Europe’s Bias: From the Holocaust’s Aftermath to Today’s Anti-Semitism – Part II

, October 1, 2002

Jewish Political Studies Review 14:3-4 (Fall 2002)

IV. Country Reviews

A further way to enlarge one’s perspective on post-war attitudes toward the Jews is by analyzing events in individual countries. Since it will take a long time for overviews to become available, the best one can do in the interim is to consider some important issues as well as telling episodes in specific countries. These may then give a stimulus for further research by scholars who study other countries. Hereinafter, a series of such vignettes are presented. They provide, by necessity, an impressionistic picture and can be extended to further cases as well as to other countries not mentioned below. Each country must be assessed individually. As none is typical for the broader picture, no single country can be used as a paradigm. Yet the following brief observations indicate potential directions for further research.

Germany is not referred to below. Its reality on many issues was radically different from that elsewhere in Europe. One aspect of this was that as the main perpetrator country, a large part of its post-war elite in the first decades was tainted by Nazism. This emerges from time-to-time when people pass away. So for instance, when the prominent anti-establishment journalist Rudolf Augstein-founder of the weekly Der Spiegel-died in November 2002, it was mentioned that the journal after the war had employed not only leaders of the Hitler youth and Nazi propagandists, but also SS officers.63

This got a special perspective as Augstein in recent years has violently attacked Israel in his paper. On one occasion, Paul Spiegel, the president of the Central Council of German Jewry, wrote “Augstein’s article is a chain of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic polemics without any pragmatic confrontation of the conflict. As he applies a comparison between Hitler’s war policy and Sharon’s anti-terror fight and reaches a positive conclusion, he passes the borders of material criticism into anti-Semitic propaganda.” Spiegel added that Augstein intentionally relativated Hitler’s crimes and with that the suffering of the victims whom he also insulted.64

France

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about the re-integration of Jews in French society as early as 1944:

Today those Jews whom the Germans did not deport or murder are coming back to their homes. Many were among the first members of the Resistance; others had sons or cousins in Leclerc’s army. Now all France rejoices and fraternizes in the streets; social conflict seems temporarily forgotten; the newspapers devote whole columns to stories of prisoners of war and deportees. Do we say anything about the Jews? Do we give a thought to those who died in the gas chambers at Lublin? Not a word. Not a line in the newspapers. That is because we must not irritate the anti-Semites; more than ever, we need unity. Well-meaning journalists will tell you: ‘In the interest of the Jews themselves, it would not do to talk too much about them just now.’ For four years French society has lived without them; it is just as well not to emphasize too vigorously the fact that they have reappeared.65

Sartre adds that the Jews “have made a clandestine return, and their joy at being liberated is not part of the nation’s joy.”66 He continues: “In my Lettres Françaises without thinking about it particularly, and simply for the sake of completeness, I wrote something or other about the sufferings of the prisoners of war, the deportees, the political prisoners, and the Jews. Several Jews thanked me in a most touching manner. How completely must they have felt themselves abandoned, to think of thanking an author for merely have written the word ‘Jew’ in an article!”67

Over the past decades, France has attempted simultaneously to hide and to confront its Vichy past. While this case is far too complicated to help us better understand the general complexities of moral restitution, it is worth noting that the French authorities were forced to acknowledge the Vichy regime’s racist actions because a few Jews continued to struggle for a public presentation of the truth. President Chirac finally admitted it in contrast to his predecessor Mitterrand, who had been too busy hiding the truth about himself.68

Poland

Poland is an important case to investigate, even if few of the findings in its regard are applicable to Western European countries. The murder of more than 1,000 Jews in post-war Poland-between the end of the war and the middle of 1946-illustrates how many of the returning Jews were received. Another more recent milestone was a battle, which developed in the late 1980s, about moving the Carmelite convent, which had been set up a few years earlier within the perimeter of the Auschwitz camp. Yet another landmark was when, in 2000, information about the Poles’ massacre of Jews in Jedwabne was made public. This led to a major media discussion.69

In many Eastern European cities where Jews were either a substantial minority or even a majority before the war, their memory is excluded from local history. Last year, Jerusalem Post journalist Haim Shapiro visited the former Polish town Tarnopol, now in Ukraine, where a third of the population before the war had been Jewish: “we went to the local museum, which has a series of exhibits on the history of the city. It is well-planned and laid out, with a combination of dioramas with scenes of daily life, objects from the past, photographs, and other illustrative material….There is just one problem…there is no mention of the Jews. It is as if they had never existed.”70 Jewish history in Europe will continue to be falsified if nobody fights the battle for memory.

