Europe’s Crumbling Myths – Isaac Lipschits – The Dutch Government: Discriminating against the Survivors through a so-called Egalitarian Approach

The Small Shoah: Jews in Post-war Netherlands, by the political scientist Isaac Lipschits, was published in 2001 in Holland, where it became a bestseller. In its first chapter the author writes: “In the liberated Netherlands, the Jews were not endangered physically; but we see other symptoms of the Shoah return. Verbal anti-Semitism became sharper. The robbery of the Jews continued, and the Jewish community was belittled. Deportation and extermination of the Jews ended; but the singling out and isolation of the Jews continued. The Shoah was a blaze. In May 1945 the flames were extinguished, but the fire continued to smolder.”

In his interview, Lipschits elaborates: “Inminimizing, in trivializing, in playing down their special experiences, the reintegration of the decimated Jewish commun­ ity in post-war Holland was hampered. The government claimed that, while during the war a major  distinction  had been  made between  Jews and non-Jews,  this should no longer be the case. This seemingly egalitarian approach was actually highly discriminatory because, during the war, the Jews were persecuted as Jews not Dutchmen. Other government measures were also disadvantageous for the Jews. “When the Jews returned, or came out of hiding in  1945, their experiences and circumstances were so different from a normal situation that they should have been treated differently. The Jews had  undergone a disaster which was, quantitatively and qualitatively, radically different from the experiences of the average Dutchman. Of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands before the war, at least 105,000 had been murdered. This was a higher percentage than in any other Western  European  country.”

Jewish Orphans

Lipschits’ book shows how the post-war Dutch government discriminated against the Jews in many  other areas: “One major issue was the treatment  of Jewish orphans. During the war, it had been even more difficult to find hiding places for adult Jews than for children. An  adult had  to have an identity card, which  a small child didn’t need. A child could always be passed off as a visiting relative. “One resistance group, which found homes to hide Jewish children, was led by Gesina van der Molen and Sander Baracs. The first was a reformed Christian, convinced that the Jews should recognize Jesus to save their souls. Barnes was an assimilationist  Jew who proudly wrote how his grandmother celebrated Christmas with her children and grandchildren. He himself married in a Dutch reformed church.

“They said after the war ‘We took it upon ourselves to find a place for these children; now that they are orphaned we want a say in what will happen to them.’ They even smuggled a draft law to  the Dutch government in exile with wild proposals. One was that parents who did not take care of their children for three months should no longer have custody.

Had this law been enacted, returnees from Auschwitz would not have been allowed to take their own children back! Says Lipschits: “Had my parents survived – which they didn’t – they would have lost their custody over me, as we were not hidden in the same place for more than three months. It was quite common for children and their parents to be hiding separately.

“The Dutch government did not accept this radical proposal. It should, however, have gone further and regarded these people as extremists. Instead, it named van der Molen as the head of the government committee determining the fate of these children. A new name was coined for them: they were not ‘war­ orphans,’ but ‘war foster-children.’ Barnes became the director of the committee’s office and also held other key positions in it.”

Changing Pre-war Tradition

“In the pre-war Netherlands, it had been customary for every religious community to care for its members who needed help, such as: the aged, orphans, the sick and the mentally disturbed. In Amsterdam alone there were four Jewish orphan­ ages and several Jewish hospitals. There were many Jewish old age homes in the Netherlands. One important central Jewish institution cared for the mentally ill. It would have been normal for the Dutch Jewish community to care for the large number of Jewish orphans after the war. The community could have reasonably expected the government to help finance this effort.

“Instead van der Molen’s committee, in which the Jews themselves formed only a minority, was created to determine the destiny of the remaining Jewish war orphans. Its consciously Jewish members were often outvoted by others, some of whom had a specific anti-Jewish agenda. Several Christians saw this committee as a conduit to convert Jewish children. Van der Molen even accused Jews of being racists by looking for a Jewish solution for this problem. Most committee members felt that, even where Jewish family members had survived, the child should remain with the family with which it had been hiding. They stated this explicitly.

“It would have been normal and ethical to have said: ‘We saved Jewish children during the war and now, after the war, are returning them as Jewish children to their Jewish environment.”‘

From ‘Stateless Jews’ to ‘Enemy Citizens’

“Another case of discrimination concerned the stateless Jews of German origin. The Hitler government decreed that whoever fled Germany would lose his nationality. After the war, the Dutch government decided not to recognize Hitler’s legislation. The stateless refugees from Germany – mainly Jews – thus became German citizens again and were treated as German nationals, that is, as enemies of the state.

