Dutch Minister Reviews Renewed Holocaust-Assets Restitution

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Dutch Minister Reviews Renewed Holocaust-Assets Restitution De Romantische Boekhouder (The Romantic Bookkeeper), by Gerrit ZaIm, Uitgeverij Balans, 2009, 402 pp. [Dutch]

Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Unless there were a compelling reason to do so, one would not usually review a book that devotes only 6 of its 400 pages to a Jewish subject. In this case, the memoirs of the liberal politician Gerrit ZaIm, the longestserving Dutch finance minister (1994-2002 and 2003-2007) and deputy prime minister (2003-2007), contain disclosures of historical importance.

This book concludes with a short section titled "Minister for Jewish Affairs" (390-396). The main issue ZaIm raises here is the renewed restitution discussions with the Dutch Jewish community at the end of the last century. This process constitutes a most important chapter in the history of postwar Dutch Jewry.

During World War II the Germans plundered most Dutch Jewish possessions, using the Lippmann Rosenthal Sarphatistraat bank (LIRO) as an agency that they fashioned especially for this purpose. At the end of the postwar liquidation of the assets of this institution, some minor items - mainly jewelry and costly personal accessories - remained in the possession of an agency of the Finance Ministry. ZaIm tells how shocked he was when he learned from a television report that, in the early 1960s, employees of this body had held a raffle to decide who could buy which item on the basis of an assessed taxation value of many years earlier.

Because this took place at the ministry for which he was responsible, and even though it occurred long before his term as minister, ZaIm considered resigning. Senior ministry officials convinced him that this would be an overreaction. The late Dutch Jewish historian Isaac Lipschits noted that, after a discussion of the LIRO affair, ZaIm met him in the parliament building. He said he wanted to present his personal apologies. Lipschits remarked, "But Minister, when this happened you were still going around in short trousers." ZaIm replied: "I am a successor of postwar finance minister Pieter Lieftinck and thus responsible for what happened then."1

Lieftinck, a neophyte socialist, was the first postwar finance minister (1945-1952). His major aim was to hasten the economic revival of the Dutch economy, which had been hard hit by the war. In this frame of mind, he favored the interests of the Amsterdam security traders, who had collaborated with the German occupiers at the expense of the Jews whose possessions had been looted. One of the commissions of inquiry before the turn of the century investigated the postwar restitution details and condemns his behavior in this matter.2

ZaIm also tells how apprehensive he was before his first meeting at the ministry with the representatives of the CJO, the Dutch Jewish umbrella organization for external affairs, as in his view "the Finance Ministry is in the dock of the accused." To his relief the CJO chairman, Henri Markens, opened by telling a joke. …