Image and Reality: The Dutch Holocaust Past

By Gerstenfeld, Manfred | Midstream, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Image and Reality: The Dutch Holocaust Past


Gerstenfeld, Manfred, Midstream


"... The Netherlands: fatherland of traitors ..." said Dutch survivor Shmuel HaCohen in an Israeli television program on Holocaust Day 2000. "If Anne Frank and her family had survived the concentration camps and returned to The Netherlands, the Dutch would have locked her up again in a camp, as they did with hundreds of other German Jews." So Avraham Roet, Chairman of Platform Israel, the roof organization of Dutch Jews in Israel, told the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Former Yad Vashem director Joseph Michman recounts that the first postwar Dutch Prime Minister Schermerhorn told representatives of the Dutch Zionist Organization that one couldn't expect him, a socialist, to try to restore to Jewish capitalists their possessions looted during the war.

There is probably a greater discrepancy between the benign public image and the harsh reality of Dutch wartime and postwar behavior than for any other country. The imaginary wartime attitude of The Netherlands toward the Jews has created an overwhelmingly positive reputation for a country that does not merit it. The story of Anne Frank, persecuted by bad Germans and protected by good Dutchmen, is the main anchor of this myth. Negligible attention is given to her betrayal by other Dutchmen, which led directly to her death in Bergen-Belsen.

It is not easy for foreigners to obtain information on what really happened to Dutch Jewry: most of the specialized literature on the subject is in Dutch. The plain population figures are easily reached, however. Before the war, there were approximately 140,000 Jews in The Netherlands, representing 1.6 percent of the Dutch population; in Amsterdam, they were nearly 10 percent of the city's inhabitants.

Some 107,000 were deported, and 102,000 were murdered. Most of the others went into hiding, were married to non-Jews and thus not deported, or fled abroad. Fewer than 1,000 remained in Westerbork, the transit camp from which most Dutch Jews were sent to their deaths.

When Holland was defeated in 1940, Queen Wilhelmina fled to England, followed by the government. The result was a legal vacuum, which enabled Hitler to impose a civil government under the Austrian Nazi leader, Seyss-Inquart.

In the early days of the occupation, the Germans ordered the removal of non-Aryans, i.e., Jews, from Dutch official life. The High Court of Justice, appointed by the prewar democratic Dutch government, saw in this no contradiction of Dutch law. Thus began widespread support for anti-Jewish measures among the Dutch authorities.

The German occupiers needed to employ only a limited number of their own personnel. The Dutch authorities and their Dutch employees followed German instructions: they identified Jews, helped isolate and arrest them, transported them on Dutch Railway trains to transit camps, and guarded them there.

Sometimes the Dutch were over-zealous. The German-appointed head of the Amsterdam police, Sybren Tulp, wrote to the general commissary in charge of order and safety: "I can only declare that the young men of the new police battalion have done their job in the most remarkable way.... Whenever they found more Jews at the marked addresses, they took all of them." Referring to the Dutch collaboration, Adolf Eichmann is quoted as saying, "The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see."

There were indeed Resistance fighters and other Dutchmen who helped Jews: they merit great respect. More than 2000 have been honored as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem. Thanks to these people, 16,000 Jews survived in hiding. However, many thousands of others in hiding were betrayed by Dutch citizens for a few dollars' reward. Furthermore, the number of Dutch Nazi collaborators during the war exceeded the number of those active in the Resistance. Relative to its population, The Netherlands had the highest number of Waffen SS volunteers in Western Europe.

Before the deportations, the Germans organized the looting of Jewish property.

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