Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Long-Buried Holocaust Docs Reveal Shocking Dutch-Nazi Collaboration

 

Against the backdrop of skyrocketing anti-Semitism in the Netherlands since Oct. 7, new evidence revealing the dominant role of Amsterdam’s railway company in the Nazi deportation of 105,000 Dutch Jews, has re-opened a bitter chapter for Dutch Jews.

The evidence in the form of dozens of invoices, discovered by filmmakers producing a documentary about Jewish persecution during the Holocaust, details the railway’s extensive collaboration with Nazi perpetrators.

This shameful complicity was always known but ignored by the powers that be. The invoices opened a shocking window on the unsuspected scope of that collaboration.

Before the war and the Nazi occupation, the Netherlands was home to a vibrant Jewish community of around 140,000 people, mainly concentrated in Amsterdam. By the time the Holocaust was over, an estimated 75 percent had been murdered.

Deported to their deaths via Hollands’ main transit companies, GVB and NS, these numbers represent a higher annihilation rate than in any other European country except Poland.

Of the 24,000 Dutch Jews who were in hiding, 8,000 were betrayed to the Nazis, historians say.

Viewed in the context of current events, with anti-Semitic incidents across the Netherlands up 800 percent, and former allies and “friendly” governments and politicians betraying Israel in its existential war of survival, one is reminded of the truth of the old French adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Heavily Guarded Trains

As the numerous invoices recovered from NIOD (Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies) attest, the GVB public transit firm 80 years ago was used to corral close to 50,000 Amsterdam Jews during the Nazi occupation.

The Jews were transported in heavily guarded trams to train stations from where they were shipped to German extermination camps. GVB billed the German occupying forces for payment for these trips, with most of the invoices showing they were paid in full.

A total of about 900 train rides were used for this purpose, reports the Times of Israel. When adjusted for their contemporary value, the total would be valued at a minimum of $65,000.

One can only imagine how the passengers, many of whom had escaped Nazi Germany for what they believed would be a safe haven, must have felt as they rolled through the Dutch flatlands to Westerbork, just 25 miles from the German border.

Known as the “gateway to hell,” Westerbork was the last stop in the Netherlands before concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Sobibor.

The invoice for the last trip across the German border was apparently never paid, records show. The GVB went as far as to employ a debt collection agency to reclaim the money two years after the end of the war, an article in DutchNews said.

The discovery of the invoices is central to a book and a documentary called “The Lost City” (Verdwenen Stad), by filmmakers Willy Lindwer and Guus Luijters, who came across the documents while researching the persecution of the Jews during the war.

“The GVB would invoice the Nazis every month for services rendered and make a nice profit that way,” Luijters told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

The filmmaker of “The Lost City” said the most astounding thing about the invoices was the fact that the GVB continued to chase the Germans for the money two years after the war had ended.

“I found that shocking,” he said. “Where was the shame?”

“GVB never acknowledged their mistake or showed remorse or offered financial compensation to the deported Jews and their relatives,” Lindwer and Luijters told the newspaper.

The Diary of a Young Girl

Among the documents Luijters found during his research was the invoice for the last GVB deportation on August 8, 1944, which included the names of Anne Frank and her relatives.

Anne Frank was a young woman who hid with her family from the Nazis with the help of a Dutch rescuer for almost two years, until they were betrayed by Dutch informers and arrested by the Nazis. The parents were shipped to Auschwitz, where Mrs. Frank was murdered. Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen Belsen, where they perished a few weeks before Liberation. Only their father, Otto Frank, survived the atrocities.

Anne left behind a moving diary that was recovered from the “Secret Annex”—the hideout where her family took refuge until they were betrayed. Published after the war by Anne’s father, the diary, with its intimate portrayal of her family’s ordeal, hit a nerve in millions of readers. Anne became an iconic symbol of innocence pitted against monstrous evil.

The story of the Frank family — refugees from neighboring Germany who came to the Netherlands to escape Nazism – encapsulates the horrific legacy of the Holocaust in the Netherlands, a story of betrayal and abandonment of the Jews by their fellow countrymen.

Denial and Doubletalk

The GVB railway firm had long maintained a pose of wartime virtue until the discovery of the invoices attesting to the firm’s profiteering from the plunder and annihilation of Amsterdam’s Jews.

Those findings rendered it impossible for the company to continue its posturing. The railway is now scrambling to perform damage control as the documentary sheds light on its wartime record.

“The Lost City,” which shows how the Jewish population was taken from Amsterdam by tram, including the issuing of invoices, horrifies us,” said the GVB in a statement. The company then added a more nuanced statement, saying the record is “incomplete” and that “all facts and circumstances have not been investigated and established coherently.”

In contrast to the GVB’s refusal to take responsibility, the Dutch state-run railway NS agreed in 2019, under pressure, to pay millions of dollars in compensation to Holocaust victims and their families. This move followed official statements accepting responsibility for transporting huge numbers of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

The record of the NS’ collaboration with the Nazis is stomach-turning. The owners had built a new rail line during WWII and over time transported more than 90,000 victims to Nazi concentration camps.

