At long last Holland has apologized for its abject failure to protect Jewish citizens during the German occupation.
At a Holocaust commemoration event in Amsterdam recently, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued a formal apology, belatedly acknowledging that Holland had failed to provide either “justice” or “security” for the Jewish community during that terrible period.
The apology, though long overdue, should be welcomed as a sign of Holland’s willingness to come to terms with one of the most tragic events in its modern history.
Twenty five years ago, Queen Beatrix, the Dutch head of state, came close to issuing an official apology when she told the Knesset, the parliament of Israel, that Dutch rescuers of Jews had been “exceptions” in a country where 75 percent of the Jewish population was murdered, the highest rate in Western Europe. In a subsequent speech, she said that Dutch people should be filled with a “deep feeling of shame” over the deportations of Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor, both of which were Nazi extermination camps in German-occupied Poland.
Despite her admission of Dutch complicity in the Holocaust, Queen Beatrix refrained from issuing an apology. It was left to Rutte to do the right thing.
By all accounts, 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported to the Westerbork transit camp in northern Holland en route to the killing grounds of Poland. Only 5,200 Jews survived this unimaginable ordeal.
Thirty thousand Jews went into hiding in Holland. Many were assisted by the Dutch resistance movement. But one-third of them were betrayed by local collaborators. Anne Frank, the famous diarist, and her family were among the Jews who fell victim to betrayal.
The 140,000 registered Jews of Holland, including 25,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, were imperilled from the moment Germany invaded the country on May 10, 1940. Also at risk were the 19,000 Dutch nationals of mixed Jewish-Christian ancestry.
Queen Wilhelmina fled to Britain shortly after Germany’s invasion, leaving a civil service and a police force in place. In London, she presided over a Dutch government-in-exile. Adolf Hitler appointed the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart as the head of the German occupation regime in Holland. Seyss-Inquart was a fierce antisemite, as were two of his close colleagues, Fritz Schmidt of the Ministry of Propaganda and Hanns Rauter of the SS and German police).
As efficient as the Germans were in demonizing, marginalizing and persecuting Dutch Jews, they could not have carried out the ethnic cleansing of Holland without the help of the local police and the national railway company and the encouragement of the Dutch Nazi Party. Police officers rounded up Jews, while Dutch trains transported them to Westerbork from 1942 onward.
Dutch civil servants kept the country running, relieving Germany of that onerous responsibility, and acquiesced to antisemitic Nazi edicts that rendered Dutch Jews second-class citizens. Members of the Nazi Party cheered on the Germans.
The Dutch civil service was thus deeply complicit in the extermination of Dutch Jews, a lamentable fact that Rutte, in his wisdom, has now acknowledged in a mea culpa.