Austria

Austria is one of the European Union countries which still has a very long way to go to accept its Holocaust history. One factor which catalyzes this process is the strong political position of the right-wing FPÖ party. For most of the last two years it formed part of the country’s coalition government. Its leader Jörg Haider has praised some of Hitler’s actions. Ewald Stadler, one of the party figures close to him, said, before an extremist right-wing association, that the crimes of the Russian occupants were comparable to those of the Nazis.71 The political strength of the party makes people elsewhere in the EU watch Austrian developments with above-average concern and attention.

The Jewish-led struggle for correcting history also accelerated developments in Austria. Austrian Prime Minister Franz Vranitzky was left with little choice but to admit-as late as the early 1990s-that his country had promoted a false self-image as a victim of Nazism. This was followed a few years later by a substantial resurgence of anti-Semitic propaganda in Austria in response to the international campaign against Kurt Waldheim’s presidency. In his autobiography, the president of Austria had hidden the fact that, for several years, he had served as a Nazi officer in an area where crimes against the Jews had been committed.

Avi Beker notes: “This amnesia symbolized Austria’s repression of its enthusiastic collaboration with the Nazis. Austria was reborn after the war in the interests of Western countries, bearing the false birth certificate of a victim of Nazism.”72

Croatia

The Croatian case illustrates particularly well that, by not giving up, the truth may be admitted, even if half a century has passed. Croatia was the only country in which a local government -that of the Ustasha-operated a concentration camp independent of German assistance. Jasenovac has been called “one of the lesser-known but most brutal concentration camps of World War II.”73 Close to 100,000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies are estimated to have been murdered there.74

In late 2001, 56 years after the end of the war, President Stipe Mesic told President Katzav and the Knesset: “I profoundly and sincerely deplore the crimes committed against the Jews in the area controlled during the Second World War by the collaborationist regime which, unfortunately, carried the Croatian name…I take every opportunity to ask forgiveness from those who were hurt by Croatians any time and any place, but first of all from the Jews.”75 Croatia has also helped to open the archives which provide information on its criminal past.

In late 2001, the United States Holocaust Museum announced its discovery and preservation of decaying documents and artifacts from Jasenovac. Peter Black, the museum’s chief historian, stated there were neither gas chambers nor crematoria in the camp; rather that the inmates were “murdered one by one with axes, guns, knives or prolonged torture. Bodies were buried or thrown into the adjacent Sava River.”76 Mate Maras, a Croatian diplomat, objected to some of the assertions made by the museum staff, but agreed that it was “a good day for Croatia to open up these sad pages of our history.”77

The Vatican

An issue incomparable to any other concerns the wartime and immediate post-war history of the Vatican’s attitude toward the Jews. It has to be seen against the long history during which the Catholic Church has laid the infrastructure for religious anti-Semitism. The Vatican’s position during the war is subject to ongoing scrutiny. The assessment of Pope Pius XII’s role during World War II will remain a controversial topic for a long time to come.

The British historian John Cornwell, a Catholic, began to research Pius XII’s pontificate with the conviction that the late pope would be vindicated. He experienced deep moral shock when he found that the material he had uncovered should lead to a wider indictment-rather than an exoneration-of Pius XII.78

The Possible Beatification of Pius XII

Over the past decades, preparations have been made in the Vatican to possibly beatify Pope Pius XII. Says former Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican Aharon Lopez,

I have tried to explain the sensitivity of Jewish feelings with respect to the possible beatification of Pius XII to Church leaders. During all discussions I never uttered one detrimental word about Pope Pius XII, consistently declaring that the historians had to make their judgment. Therefore it was imperative to give them time to investigate all material available before reaching conclusions. Any other approach by the Church would indicate that it wished to ignore the feelings of the Jewish people on the sensitive subject of the beatification. I believe it to be the largest test which can determine whether indeed the new attitude prevails in the Church’s thinking and a true desire exists to undo the past’s injustice.79

Pius XII has gradually become such a controversial figure in the second part of the previous century, that the Catholic Church agreed to have his behavior investigated by independent historians. In October 1999, a Catholic-Jewish Commission of Historians was established jointly by the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations. Three Jewish members were appointed by the Jewish side and three Catholic members by the Catholic partner.