After being expelled from their homes, plundered of all their possessions, and forced onto death trains, the Jews’ were subjected to a final humiliation; forced to pay for their death ride to Sobibor, Auschwitz and other killing centers.

The payment, collectively amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars (equivalent to millions today) was stolen from the Netherlands’ Jewish Bank and the Dutch railway took its share.

The NS apologized years ago for what it called “a black page in the history of the company,” but failed to come up with any program for compensation. Finally, in July 2019, after pressure from Holocaust activists and survivors, the railway committed to paying over $74 million in compensation to surviving Holocaust victims and their families.

Opening of Netherlands Holocaust Museum 

In an uncanny coincidence, the opening of a new Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam in March took place about the same time as the discovery of the incriminating invoices, prompting a great deal of media attention.

The walls of one room in the museum are filled, floor to ceiling, with the texts of hundreds of laws discriminating against Dutch Jews. They illustrate how the Nazi regime, assisted by the Dutch, carefully orchestrated the scheme of annihilation.

“The Wallpaper of Crimes,” as the museum’s chief curator, Annemiek Gringold, referred to it, demonstrates how the litany of laws created a veneer of legality over the Nazi’s final solution. All the measures were implemented by the Dutch authorities,” points out Gringold. “There was no ghetto here and no walls but Jewish rights were annulled to zero.”

The barrage of ordinances trace a brutal history of persecution, including the 1942 requirement for Jews to wear a yellow Star of David; laws ousting Jews from their jobs and professions; banning them from parks and public spaces, and offering rewards to non-Jews for “denouncing” Jews for various “crimes” to authorities.

These ominous steps were followed by the identification and registration stage, in which meticulous lists were drawn up of all Jewish residents along with their addresses; with a “J” officially stamped in their passports.

Dutch Banks Helped in Confiscating Jewish Property 

The Dutch bureaucracy assisted in all these stages, aided incomprehensibly by the Dutch Jewish Council. Then came Nazi edicts confiscating Jewish property under a legal pretense of “registering” it, prior to the “resettlement” of the Jews.

“The Dutch banks took an active role in the registration (and later partial confiscation) of massive amounts of Jewish property and assets, estimated by some historians as exceeding $12 billion in contemporary values,” notes historian Gerstenfeld of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The systematic looting of Jewish properties began well before deportation, facilitated by Dutch banks. On German orders, Dutch banks sent out forms to Jewish clients “legalizing” the transfer of their deposits to LIRO, the bank the Nazis created to expropriate money from the Jews.

Until the death trains left Holland, the Nazis relied on Dutch policemen to do much of the dirty work. Dutch police arrested and rounded up the families, forcing them to board trains that transported them to detention camps at Westerbork and Vught.

From these transit points, the Jews were shipped directly to Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen Belsen. Out of 110,000 souls, only 5,000 survived. In Amsterdam, alone, 66,000 of the 80,000 Jews were murdered. The rest survived in hiding in the Netherlands or other countries.

The Myth of the ‘Heroic Dutch’

In the post-war years, a pervasive myth took hold in the Netherlands that a great majority of the Dutch people had showed solidarity with the Jews and had taken risks to help them.

The sheer magnitude of the destruction of Dutch Jewry, however, told another story. The image of heroic rank-and-file citizens protecting their Jewish countrymen crumbles in the face of the sweeping decimation of the Jewish community, and how it was carried out.

No country in Western Europe had a higher percentage of its population voluntarily joining the ranks of the Nazis than the Netherlands, attests historian Gerstenfeld.

The Dutch police and civil service, and as noted above, the national railway companies, were widely complicit in hunting down Jews and transporting them to killing centers. The historical record is clear that those who helped save Jews in the Netherlands comprised a small but noble minority.

As the image of the “benign rescuers” began to unravel in the late 1990s, the Dutch also had to address their appalling postwar mistreatment of Jewish death camp survivors. For example, the government insisted that survivors pay back taxes during the years they had been imprisoned or in hiding.

The survivors were abused in numerous other ways. Immoral application of Dutch inheritance tax laws allowed the state to claim a significant part of the assets of those who were murdered, instead of turning them over to their heirs.

In a further abuse of power, the government blocked the efforts of survivors trying to reclaim Jewish war orphans and children who had been placed in non-Jewish foster homes or orphanages. The tiny survivor community had to wage an exhausting battle against hostile agencies until the Jewish children were released to family members or relatives.

For decades, the Dutch denied any wrongdoing and refused to pass restitution legislation to enable survivors to reclaim their property. But as books, documentaries and personal memoirs by Dutch authors about the war period gained traction, the government’s stance softened.

After prolonged negotiations, a restitution package was agreed upon in 2005 between survivor groups and the Dutch government, Dutch banks and insurance companies.

 

****

A Rabbi’s Testimony

 

Dutch Holocaust survivor Rabbi Josef Polak, now of Boston, wrote an award-winning book about his wartime ordeal as a young child in flight from the Nazis. His memoir, “After the Holocaust, the Bells Still Ring” describes some of his experiences at Westerbork, the infamous Nazi detention camp from which over a hundred thousand Jews were deported to death factories.

