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January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Dutch’

Dutch Government Opposes Anti-Israeli EU Report

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

The European Union, the supranational organization of the 27 most developed European nations, is one of the most outspoken and frequent international critics of Israel. Its reports on the situation in the Middle East are often so unfair and biased that not only have they drawn the ire of Israel, they have also angered the government of one of the EU’s six original founding states, the Netherlands, which no longer wants to endorse the reports emanating from the EU mission in Ramallah.

Last December, the EU heads of mission in Ramallah authored a report on the situation in Jerusalem in which they accused Israel of trying to destroy chances for peace with Palestinians by snatching control of East Jerusalem through the construction of Israeli settlements. “If current trends continue, the prospect of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable, undermining a two-state solution … [Israeli actions] provide fuel to those who want to further radicalise the conflict,” the report stated.

It noted that the 790,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem suffer from overcrowding, dirty streets and poor sewage, that Palestinian children in Israeli-run schools are forced to use books which are “edited” for “sensitive” content, that ambulances with Palestinian patients are subjected to “unnecessary and potentially life-threatening delays” and that archeological projects put “emphasis on biblical and Jewish-Israeli connotations of the area while neglecting Arab/Muslim claims of historic-archeological ties.”

The report advocated that the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, propose legislation “to prevent/discourage [EU] financial transactions in support of settlement activity,” “ensure” that Israeli vegetables from settlement farms do not get preferential import tariffs in the EU, and that EU countries “share information on violent settlers … to assess whether to grant entry into EU member states.”

This report came barely a week after another report which had accused Israel of monopolizing farm land and water in the Jordan Valley in a bid to drive out native Arabs, while another recent EU paper had accused Israel of eroding the civil liberties of Arab-Israeli citizens.

Last January, Israeli information minister Yoel ‘Yuli’ Edelstein questioned the accuracy of the EU reports which are drafted without Israeli input. Edelstein said these surveys are part of a decades-long “attempt to undermine [Israel’s] very legitimacy.

Last week it was revealed that the EU ambassadors in Ramallah had composed yet another report. This time they accuse Israel of not doing enough to stop aggression from Jewish settlers against Palestinians. The report claims that the Jewish violence is rapidly increasing, while “the Israeli state … has so far failed to protect the Palestinian population.”

According to the report, Jewish attacks vary from gunfire to throwing stones and garbage at Arabs, including children, burning homes and mosques, killing livestock and uprooting olive trees. The report says that the attacks resulted in three Palestinian deaths last year. “There has been no widespread response from the Palestinian side,” the EU report states, although it admits that Palestinians killed eight Jews (including five members of one family). The aim of the Jewish attacks is to “effectively force a withdrawal of the Palestinian population, … thereby increasing the scope for settlement expansion.”

The Netherlands declined to endorse the report, forcing the non-Dutch EU diplomats in Ramallah to add the footnote: “the NL [Netherlands] places a general reserve on the document.” A senior Israeli official also dismissed the report. “It’s unacceptable,” he said. “We had numerous cases over the past year when Israeli citizens, including schoolchildren, were brutally murdered by Palestinians and I think for the Israeli public these reports would have more credibility if they were more neutral.”

The fact that the Dutch openly distanced themselves from an EU report angered the other EU countries. “We are witnessing the toughest position the Netherlands has ever adopted,” one EU diplomat told the Dutch newspaperNRC-Handelsblad. “Moreover, it is a position which resembles the toughest position within Israel.”

It is, however, not the first time that Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal has stood up for Israel. Last September, he managed to stop European diplomats at the UN reaching a common position on the status of human rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Dutch government is a minority government of Liberals and Christian-Democrats, backed by the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders. Both Uri Rosenthal, who is Jewish, and Geert Wilders, who is not Jewish, are politicians who are personally acquainted with the situation in Israel. Rosenthal’s wife is an Israeli citizen. Wilders spent a year living in Israel, including in a Jewish settlement in the Jordan valley.