This attempt to clear the air also failed. In July 2001, the Commission suspended its activities following the Vatican’s refusal to answer 47 preliminary questions put to it by the entire commission after having read the incomplete material made available to it by the Vatican. The Vatican refused to give the scholars access to unpublished archival material.

In October 2001, two of the Jewish scholars resigned from the Commission, Robert S. Wistrich of Hebrew University and Bernard Suchecky of the Free University of Brussels. Wistrich declared in an interview that already the published material was “a damning indictment of insensitivity and moral failure, of indifference to the humiliations and suffering of the Jews under anti-Semitic laws and of a refusal to even consider any rupture with Nazi Germany.”80

He summarized his judgment in an article on the Vatican’s attitude towards Commission work as follows:

The stark truth is that in two years we received no material assistance, no real encouragement, and above all, not one single new document from the Vatican. On the other hand, we did receive our fair measure of denigration, insinuation, and false rumors from persons attached to, or even speaking in the name of, that powerful and august institution….It is…a particular bitter irony to observe that the Commission has fallen apart in the wake of and despite the present pope’s praiseworthy actions to atone for Catholic sins toward the Jewish people in the preceding two millennia. Pope John Paul II called on his Church in the Millennial era to cast a critical eye on past omissions, sins, and failings in order to step forward into the 21st century with a clear conscience. In all honesty, I must say that there is still a considerable way to go before that call becomes a reality and we can speak of a true “purification of memory.”81

Helping War Criminals Escape

As far as the Catholic Church’s post-war attitude to Holocaust matters is concerned, this is not the only matter on which major clarification is still required. One can only hope that some day full details will become available about the Vatican’s role in helping Croatian war criminals flee through Italy after the war and thus escape punishment.

Said U.S. Under-Secretary Stuart Eizenstat,

After the war, leaders of this fascist regime found refuge in the pontifical College of San Girolamo in Rome, which, with the aid of looted gold, helped finance the escape of Croatian fascists to South America. This pontifical College also cooperated with the “ratline” created by the US Army Counterintelligence Corps which got such infamous war criminals-but anti-communists-as Klaus Barbie to South America. It will be critical for Croatia, Serbia and the Vatican to open their archives to obtain the full picture of this sordid story.82

Arieh Doobov of the World Jewish Congress, Jerusalem, summarized the main issues which historical research on the Vatican and the Holocaust will need to elucidate. They are Vatican awareness of the Shoah and intervention to protect Jews, the nature of the financial transactions between Nazi Germany and its allies and the Vatican, the connection between the Vatican and the escape of Croatian war criminals, and the relationship of the Vatican with war-time Croatian clergy, which in many cases supported war crimes in the name of the Catholic church.83

Denmark

Denmark has a more checkered Holocaust history than many believe. Only two years ago it was revealed by the historian Vilhjalmur Orn Vilhjamsson that Denmark had deported 21 German Jews back to Nazi Germany, where they perished or disappeared.

Efraim Zuroff wrote in the daily Berlingske Tidende:

The articles published recently in this paper reveal that Denmark implemented a restrictive anti-Jewish refugee policy in the 1930s and 1940s and, on its own initiative, sent German Jewish refugees back into the Nazi inferno. We also know now that at least one Danish company exploited slave labor in Estonia and that the negative attitude toward stateless Jews persisted even after World War II. If we add the decades-long cover-up of these issues, the refusal of some agencies to allow research into these questions and the failure of the Danish authorities to prosecute Danes who committed Nazi war crimes, the picture is far bleaker than we ever imagined.84