“The Dutch authorities, with madman’s logic, now considered these doomed and rejected German Jews as ‘enemy citizens.’ More than 100 such Jewish survivors, returning from Bergen-Belsen, were arrested at the Dutch border. Eighteen were interned in a camp together with Dutch collaborators and arrested SS members. They had to work in a gravel quarry and were beaten by the Dutch like the others. When they complained to the commanding officer, he told them that he was no friend of the Jews. He made the Jews,  whom  he  considered difficult people, work extra. Later he was fired. The remaining assets of these survivors were taken away as enemy property. It took their lawyers a long time to recover  them.”

Belittling the Jews and Neglecting their Interests

“Jewish authors often mention their negative experiences in the liberated Netherlands. Gerhard Durlacher, an Auschwitz survivor, wrote that they were handled more like cargo than passengers. When he asked his parents’ former neighbor whether anything remained of their family’s belongings, this was denied, although the neighbor was dressed in a suit of the author’s father.

“Dutch anti-Semitism immediately  after the war was actually much stronger than before the war. The Dutch Jewish weekly NIW, week after week, published many examples in a special column devoted to this.

“The authorities belittled the Jews and neglected their interests. Public feeling was that the Jewish community no longer represented anything. Before the war, organized Jewry was consulted by the government whenever its interests were at stake. Now the community had become so small that it was often not heard on issues of concern to it. For instance, a government-appointed committee which dealt with payments for damage to religious buildings had no Jewish members, although no other religious community had encountered so much damage to its buildings.

“Another example: during the war,  institutions  in  towns  along  the  coast had been evacuated out of fear of an English invasion. This included the Clara Foundation, which cared for tuberculosis-infected Jewish children. After the war, all organizations were reimbursed for the extra costs  they  had  incurred.  The Clara Foundation, however, was excluded, because the post-war Dutch authorities considered that it had been moved to prepare for the deportation of its inmates.”

Reconstructing the Netherlands with the Jews’ Money

“Even then, catastrophes in the Netherlands were dealt with differently than normal situations. However, the government’s ‘egalitarian approach’ disadvantaged the Jews through the application of the pre-war inheritance law, designed for a society with a standard death rate. The Jews, however, didn’t count their dead, but rather their survivors.

“The country was economically troubled in 1945. Finance Minister Piet Lief­tinck’s policy was for all Dutchmen to contribute to the country’s financial reconstruction. The Dutch government, however, let the Jews pay substantially more than their share. One can put it more strongly: a disproportionately large part of the Netherlands’ reconstruction was financed by the Jews.

“A number of Dutchmen had suffered material damage of various kinds, but every single Jew had lost much if not all of his property. The Dutch government knew this but refused to recognize this exceptional position, as that would have been to its disadvantage.  It went a step further and knowingly profited from it. “No attention was given to the specific material damage of the Jews, radically different in magnitude  from most others. The Dutch Communist Party had pro­ posed  in Parliament  to assume one fictitious date of death for all the deported who had  not  returned.  Lieftinck  opposed  this stating that  the Treasury would thereby lose much of its taxes from the property of the dead Jews. By reconstructing each  death  date,  the  government  could  often tax  the same inheritance  several times, because so many family members had died. Thus the Jewish community on average contributed significantly more tax than other Dutchmen.”

The Dutch Role in Deportations

“Many Jews were also disadvantaged by another pre-war law. If one had been renting an apartment which had been rented to others after deportation, the new tenants were entitled to remain. In the post-war Netherlands there was a dramatic shortage of housing. No measures were taken to help the Jews with accommodation, despite their extenuating circumstances.

“The Dutch government denied its responsibility for what Dutch authorities had done to the Jews during the war. In nearly all cases the Dutch police had removed – upon German orders – these Jews from their homes. They also took children out of Jewish orphanages, the elderly out of Jewish old people’s homes and the sick out of Jewish hospitals. After the Jews were arrested, the Dutch police made an inventory of the furniture in their houses before it was sent to Germany as ‘a gift to the German people from the Dutch people.’ The policemen knew they were executing inhuman policies, which could not properly be considered the task of a police force.