The Dutch government is not only on a collision course with the EU over Israel, but is also pushing for stricter immigration rules. European immigration rules are to a large extent set by the EU and not by the member states. While the Dutch insist on stricter regulations, the European Commission and other EU members are so far unwilling to address the issue.

Peter Martino

Netanyahu Visits the Netherlands, Praises Strong Stance on Iran

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on a two-day trip to the Netherlands, lauded the support of the Dutch government in efforts to frustrate Iranian nuclear ambitions.

“The one issue in which we stand together is in opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” Netanyahu said in a speech at the 17th-century Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. “I thank the Dutch government for their strong stance on sanctions against Iran.”

Netanyahu also repeated an invitation to PA President Abbas to immediately revive direct talks.


Jewish Press Staff

Time For The Dutch To Finally ‘Fess Up

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

A new poll finds that two-thirds of the Dutch people are opposed to their prime minister apologizing to the Jewish community for the misconduct of the wartime government in exile in London.

Only 27 percent of those polled were in favor of such apologies.

Dutch governments have consistently ignored requests to fully admit the extent of the involvement of the Dutch in the persecution of Jews during the Second World War.

Even in the past several days some Dutch historians tried to inflate beyond proportion the importance of a few general remarks on this issue by the current Dutch Queen Beatrix in March 1995 in the Knesset.

She said there were many Dutch who had resisted the Germans, but they were the exceptions and that “the people of the Netherlands could not prevent the destruction of their Jewish fellow citizens.”

Later that year on National Memorial Day, she said that “Thinking about the Holocaust should fill us with shame.”

This pales next to what French President Jacques Chirac said a few months later: “France committed the irremediable. It broke its word and delivered those it protected to their executioners. We maintain toward them an unforgiveable debt.”

Two years later, Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was even more explicit, saying, “Not even one German soldier was necessary to carry out this disgrace.”

When then-Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende came to Israel in 2005 for a ceremony at Yad Vashem, I raised the issue of apologies in a short conversation. Balkenende asked me for a letter on this issue. I only received a formal acknowledgement from his staff for it.

Meanwhile, at the same event, Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt repeated his apologies for the collaboration of Belgians with the German occupiers – apologies he had already expressed in 2002.

On that occasion, Balkenende merely said that “the deportation of most of Dutch Jewry was a pitch-black chapter in Dutch history and that coldness and indifference toward the Jews had been dominant.” A month later, he admitted that Dutch authorities had collaborated with the occupiers. The emphasis of his words was more on those who took risks for other people than on the many Dutch traitors.

Several Dutch historians claim that wartime history is primarily an issue for historians. None of them explained why they haven’t asked for government apologies to the Jewish community for 65 years. The Dutch apologies issue has been raised publicly again due to statements by former deputy prime ministers Els Borst and Gerrit Zalm in my recent book Judging the Netherlands: The Holocaust Restitution Process 1997-2000 ( Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2011).

After the Dutch daily DePers published their quotes on January 4, Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, requested Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologize to the Jewish community. This news went global, carried by hundreds of media outlets including most major American ones and the official Chinese press agency.

What happens if the Dutch government follows majority opinion and doesn’t apologize? Most likely this will lead to more international exposure of Dutch misconduct in many areas.

Included will be how the Dutch government in London took a year and a half to inquire about the fate of deported Dutch Jews from the Polish government, which resided in the same building. Or how in 1944 Henri Dentz, a Dutch official in London, could not find anyone in the government or even at the Red Cross to read his report which revealed that 90 percent of deported Dutch Jews had been murdered.

Much attention will also be focused on Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, who regularly spoke to the Dutch people from London via radio for four years. Only three times during that period did she devote attention to the Jews: in total, 5 sentences. Before the war, she opposed the establishment of a center for German Jewish refugees in a location she considered too close to her palace. The distance was twelve kilometers.

Another issue to mention again is Dutch postwar misconduct during the postwar restitution process. Prime Minister Kok, under pressure, apologized for this in 2000 but added that except for one case, the wrongdoing was not intentional. There are, however, many more examples of postwar bad intentions toward the Jews.

