2007 the publishing house was outsourced and the foundation focussed on a cultural programme and research projects around its core values freedom, friendship and culture. As of 2016 these activities are streamlined in three pillars of activities, The House of Gisèle vistors centre, Memory Machine cultural programme and Intellectual Playground think tank. Read more about the current activities here.