Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Communications

Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Communications

Article excerpt

DEAR EDITOR:

As a librarian at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam I read Judaism with great interest, in order to make its content accessible for the visitors of our library.

The article "The Anne Frank Myth" by Dvora Yanow in the Spring 2000 issue calls for a reaction, as I read it with growing amazement and deep concern. In my opinion the author gives a rather distorted view of Jewish life in the Netherlands, based on the American way of looking at and dealing with European history.

It is, indeed, a well-known fact that in the first decades after the liberation of the German Occupation, there was a considerable lack of interest in the sufferings and the fate of the Jewish fellow citizens. Dutch society was, like everywhere else in Europe, apt to look forwards, not to reflect on the past and concentrated itself on reconstruction. A romantic vision of the heroic acts of the Resistance prevailed and the help given to the Jews in hiding was greatly exaggerated. It was in this period that "The Anne Frank Myth" was created, which is preserved as well in the United States as in Israel up till recently. In the Netherlands public opinion changed drastically early in the sixties of the last century, mainly under the influence of wellknown publications of Prof.J. Presser and Prof. L. de Jong. Also the dishonorable facts became widely known and the notvery-heroic attitude of by far the biggest part of the Dutch population toward its Jewish compatriots is nowadays generally recognized and was even referred to by the queen Beatrix in her address to the Knesset in Jerusalem, some years ago.

In her article Dr. Yanow suggests that the Dutch Jewish population is a hidden, shameful group, living in a society that is still constantly boasting about its heroic, philo-semitic past, while being mildly antisemitic in the present. To prove her point, she mixes unhappy experiences and anonymous citations with personal interpretations, which are easily refuted. In order to make my reaction as concise as possible I will restrict myself to the most obvious fabrications.

The synagogue of Leiden, which the author suggests to have found in 1994 only after a lot of troublesome searching, was and still is clearly recognizable from outside. It has an old stone tablet with a Hebrew citation of Haggai 2:10 above the large, double entry-gate and a wooden notice board at the side. The community is an open organization with lots of activities.

From the year of its foundation in 1725 on, the synagogue building at the Prinsessegracht in The Hague, which Dr. Yanow visited in order to attend a seder meal, is on a courtyard, surrounded by a brick wall, closed off by a huge wrought iron fence. In the Netherlands monuments of the past are treated with great respect, and as a consequence she was confronted with an iron fence, at which she obviously took offense. Like all other synagogues, Jewish schools, and meeting places the building has in the past decades from time to time been kept under strict security, due to threats from the PLO. Needless to say, that this is neither Dutch- Jewish nor a Dutch-non-Jewish problem. As a consequence unfamiliar faces are most thoroughly scrutinized, safety first and no offense meant nor, normally, taken.

In the Netherlands the largest part of theJewish population are no longer members of aJewish community or connected to a synagogue. This trend started already long before WW II and has merely to do with a lack of religious affiliation. Lots of Jewsjoin other, non-religiousJewish organizations. There are of course individuals who want to have nothing to do with any kind of organized life, for all kinds of reasons, among which, indeed, is fear of being registered, a bad reminiscence of the German occupation. However, every Jewish community in the Netherlands has a complete record of its members. Like every other organization each is free to decide to whom they give their lists of members and under which conditions. …

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