A very different type of potential exposure concerns the never-properly-investigated Dutch war crimes during “police actions” in Indonesia in the late 1940s. More than 100,000 people were killed. The Dutch government has recently apologized to the inhabitants of one village, Rawagede, where all native males were executed without a trial. There are several similar cases about which little is known, such as the mass murders in South-Sulawesi.

Prime Minister Rutte would be well advised to consider all of this when he decides whether or not to apologize to the Jewish community.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has published 20 books. Several of these address anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Dutch Legislator Seeks Govt. Apology to Jews for Holocaust “Passivity”

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders called on the government of the Netherlandsto  issue an apology to the Jewish people for its “passive” role in the mass deportations of Jewish citizens by the Nazis during World War II.

Wilders, a Dutch right-wing politician and leader of the Netherlands’ third-largest political party, Party for Freedom,  wrote to Prime Minister Mark Rutte with the request on Wednesday, after two former Dutch government ministers said in a book published in October that the Netherlands did not take a strong enough stand on behalf of the Jews during the war.

Former health minister Els Borst was quoted in “Judging the Netherlands” by Manfred Gerstenfeld as saying that she believes the Dutch government in exile, led by Queen Wilhemina and Prime Minister Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy,  would have appealed more resolutely on behalf of the Jews to the Dutch people if the deportees had been Catholics or Protestants.  She was involved in talks during the 1990s on reparations for Jewish survivors, which led to an agreement in 200 to pay $180 million in restitution.

Former finance minister Gerrit Zalm, who was also involved in 1990s reparations talks, said in the book that he would also support calls for an official apology.

Wilders is a long-time vocal critic of what he perceives to be aggressive Islamic encroachment on the West, and a supporter of Israel’s war on terror.  He has praised Israel for defending the West against an Islamic onslaught, warning that “if we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time.”

“Thanks to Israeli parents who send their children to the army and lay awake at night,” Wilders said in a speech in New York,  “parents in Europe and America can sleep well and dream, unaware of the dangers looming.”

Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 despite Dutch assertion as a neutral state.  When the first Jews were deported in 1941, Dutch citizens conducted the “February Strike” a unique general strike of Dutch workers in protest of the measure.   The Nazis responded by cracking down on protest leaders and acting even more harshly against the Jewish community.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to strike against Nazi actions against the Jews, followed only by the Danes and Luxemburgers. Only 30,000 of Holland’s 140,000 Jews survived the Holocaust.

Wilders wrote to Prime Minister Rutte that apologizing for not doing more is “the least thing to do”.

Spokesman Chris Breedveld said the government would carefully consider Wilders’ request.

In December 2010, Wilders flew to Israel and took part in a conference of MK Aryeh Eldad’s HaTikvah movement.  There, Wilders called Israel “an immense source of inspiration for me,”  saying “I will always defend Israel.” Wilders also reaffirmed the Jewish right to Judea and Samaria.  “Israel, including Judea and Samaria, has been the land of the Jews since time immemorial,” he said.  “Never in the history of the world has there been an autonomous state in the area that was not Jewish.”

Malkah Fleisher

In The Netherlands, Animals Are Winning, Jews Are Losing

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Animals are advancing in the Netherlands and Jews are regressing. There are many examples of this. A large building project was halted recently because it was the habitat of a protected owl. However, the habitat of the head of the Dutch Rabbinical Seminary, Rabbi Raf Evers – easily recognizable as a Jew by his clothing – is not protected. Due to aggressive behavior the rabbi has encountered – mainly from Muslims – he no longer uses public transportation and ventures out of his home as infrequently as possible.

Another example is the proposed law on the prohibition of ritual slaughter. The proposal has wide support among the Dutch population for whom, apparently, it is easier to understand the supposed mindset of a cow than that of an Orthodox Jew. The bill is presently supported in the Dutch parliament by a large majority, with only the three Christian parties opposing it, despite the fact that it would affect a small amount of kosher slaughter – 3,000 cows per year – and some halal slaughter.

The leader of the tiny left-wing Party for the Animals, Marianne Thieme, had supported her proposed law with poor scientific data and false claims, several of which have been debunked.