The issue of Denmark’s collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, may be much more substantial than has been acknowledged until now. Unopened archives may contain the names of about 300,000 Nazis or Nazi sympathizers collected by a Nazi opponent. Claus Bryld, professor of Modern History at Roskilde University, says that much of Denmark’s industry and agriculture collaborated with the Nazis and 12,000 Danes fought with the Germans against the Russians. Bryld also stated that once these archives were opened: “Big business figures may be compromised by its release and there may be revealing information in the files on the royal family. There were very intimate relations between leading German officials and leading Danish ones. They made no political considerations. They traded with the Germans as if they were normal people. A moral perspective was totally absent.”85

Sweden

Compared to other neutral countries, Sweden has an extremely poor record as far as the prosecution of war criminals is concerned. It did not investigate any Swedish war criminals and Baltic war criminals found refuge there from 1944 onwards, with the knowledge of the Swedish government. Swedish archives on these matters remain closed.86

In view of the severe current criticism often expressed by the Swedish foreign minister on Israel’s policies, the conclusions of the Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the time of World War II are particularly interesting.

One finds that Sweden’s policy towards the belligerent great powers for most of the war was based on power politics. Moral issues were excessively disregarded and actions were taken with the overriding purpose of keeping Sweden out of the war and maintaining essential supplies. Today of course, such an attitude can seem deplorable.

The commission advised further study. One of the major issues concerned the importance of Sweden’s trade with Nazi Germany as regards the ability of the latter to continue its persecution of Jews and others until as late as 1945. This research field is made relevant not least by the latter-day debate on whether Sweden’s trade with Germany prolonged the war and with it the sufferings of the Jewish people.87

The Commission also said that the moral question involved in the business relations with Nazi Germany was never raised in parliamentary or governmental discussions. Retroactively, the Commission deplored this.88

Norway

In Norway today one finds some of Europe’s most anti-Israeli politicians and other mainstream figures. Their criticism reflects anti-Semitic thought on many occasions. This provides an extra impetus to reinvestigate the Norwegian wartime myth which talks about a courageous people with few Nazi collaborators. In view of the major criticism on Israel emerging from so-called progressive circles in Norway, one may analyze how the Norwegian democratic authorities behaved toward the Jews when the country was under stress after its liberation.

Norwegian journalist Bjorn Westlie claimed that the German occupation of Norway during 1940/1945 is the most studied issue by Norwegian historians and hundreds of books have been published on the subject. Yet the financial aspect of the persecution of Norway’s Jews was largely ignored. “It represents one of the most dramatic and brutal episodes in Norwegian history.”89 Before the Jews were sent to their deaths, all their possessions were taken away by the Norwegian police and government officials.

Beker, who, on behalf of the WJC, dealt with Norwegian restitution to the Jews a few years ago, says:

In Norway’s war time history there is the problematic, important and symbolic figure of Vidkon Quisling whose name will forever be associated with that country. The Norwegians want to distance themselves from their wartime government which they try to present as something which does not belong to their past.90

After the war Quisling was executed, yet many other Norwegians had similar ideas to him including intellectuals who preached anti-Semitism. Quisling was supported by senior Norwegian officials, including a supreme court judge who headed the Board for the Economic Liquidation of the Jews. The Norwegian wartime authorities played an important role in the deportations, while others were silent and even benefited from Jewish properties.91

Discriminating Against the Jews after the War

After the war, the Democratic government of Norway established a Reparations Office for confiscated properties. Restitution payments were incomplete. The wartime Liquidation Board, which dealt with the properties stolen from the Jews, had used 32 percent of the confiscated assets for their own administration. These were deducted from the restitution payments to the Jews. Weslie writes that it is not known how much money was actually disbursed or how many people received restitution payments. A large part of those who applied for it only received small parts of their possessions. One family received less than 1 percent back of what had been stolen from it.92

The reparations office transferred some funds to the War Indemnity Fund, a state-run welfare scheme. Only Norwegian citizens were entitled to apply. Of the thousand surviving Norwegian Jews, several hundred were not Norwegian citizens and were not eligible for any indemnity. The Norwegian government promised the World Jewish Congress during the war that it would take measures to help the Norwegian Jews. This promise was not kept. Westlie concludes:

Although the Jews in Norway were treated differently in every respect from all other Norwegian groups, this was not taken into consideration during the post-war settlement…A directorate was established to help Norwegian seamen as a group with particular problems after the war. The inhabitants of the northern region of Finnmark, too, were viewed and treated as a special group after their homes and workplaces had been burned and plundered by the Germans. Special measures for the Jews, on the other hand, were not considered. This was an historic injustice.93

It was only in the mid-1990s that the restitution issue reemerged. “On 27 May 1995, the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv reported that the Norwegian authorities had made little effort to help Norwegian Jews recover their property, although considerable funds were discovered in bank accounts after the war.”94 When this issue became a subject for the international press, following publications by the World Jewish Congress, the Norwegian government reacted with the establishment, in March 1996, of a Committee of Inquiry on the Confiscation of Jewish Property in Norway during World War II.