“Westerbork was a relatively well-ordered place compared to the hell-holes of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor and other death factories,” Rabbi Polak says. “People were fed, given a place to sleep and allowed to stay in family groups. There were sports facilities and a hospital run by top Jewish medics.”

But the trappings of civilization in Westerbork were a sham, aimed at lulling the Jewish inmates into boarding the death trains without resistance, the rabbi testified.

The murderous scheme worked. Although fearful, the Jews clung to the Germans’ ruse that they would be “resettled” and did as they were instructed.

The trains ran every Tuesday morning, attested Rabbi Polak. From Westerbork, Dutch police selected a thousand prisoners every week for “resettlement.” As elderly and infirm Jews were thrown together with the young and healthy, the Nazi deception began to fall apart.

“Many intuited that they had been sentenced to death, even though they did not yet know when the execution would take place, or how,” the author wrote. “At Westerbork, you lived on death row…trembling from the roar of imminent death in your ear…”

Rabbi Polak gave a phone interview to this writer in 2020, after news reports that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte offered an apology to the Jewish community for Dutch complicity in the annihilation of their Jewish neighbors.

“So after 75 years there’s an apology…. You’re asking how I respond to that,” Rabbi Polak mused.

“Let me say this,” he said after a pause. “Nobody betrayed the Jews like the Dutch.”

“Dutch Jews suffered the highest percentage of community destruction after the Jews of Greece,” he noted quietly. “Over 100,000 murdered. Think of what that means, how so few were saved. Think of the level of betrayal and cruelty that made those numbers possible.”

****

Dramatic Rise In Jew-Hatred

When authorities turn a blind eye toward physical violence, threats, and hate speech against the Jews, that appeasement unleashes destructive forces that sooner or later target the broader society, historians note.

The Netherlands, along with France, Spain, Italy, and other Western European countries with growing Muslim populations, is now learning that bitter lesson. (About six percent of the Netherlands’ current population of 17 million is estimated to be Muslim, compared to less than one percent in the 1970s.)

Amidst the sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the Netherlands, a rabbi was attacked last Friday afternoon in a shopping center in Utrecht, a city in the center of the Netherlands, a daily newspaper De Telegraaf reported.

Rabbi Aryeh Heintz of Utrecht said he was accosted by a man who asked what he came there to do, “dressed as a Jew.” The man then struck him on the head.

According to Rabbi Heintz, the perpetrator then began to stalk him. He followed the rabbi into an Action discount shop and shoved him. “Two Moroccan women stopped that man and caught the blows I was about to receive,” Heintz recounted.

The rabbi said when he tried to take a picture of his attacker with his phone, the manager forbade him to do so. “‘You leave now and you’re not coming back,’ the manager told me. So someone carries out an anti-Semitic attack against me and I am the one barred?” the rabbi asked rhetorically.

“I’ve had a swastika on my door before, but this is a whole different level,” stated Heintz, who has worked in law enforcement for many years. “We certainly notice that anti-Semitism has been getting much worse here. But I don’t let terror run my life. If I have to go to the shopping center, I go. I’ll try to be more careful.”

“It’s terrible that we are no longer safe in the Netherlands,” commented the rabbi’s wife. Their daughter, Devorah, said she was thankful there were no serious injuries, “because it could have been worse,” she told the paper.

“We live in the 21st century and yet we are being abused everywhere,” the young woman noted. “One of my brothers was once beaten with a bicycle chain because he was wearing a yarmulke. I no longer dare to go to the shopping center or the hairdresser or take a walk alone in the evening.”

He was Asked To Accept an Apology from his ‘Moroccan’ Assailant

Rabbi Heintz reported the incident to the police, pressing charges of assault against the man who attacked him, and in an interesting twist, had turned himself in.

The rabbi told the NL Times that the police asked him if he would accept an apology from the perpetrator.

“Only if he visits the Holocaust museum and talks to ‘Moroccans’ [euphemism for Muslims, as the Dutch press won’t identify Muslims as such] who think differently from himself,” the rabbi said he told the police officer. “Otherwise he is only interested in reducing his sentence, and I will not cooperate with that.”

CIDI (Center for Information and Documentation Israel) has recorded many instances of mezuzahs torn off doors of Dutch Jewish homes, and swastikas sprayed on windows, along with frequent threats and verbal abuse, reports the EJPress.

In one school, a Jewish boy was threatened with a knife and struck on the head with a bottle while classmates called him “kankerjood,” a Dutch slur meaning “cancer Jew.”

Another boy was told that his classmates would throw him off a bridge and drown him because he was Jewish. Recurring reports describe students being accosted for wearing Star of David necklaces, being shown the Hitler salute and being told that Hitler “didn’t finish his job.”

“Jews in this country feel that things have changed. Everything is different now,” said CIDI director Naomi Mestrum. “And will be forever different from now on.”

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