One of the myths she propagates is that the Rabbinical Assembly condones stunned ritual slaughter. The R.A. has since requested an apology from the Party for the Animals for this untruth. A recent study by world-renowned food science expert Professor Joe Regenstein at Cornell University is devastatingly critical of the Dutch scientific reports on which Thieme bases her claims. Advertisement

In the meantime, some cracks have begun to appear in the positions of the major parties that support the bill. In the largest opposition party, Labor – which draws the most Muslim voters – there is strong opposition in Amsterdam and several other branches. And there seems to be opposition to the bill in the country’s largest party, the Liberals of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

There were also newspaper reports that there is substantial dissent in the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders. This anti-Islam Party had not understood that Orthodox Jews would become the main victims of the proposed law, since a majority of Muslims are willing to consume halal meat from stunned animals. Several PVV parliamentarians are very pro-Jewish and fight against the manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands.

Wilders probably understands by now that the many negative reactions to the proposed law from foreign Jewish organizations may have an impact on his international projects. When speaking abroad, the last thing Wilders needs are questions as to why he supports a major anti-Jewish measure at home.

But even if a compromise is found, damage to the Dutch image abroad has already been done. The long list of foreign Jewish organizations that have approached Parliament or the Dutch government with criticism of the bill has no precedent in Dutch history. It is clear to these organizations that if this law passes it will unleash further attacks on Jewish rituals in Europe.

Those who have expressed their criticism include the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress, the Conference of European Rabbis, and the Assembly of Italian Rabbis.

In addition, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Sacks, and the chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, have written to the Dutch Parliament. The latter mentioned that under the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union Jews were hoping for the day they could perform their religious rituals freely. They saw in the Netherlands a country of tolerance.

In the Netherlands itself, official Jewish voices are heard which are stronger in tone than anything said publicly by community leaders in the last fifty years. The only resident chief rabbi, Binyomin Jacobs, stated earlier this month on National Liberation Day: “Many Jews think back to the prelude of the Second World War . the psychological danger is major . There is fear.”

Rabbi Jacobs predicts that the next attacks on Jewish rituals will be the prohibition of circumcision and that Jewish schools will be forced to close because of a shortage of students.

In a recent book of mine, The Decay: Jews in a Rudderless Netherlands, the former Dutch EU commissioner and Liberal leader Frits Bolkestein was quoted as saying that Jews would do well to advise their children to leave the Netherlands for the U.S. or Israel.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Hidden In Plain Sight: The (Jewish) Hague

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Beneath Baruch Spinoza’s smiling bust on his tombstone on the grounds of the Nieuwe Kerk in the Hague is an inscription of his famous motto, “caute” (written cavte on the stone, see image one), or “cautiously” in Latin. Between that admonition and the dates of his life – 1632 to 1677, cut short by an illness whose identity is hotly debated – is the Hebrew word “amcha” or “amach”, Hebrew for “your people” or “your nation.”


The word, which appears on a stone which was provided by David Ben Gurion, a groupie, is ambiguous, to say the least. Is the word’s subject God – meaning, “[Spinoza is one of] Your nation” – in which case the word evokes the declaration of 1 Chronicles 17: 21, “And who is like Your nation (k’amcha) Israel, a single nation in the land?”



Spinoza’s Tombstone

All photos courtesy of the author



Or is Spinoza the subject? Perhaps the church and its community were the true people of the philosopher excommunicated by the rabbis for heresy. If that were the intention, it would be doubly tragic, as Spinoza’s bones were discarded in the church’s yard after his friends and family stopped paying rent for his tomb. The inscription “amcha” defiantly and ironically marks the tomb commemorating a man who had no people and who, even in death, could not seem to rest in peace.


My first of several walks through the downtown area of The Hague occurred somewhat in a jet-lagged daze. Still, that alone does not explain the many Jewish monuments and buildings I walked right past without appreciating their significance. Even after he had shown me hidden Stars of David, former synagogues and a matzoh factory, it caught me completely off guard when Jewish tour guide Remco Dorr led me to Spinoza’s grave on the grounds of the church right across the street from my hotel.