“In the wartime police journal one reads ‘wanted notices’ to search for Jews who had hidden their own belongings  rather than bringing them to the LIRO, an institution established to rob the Jews of their property. The same paper also listed names of Jews who did not come to the meeting points to be taken to a concentration camp. The Dutch post-war government denied all responsibility for the acts of these and other government officials.”

The Restitution Process

“In the lengthy post-war restitution process, the Jews were never given the benefit of the doubt. They always had to bring proof, which was often impossible. Under another pre-war Dutch law, Jews who had not returned from the concentration camps were considered ‘missing.’ Only in 1949 was it changed so that these people were registered as dead. Thus, for four years,  inheritance rights could not be applied in these cases.

“Financial discrimination manifested itself in many other ways. The Dutch government in exile had announced from London that damage caused by the Germans during the war, would be compensated. Commissions of enquiry were established for this purpose. Despite major post-war inflation the committee determined the value of one’s possessions on the basis of pre-war prices, taking into account depreciation. Proportionally many more Jews had lost their possessions than others. Furthermore, it was difficult for surviving children to explain, to the satisfaction of  the committee’s inspectors, what had been lost in their parent’s homes.

“Another consequence of the law that considered those who had not returned ‘missing’ was that survivors could not remarry. In those years that was particularly problematic because, unlike today, people did not live together without marriage. That was frowned upon.”

Favoring Nazi Collaborators over Jews

“After the war, many Dutch who had collaborated with the Germans were arrested. The authorities confiscated their possessions. Later a Dutch court decided it had to be returned. As it often could no longer be found, the collaborators were reimbursed according to post-war prices. Thus, if a Jew and a collaborator had bought the same furniture on the same date before the war and it had been confiscated, respectively, upon German orders during the war or by the Dutch government after the war, the collaborator might be reimbursed three or four times more than the Jew.

“In 1946 J.C. Tenkink, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice appealed to the Jewish community to help reintegrate the freed collaborators in the Dutch community according to the Christian principle of ‘loving one’s neighbor.’ After much discussion the Jewish community decided not even to respond to the letter.

“The liberated Nazi collaborators were awarded payment for every day they had been under arrest after the war. The Dutch post-war government considered itself responsible for their arrests. No such payments were made to the deported Jews, as the government did not see itself as responsible for what had happened to them during the war. The Dutch government in exile, however, had never instructed the Dutch authorities in the occupied Netherlands to disobey the German orders against the Jews.”

The Dutch Government: Refusing Responsibility

“The Dutch post-war government thus unjustifiably shirked responsibility for crimes perpetrated against the Jews in the Netherlands during the war. After the war it asked: ‘How could we have instructed the Dutch police not to implement the German orders?’ This was a very weak argument because, in 1944, the Dutch government in exile told the rail workers to strike, which they did.

“Shortly after the war, the Minister of Transport and Energy Th.S.G.J.M van Schaick specifically praised the Dutch railway workers for not striking during the transport of the Jews to the concentration camps, but only much later when the government in exile instructed them to do so. He pointed out that the railway was a pillar of the Dutch economy, which should not have been risked prematurely. “After the war a parliamentary  inquiry on the performance of the Dutch Government in exile in London took place. A Jewish civil servant Henry Dentz told the commission that, in 1943, he had written a report on the murder of the Dutch Jews by the Germans, which was circulated. His testimony illustrated that the London government had shown no interest in the fate of the deported or those in  the concentration  camps.”

1960: The Robbery Continues

“In 1960 the Netherlands and West Germany settled all outstanding war issues. The then Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Luns, requested that the German government make a one-time payment for immaterial damage caused to Dutch citizens during the war. The Germans inquired about the Dutch claim, whereupon Luns asked the JMW, the Jewish Organization for Social Work, to present an estimate concerning the Jewish community, the gypsies and a persecuted Christian sect.

“The resulting figure of 125 million guilders was presented to the West Germans. The West-German government agreed to pay this sum of money, insisting that it be given to the Dutch government which should decide how to distribute it. Thereafter a discussion took place in the Dutch cabinet, which opposed paying this money only to the three groups for which it had been requested. The government then decided that the money should also be given to Dutch resistance  members.