Despite immoral bureaucratic efforts to stall the issue, the Norwegian government and parliament approved a rather generous payment to survivors. They were greatly praised for this because they were the first European government to settle in this round of restitution. Yet, one must bear in mind that, given the very small number of people involved, Norway’s financial outlay to do a very belated justice to the surviving Jews and thus prevent damage to its image, was very limited.

Lithuania

The Baltic countries regained their independence after the fall of communism. Due to their small size, little international attention is given to them. Vis-à-vis the Holocaust, however, Lithuania has one of the darkest histories of German-occupied countries. This is due to the murder of tens of thousands of Jews by Lithuanians, even before the Germans took over. “The Germans found numerous collaborators among the Lithuanian people who implemented the Final Solution of Lithuanian Jewry with perverse zeal and thoroughness. The assistance provided by these collaborators was especially important in Lithuania, where the murders were carried out locally, primarily by the native population.”95 The Germans used special Lithuanian murder units to kill Jews, and others elsewhere. A German commander in Byelorussia considered the Lithuanians such brutal murderers that he asked his superiors in Minsk to keep this police battalion away from his district.96

In view of the massive crimes committed by Lithuanians before the Germans came to power, one would have expected that at least some war criminals would have been prosecuted in the 1990s, after Lithuanian independence. Until today, not a single one has been brought to trial. Also, as far as telling Holocaust history, independent Lithuania knowingly cheats. Dutch movie-maker and author Philo Bregstein writes about his second visit, in the early 1990s, to the Paneriai forest outside Vilna, where 100,000 people were murdered, most of whom were Jews:

Again we stand near the old gray stone monument in which, since our previous visit, a piece of black marble has been put [which says] “here 100,000 people were killed of whom 70,000 were Jews-men, women and children by the Nazis and their ‘Lithuanian local helpers.” But our guides draw our attention to the text “Lithuanian local helpers,” which appears in Yiddish, English and Hebrew, but not in the Lithuanian translation.97

The Jews’ relations with Lithuania must, therefore, remain ambivalent for a long time to come. Whoever visits Vilna finds plaques recalling the Holocaust in the ghetto, something which was impossible during the Soviet rule over the country. The Lithuanian government makes goodwill gestures towards the local Jewish community and Israel, for instance by supporting the commemoration on the 200th Yahrzeit of the Gaon of Vilna, and by sending unused, mainly damaged, Torah scrolls to Israel. These gestures do not compensate for issues such as the impunity of surviving war criminals and the discrimination against Lithuanian Jews living abroad in reclaiming their property. At the time there were calls in Israel not to participate in the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Yahrzeit of the Gaon of Vilna.

Says Naphtali Lavie, vice chairman of the Executive of the World Jewish Restitution Organization: “I discussed with the country’s president that the many Lithuanian Jews living outside the country, who owned private property, could not claim it under Lithuanian law. I added that in neighboring Latvia people who live abroad can forward such claims.” There has been no progress on this matter. Lavie adds: “The Lithuanian government however carried out a successful public relations exercise. It sent over 300 remains of Torah scrolls to Israel. The Lithuanians had no alternative use for them nor could they sell them. Less than 20 scrolls were usable if one spends substantial money to repair them. All others could have been buried in Vilna rather than been transferred to Israel for burial.”98

Latvia and Estonia

Another bad case of falsification of history concerns Latvia. The Letts played an important role in many of the anti-Jewish atrocities carried out there during the war. At the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in 2000, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga rejected her country’s responsibility for the fate of its Jewish citizens: “Latvia as a country having ceased to exist at the time, the Nazi German occupying powers bear the ultimate responsibility for the crimes they committed or instigated on Latvian soil.” This is one example, which shows how if one gives up the battle for memory, entire countries will be able to get away with their lies.