Whether he was discussing the temporary posts and chains rabbis set up beside canal drawbridges to allow residents to carry outside the ritual boundary (t’chum) on the Sabbath or the cultural and economic gulfs between Sephardic (Portuguese) and Ashkenazi Jews in the 17th century, one cannot say too much about Dorr’s breadth of knowledge except that it was rivaled only by his enthusiasm for his city’s history.


From its start, Dorr’s two-hour tour reflected the Jewish crisis in the city which is the seat of the Dutch government. Before World War II, 17,000 Jews lived in The Hague. The Jewish population of The Hague today is about 2,000. The former shtetl is now Chinatown, and walking along Wagenstraat, strung with hanging red lanterns, one reaches a mini supermarket called U-Shop with a fa?ade of two ram’s heads and two lambs still intact, betraying the storefront’s prior identity as a Jewish butcher’s shop (image two).






The next stop on Wagenstraat was a 19th century synagogue and mikveh (used from 1844 to 1974), now a mosque (since 1979). According to Dorr, the only aspect of the synagogue (image three) that remains is balcony that was the women’s section. An inscription on a cornerstone close to the ground, far beneath the minarets, still attests (in Hebrew and Dutch) to the building’s origins: “The first stone of the construction of the sanctuary of God, this Ashkenazi congregation Yeshurun , the holy congregation of The Hague, may God defend it, which was placed on Tuesday, the 25th of Nissan, 5603 [1843].”


Walking from the synagogue-turned-mosque to Spinoza’s former attic apartment (17th century rent, 50 guilders per year), Dorr explained that Jewish scavenger hunting in The Hague is different from say Germany.


Whereas stone doorframes in Germany still divulge the locations of mezuzahs past, Dutch frames were made of wood, which has long been replaced. There are some inscriptions – Dorr noted one, “H. G. Klausmeyer, 1922” in particular – that remain, but many landmarks, like the Jewish orphanage on the Paviljoensgracht, which was a holding place for Jews before they were deported during the Second World War, were destroyed and rebuilt.


A monument on the Rabbijn Maarsenplein square (named for the former chief rabbi of The Hague, Isaac Maarsen, and just steps from Spinoza’s grave at the first Protestant church in The Hague) is particularly poignant.


The square is the grounds of an old playground at a Jewish school where 1,700 children were rounded up before being deported to concentration camps. The sculpture, created by Sara Benhamou and Eric de Vries, consists of six empty chairs (inscribed with the names and ages of martyred children) arranged in a manner that conveys ladders leading upward toward the heavens. The chairs are surrounded by Hebrew and Dutch texts identifying the subject of the memorial. According to Dorr, there used to be seven chairs (an understandable number for a Jewish memorial), but one was stolen.



Storefront, previously Jewish butcher



The remainder of our tour addressed laws preventing Jews from being buried in the city limits, a former Jewish department store De Bijenkorf (which Dorr’s mother remembers being barred from as a Jew during World War II) and a former synagogue turned into a department store, which still has its foundation stone intact, and where rabbis insisted that no bathroom be placed on the site of the former ark. It also included a Holocaust memorial (image four), which bears the biblical quotation, “Remember what Amalek did to you Don’t forget,” and which Dorr said he was displeased to see so haphazardly placed so close to a restaurant.


In some senses, one would have hoped that there would be more spotlights and attention showered on the Jewish memorials and former synagogues in The Hague. Perhaps if they were more conspicuous, I wouldn’t have walked right past them the first and second and third times. But somewhere along the way, dazzled by Dorr’s engrossing woven narratives, it struck me that the hunt for The Jewish Hague required no reconfiguring or modification.



Holocaust Memorial



The Stars of David and former synagogues need not hit every pedestrian over the head. It is enough that they can be teased out and revived in the hands of someone like Dorr (though one fears he is irreplaceable and hard to imitate). Maybe there is no better metaphor for the Jewish life that was and is (albeit downsized significantly) in The Hague than a series of inscriptions and works of art hidden in plain sight.