“Ultimately the government awarded the majority, 55 percent of the money requested for the three persecuted minorities to resistance group members, the great majority of whom had never done anything for the persecuted. Thus the Jews were robbed again. The method of dividing the money was also shameful. A point system was established reflecting a ‘scale of suffering.’ Thus a Jew would have to declare: ‘I have been sterilized against my wish; this entitles me to so many points.’ This system hit the Jews particularly hard given their mental scars. The Dutch government itself also profited from the money. Throughout the year­ long deliberations they collected the interest on the 125 million guilders for themselves!”

The War Compensation Law

“In 1973 the Dutch government created a special law for support – not a pension – to war victims. Resistance members had already been paid real pensions since 1945. This late gesture, more than 25 years after the war, meant needy survivors were no longer considered welfare cases.”

The parliamentarian Joop Voogd made a major effort to get this law approved. Lipschits reflects: “I thought, at the time, that it was very nice of him to fight so hard for the Jews and considered him a ‘righteous gentile.’ Then I learned his mother was Jewish. I realized again that the effort to obtain justice had to be made by the Dutch Jews themselves. The same had happened with the writing of the history of the Dutch Jews during the Holocaust. All the major historians who dealt with it were Jews.”

The Restitution Issue Reemerges

“In the late 1990s the restitution issue reemerged. Then too the Dutch government did not accept responsibility for the role of the Dutch authorities during the war. It either lacked the courage or, perhaps, was afraid of additional claims. The new debate focused exclusively on post-war issues.

“This new restitution debate left a bad  taste in  one’s mouth  in  particular due to the cold and negative attitude of Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok. It reminded one of the reconstruction of the Jewish community  in  the Netherlands, when the post-war government  had  shown  such  a  lack  of  tact and commiseration. Kok’s ministerial colleagues  forced  him  to  apologize  to the Jews against his wishes. I think it was a mistake for the Dutch Jews to request apologies.

“The Dutch Minister of Finance, Gerrit Zalm, took a different approach. Once, when I visited parliament, he presented his apologies to me. I reacted: ‘But you were still in short trousers when all this happened.’ ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he replied, ‘it was done by my predecessor as Minister of Finance.’ That was correct, even if it concerned only the post-war period.”

More Negative Factors

“Judith Belinfante, a Jewish member of parliament, was another politician who played a negative role in this second restitution process. She asked publicly whether the renewed payments to the Jews were really necessary. When, in such situations, Jews lead the way, it becomes easy for non-Jews to line up behind them.

“It was painful for the Jews to negotiate so long about the additional restitution money. This gave the non-Jewish Dutch population the feeling: How much more tax do we have to pay for the Jews? In my opinion, though I cannot prove it, this helped rekindle anti-Semitism.

“There is another unpleasant aspect of this belated restitution process. The Dutch government agreed to pay 400 million guilders to the Jews, but stipulated that 50 million guilders of it should be put in a fund for various non-Dutch purposes. The Dutch government should not have decided for the Jewish community how its money should be distributed.”

Anne Frank: The Dutch Fig Leaf

“It is incomprehensible,” concludes Lipschits, “that the Netherlands, as far as its wartime past is concerned, has such a positive image abroad. Anne Frank became the fig leaf for the Dutch people’s behavior. Focusing on one girl, among more than 100,000 victims, must inevitably create a false image.”

Recently Lipschits, who is retired from university, has initiated a major memor­ial project called, ‘The Digital Monument of the Jewish Community in the Netherlands.’ When complete, its website will contain data on all the Jews who were persecuted in the Netherlands during the Shoah and perished. This includes the Jews who fled from Nazi-Germany,  Austria and Poland.

“We collect all data we can on everybody,” Lipschits notes. “Among them, for instance, the thousand children taken from the Vught to the Westerbork camp and from there to Sobibor where they were  gassed. The story of the mentally disturbed mute child  who could whistle entire operas will also be part of the monument.”

Lipschits summarizes: “The importance of the project is that it concerns the remembrance of all who were persecuted during the war for being Jews: religious or not, young and old, men and women, rich or poor.  So their names ‘will not be blotted  out from Yisrael.'”

Isaac Lipschits was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1930. He holds doctoral degrees in political sciences from Amsterdam and Paris universities. He has taught at the  Universities of Amsterdam, Haifa, Jerusalem, Rotterdam and Leiden. In 1971 he became Professor in Contemporary History at Groningen Univer­sity. He now heads the Digital Monument of the Jewish Community in the Netherlands.

Comments are closed.