The Dutch, the Germans, & the Jews

Article excerpt

Jan Herman Brinks examines the Dutch myth of resistance and finds collaboration with the Nazis went right to the top.

Careful readers of the compelling diary of Anne Frank might notice that her hiding place was betrayed to the Nazis by Dutch neighbours, without drawing wider conclusions about the behaviour of Dutch people during the occupation by the Third Reich.

In the light of recent revelations of Dutch complicity in the acquisition of Jewish money, artworks and other treasure by the Nazis, contemporary Dutch historians are engaged in a wholesale revision of the relationship between the Netherlands and the Hitler regime.

This introspection has been overdue for a long time. Contrary to popular belief, a far from harmless rapprochement between the Dutch and Nazi Germany had already taken place during the inter-war period. At the root of this was a virulent anticommunism that had penetrated deeply into the Dutch elite. In 1917 the Bolsheviks had annulled all foreign debts. However, in the Netherlands it was not the authorities or banks that had to suffer, but almost exclusively private individuals who had invested heavily in the Tsarist empire. The then astronomical sum of 1 billion guilders was at stake; more than the sum total of annual Dutch expenditure. Anger about these financial losses may have contributed to the fact that the Dutch bourgeoisie was initially susceptible to Hitler's anti-Bolshevism, and condoned his antisemitism for a long time.

After 1935, close Dutch-German collaboration was apparent in the arrest of `Marxist and Jewish elements'. The immediate cause of this collaboration was the Dutch government's fear of a stream of refugees from the German Saar, which had decided by plebiscite, on January 13th 1935, to unite with the German Reich. Many left-wing and Jewish Germans who had taken refuge there after Hitler came to power in 1933 now decided to flee.

On January 16th 1935, three days after the ballot in the Saar, the attorney-general of Amsterdam, A. Baron van Harinxma thoe Slooten, argued, at the instigation of the Gestapo, in a confidential letter to the minister of Justice, J.R.H. van Schaik:

`In my opinion the establishment of concentration camps where all undesirable communist elements could be sheltered who, in spite of the actions already taken by Your Excellency, will yet enter the Netherlands from the Saar and who are highly dangerous, not only with regard to internal peace but also because of less pleasant complications abroad, seems inescapably necessary.'

In March 1935 the Fortress Honswijk south of Utrecht was fitted up for this purpose.

Among the Dutch authorities, especially among senior police officials, there were quite a few who had already offered their services to the Nazis in the interwar years. They saw Hitler as the most reliable defence against the `Red peril'. The police commissioner of Amsterdam, K.H. Broekhoff, for example, personally reported in 1935 to the Gestapo in Berlin that the Dutch Minister of Defence would co-operate in the mutual fight against `Communist and Marxist machinations'. Under the pen-name of `David', Broekhoff took care of the exchange of information through which 250 German `illegals' who had fled to the Netherlands immediately after the occupation in May 1940 were arrested by the Nazi Security Police. Rotterdam's chief commissioner of police, L. Einthoven, also figured, together with seventeen other Dutch police officers considered to be pro-German, in a list of names drawn up by the Gestapo.

This pro-German atmosphere also affected the Dutch media. According to the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl, who then worked as a journalist for the Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant, this very influential newspaper sacked its Jewish foreign editor and acting editor-in-chief, Marcus van Blankenstein, as early as 1936 because he took too critical and close a look at developments in Germany. …