“We have no idea where he is,” Dorr said solemnly, looking at Spinoza’s tomb stone in that church backyard. “He’s scattered around the church somewhere.” Can one imagine much more pitiful than that?


              Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


This article is the second in a series on Jewish Amsterdam and The Hague, which is based on a trip sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.

Menachem Wecker

The Hidden Letters: A Cautionary Tale

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

The idyllic countryside of Sobibor bears no resemblance to the large, efficient extermination camp once located in that remote corner of eastern Poland. Among the 250,000 Jews murdered during its 18 months of operation were the members of my mother’s family. I didn’t learn the details of their deaths until I was an adult, but I understood at a very young age that I had no grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins because someone called Hitler had killed them.

Sobibor is also the final resting place of 34,000 Dutch Jews. The Germans tried to hide their heinous crimes by plowing under the secret killing fields of Sobibor. Sixty years later, however, the letters of a Dutch teenager have surfaced to bear witness and to warn us to stay vigilant. Found by a workman demolishing a house in Amsterdam in 1995, the 86 letters were written by Philip Slier to his parents, Seline and Leender, between April and September 1942, while he was in the Molengoot labor camp.

The workman who discovered the letters, hidden in the third floor bathroom ceiling of 128 Vrolik Street, immediately recognized their significance but didn’t know what to do with them. Two years later, as if by divine providence, he was hired to work for the Dutch Institute of War Documentation, the organization that had researched Anne Frank’s diary.

Deborah Slier, founder of Star Bright Books in New York, vividly recalls the fax she received from her sister informing her that “a bundle of letters, written by a cousin during the war, had been found in Amsterdam. We were asked if we would agree to have them published in Dutch. My initial reaction was surprise.”

Deborah’s father and Philip’s father were brothers but the cousins never met since she was born and raised in South Africa where her father had immigrated in search of work. As Deborah writes, “I could not avoid thinking that had my father not had the good fortune to be unemployed in 1922, it would be my eyes and my brother’s, mother’s, father’s and sisters’ eyes that would be gazing out of this book alongside Flip’s.”

The book is Hidden Letters, the remarkable culmination of her eight-year odyssey to uncover her cousin’s past. Annotated by Deborah and her husband, Dr. Ian Shine, the impressive book is a carefully researched work that contains the letters of Philip Slier (translated by Marion Pritchard) in addition to photographs and biographies of his family and friends.

The portrait that emerges of Philip, who signs his letters Flip, is of an endearing young man who played the flute and the mandolin, liked singing and was an avid photographer. Many of his pictures appear in this book. Like his cousin Deborah, we also come to “appreciate his optimism, his compassion, his humor, his lack of hatred and his affection for family and friends.”

By sharing the story of Flip and his family, Deborah Slier tells the wider story of the Jewish community of the Netherlands and explores the tragic events leading up to its extinction. Although they initially believed the German occupation was only a temporary nuisance, the book documents how the Jews of Holland were slowly robbed of their jobs, their homes, their identities and ultimately their lives.

Flip was seventeen when the Germans invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. Almost immediately anti-Jewish decrees were enacted, beginning with seemingly small humiliations. “Jew” and “Jewish” were always spelled with an upper case “J” until the German occupation when the lower case was declared the standard form in newspapers, documents, dictionaries and on the newly issued Jewish identity cards.

So intent were the Germans on eradicating Jews and Jewish culture from Dutch society that they even Aryanized Jewish Street names – Lazarus Lane, for example, was renamed Leprozen (Leprosy) Lane.

The German decrees escalated and soon Jews were banned from hotels, restaurants, theaters, libraries, museums and public parks. Jewish doctors, dentists, attorneys and pharmacists were no longer allowed to treat or work for gentiles. “No entry for Jews” signs were posted everywhere including many streets.

Since Jews were forbidden from dealing directly with German authorities, the Jewish Council was formed to act as a buffer between Germans and Jews. Abraham Asscher, the director of a diamond company, and David Cohen, professor of Ancient History at the University of Amsterdam, were joint chairmen of the council. Prominent Jews from professional and religious organizations, trusted and revered by community members who looked to them for guidance, also served on the board.

When the Germans canceled most work permits for Jews, the only alternative was the labor camp, initially operated for unemployed Dutchmen. In contrast to the Dutch workers, the Jews were paid lower wages, given less food, and allowed no leave.

Because we know the final outcome of the Nazis’ agenda, it is chilling to read this excerpt from a letter the Jewish Council sent to young men like Flip.

 One Last Warning: You have been selected by the Municipal Labor Office to go to work in one of the Dutch Labor camps in the province of Drent under the direction of the Dutch Labor Council. You must therefore leave by train on Saturday morning. We give you again, for the last time, urgent advice to immediately follow this order. If you do not do this, the most severe punishment will occur. We repeat again, that you must give this – for your own good – your most urgent priority to be present at the indicated time. We repeat, that this is about normal work provision in normal Dutch Labor camps under normal Dutch supervision.

The Chairmen of the Jewish Council

A. Asscher

Prof. Dr. C. (D) Cohen

A loyal citizen who had lost his job as an apprentice typesetter and believed the council had his best interests at heart, Flip obeyed the “request” and was sent to Molengoot, one of fifty labor camps. He was eighteen years old.

One of the most painful photographs in Hidden Letters is the group portrait of the well-groomed, elegantly dressed members of the Jewish Council. Chairman Abraham Asscher sits with his arms crossed conspicuously in front of him so that he manages to hide the yellow star affixed to his finely tailored suit. Other members aren’t so successful. The discomfort on the faces of these prominent Jewish citizens, who have been reduced to apologists for the Nazi regime, is palpable.

From the time of his arrival in Molengoot in April 1942 until his escape in September, Flip wrote to his family almost every day. This excerpt from his first letter, dated April 24th, sounds eerily like a letter sent from summer camp:

“Dear Father and Mother – Have arrived in the camp. Fairly comfortable. Reasonable bed, 3 blankets. Clean. Good atmosphere, decent people … send me a windbreaker as soon as possible … the camp leader made a speech, not encouraging, but he hopes to see us back in Amsterdam soon.”

Still in his teens, Flip can be forgiven his youthful naivet?. But what about the adults? These excerpts from a letter written on April 29, 1942, by the head of the secret police to the commissioner for justice and administration regarding the introduction of the Jewish star reveal the mindset of the Jewish Council members who were clearly in a state of denial:

 The Jewish Council was notified today that within three days all Jews in this country must be identifiable by the Jewish star. Upon hearing this news, Asscher and Cohen were speechless. They apparently had not expected this measure. Then they declared that they, namely Asscher and Cohen, did not find this a pleasant measure to relay to the Jewish people, but that they personally would be proud to wear the Jewish star . Thus 569,355 stars were to be placed at the disposal of the Jewish Council. Asscher said, literally: “It will not last long, one to two months, until the war is over, and we are free!”

The stars cost 16 cents and one clothing coupon. Failure to wear a star was initially punished by a fine of 1,000 guilders and later deportation. Forced to sew a star on their chests, they neglected to see the target on their backs.

In sharp contrast to the submissive members of the Jewish Council were men like Lodewijk Ernst Visser, president of the Dutch Supreme Court, who refused to accept an ID stamped with a “j.” He opposed cooperation with the Germans and recommended “defiance, not compliance.” He denounced the opening of separate Jewish schools and wrote articles for the resistance newspaper. He accused the Jewish Council of “being craven in their attitude to oblige the occupier and obey orders.”

The Jewish Council sent this honorable and courageous man a letter threatening him with deportation if he continued to protest. Three days later he died of a heart attack.

* * *

Deborah Slier reminds us that “The Netherlands is the only country in Europe that has never expelled, ghettoized, nor legally discriminated against Jews, thus Dutch Jews felt as Dutch as non-Jews did.” How then did the Jews come to be identified as “the other,” separated, isolated and betrayed by their fellow citizens?

The book offers several answers. The key to controlling the masses was control of the media and Adolph Hitler brilliantly utilized this powerful tool. His charismatic voice and dazzling showmanship seduced adoring audiences into believing he could solve all their problems, which always stemmed from the Jews. In the case of the Netherlands this mythical threat amounted to one percent of the population.

Dutch Jews were robbed of all access to the media when their radios and telephones were confiscated. The only newspaper they were allowed to read was The Jewish Weekly, sanctioned and censored by the Nazis, leaving them increasingly cut off from vital information about their fate.

The matter of the Pigeon Brigade is another example of how methodical the Nazis were in their efforts to control information. In June 1940 they counted 32,709 pigeons in Amsterdam, grounded them and put them under surveillance. Any that were caught had to be turned over to the mayor’s office in an effort to prevent their handlers from using them to leak information.

Complacency on the part of the civilized West toward the plight of the Jews was another factor that contributed to Hitler’s success. Slier notes that when Polish diplomat Jan Karski described the atrocities he had personally witnessed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, the latter’s response was, “I don’t believe you.” When Karski asked him if he thought he was lying, Frankfurter said, “No, but I simply cannot believe you.”

The groundwork for genocide was laid when good men could be counted on to do nothing.

We learn about Flip’s growing awareness of the fate of Dutch Jews in this excerpt dated June 13, 1942: “I hear the food situation in Amsterdam is still terrible. Are Jews no longer allowed to buy meat and vegetables in Christian shops? I heard something like that here.”

On July 11, 1942 ten Christian churches sent a joint telegram expressing outrage at the deportation of Jews and urgently requesting that they not proceed. The telegram was read from the pulpit of Roman Catholic and Protestant churches on July 26. According to Slier, “Analyses showed that areas that had a higher percentage of Catholics had a higher percentage of Jews hidden and saved.”

For example, in the village of Nieuwland, the Reverend Fritz Slomp inspired almost every family to hide Jews in their homes. The entire village was awarded the Yad Vashem medal in 1985 for saving 300 Jews.

Hitler recognized that National Socialism and Christian beliefs were irreconcilable so the Nazis began replacing any manifestations of Christianity with the National Reich Church. Publishing and disseminating the Bible were outlawed while the swastika replaced the cross in all churches, cathedrals and chapels throughout the country.

Flip wrote in a letter dated July 18, 1942: “The Christians are also getting more and more afraid. This afternoon I went again to the village to pick up photos. I also did other shopping, and then went to the barber to get a haircut. He said he was sorry, but he didn’t dare cut my hair while I was wearing a star. So I took it off and got a nice cut.”

As conditions in the Molengoot camp became more brutal, Flip wrote on August 3: “This morning the new men went to work. Pa and Ma, it broke my heart to see these oldsters plodding along. Some of them have heart trouble . there is no light work on the moor, and they get no time to catch their breath. We have already decided that tomorrow we will dig a ditch for them.”

Flip’s last letter, dated September 14, gives no clue as to what finally compelled him to escape from the Molengoot camp and make his way to Amsterdam, where he was provided with several hiding places.

The Nazis arrested him on March 31 at Amsterdam Central Station when he tried to flee to Switzerland. The file card, reprinted in the book, gives the reason for his arrest as “Ohme Stern” (without a star). After a three-day tortuous journey, locked inside a cattle car, Flip Slier arrived in Sobibor on April 9, 1943. He was nineteen years old.

While Hidden Letters provides an illuminating window into the fate of Dutch Jews, this is also a cautionary tale. The complacency of world leaders, the compliance of misguided Jewish leaders and the control and manipulation of the media contributed to making Europe Judenrein.

The nations preferred to look the other way as the Jews were offered as the korban – the sacrificial lamb – they hoped would satisfy the Nazi bloodlust.

The letters of Philip Slier appear now as a timely warning that we risk being in denial – again.

Helen Zegerman Schwimmer, a veteran journalist and author of “Like The Stars of the Heavens,” was born in the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. For more information visit her website, helenschwimmer.com.

Helen Zegerman Schwimmer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page//2009/08/19/

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