In May 2002, the US Ambassador to Estonia, Joseph DeThomas published an Op-Ed in the Estonian newspaper Eesti Paevaleht. He described three areas of post Holocaust-related Estonian failures: not prosecuting Nazi war criminals, not understanding that the Holocaust is part of their history, and the little attention allocated to Holocaust education in Estonian textbooks. A few months later the Estonian government designated January 27 as a National Holocaust Day.99

The International Historians’ Commission established by Estonian President Lennart Meri in 1998 to investigate the crimes committed during the Nazi and Communist occupations, found that the 36th Estonian Police Battalion participated in the murder of the Jews of Nowogrudok (Belarus) on August 7, 1942. When the Simon Wiesenthal Center requested that the Estonian security police investigate 16 members of this battalion, it responded within two weeks that the Estonian unit had not committed war crimes; this despite the findings of the Historians’ Commission.100

Even Iceland has its Holocaust controversies. Zuroff notes that its national soccer coach Atli Edvaldsson is “using his prominence as a sports hero to rewrite the history of his Estonian Nazi war criminal father.”101

Switzerland

The Holocaust and post-Holocaust relationship of Switzerland to the Jews has many facets. In recent years, one of these has become predominant in the media. Mainly due to the lack of understanding of the mood in Western public opinion, Swiss bankers and politicians created much negative publicity for their country concerning restitution in the latter part of the 1990s. After the war Switzerland skillfully escaped the wrath of the United States and its allies concerning the support it gave to Nazi Germany under the guise of neutrality. The Swiss were accused of using their economic activities with Germany to prolong the world war.

Jewish interest in Swiss restitution focused largely on dormant Swiss bank accounts. Over the decades many complaints emerged from people claiming that their relatives had held funds in accounts with various Swiss banks. These used many subterfuges in dealing with them. Once the accounts were opened, it became clear that many had been depleted due to bureaucratic bank charges.

The costs to the banks-and to the reputation of Switzerland-because of their resistance was heavy, both in terms of money and image. The procedure established for dealing with the investigation of the dormant accounts was costly-expenses, which had to be borne by the banks. Their image was tarnished for a long time due to the massive publicity the Swiss case received. In the course of the debate, then Swiss President Pascal Delamuraz made anti-Semitic remarks. Comments Beker, “not since the Second World War had such an anti-Jewish expression (‘Jewish blackmailers’) been made by the leader of a democratic country.”102

Another aspect of the restitution process, which has not been clearly analyzed, is that what was meant to be an attempt at belated justice turned into a highly bureaucratic process. The banks and the Jewish organizations established a tribunal to deal with the claims, the CRT.

At a 1999 conference, both the banks’ representative and Israeli arbitrator, Judge Hadassa Ben-Itto spoke. The latter said that the banks’ representative:

tells us very frankly why the banks were interested in creating the CRT: they wanted an independent body to deal with the individual claims, because they did not want to deal with the individual claimants. Negative decisions had to be made by someone else, or as Dr. Romerio described in his own language, they wanted ‘to pass the buck’ to somebody else.

We were selected for this job. The buck was passed to us, but it should be made very clear that we are not here to do the banks’ business. We are acting as independent arbitrators who must do justice to both sides. Our task is not facilitated by complicated Rules of Procedure and by the lack, in many cases, of relevant bank documents. We must abide by the Rules, thus we must sometimes give individual attention to twenty files on an account which shows a balance of 5 Swiss Francs. Not only are we compelled to follow the Rules handed to us, but in this unusual procedure we must do so carefully, with much sensitivity.

This is our mandate and also our duty. And if for some unforeseen reason, the banks mistakenly thought it could be done, in these circumstances in a more accelerated manner, setting an unrealistic deadline and expecting lower costs, it should now be admitted that this was a grossly over-optimistic view.103

The restitution process has also forced a major assessment of Swiss war history by a government-appointed commission. In this belated way, an effort is underway for a more truthful description of Swiss Holocaust history.

The Netherlands

Although all national cases are atypical regarding the general European situation, studying moral attitudes toward the Jews in The Netherlands is among the more meaningful. There is substantial information available on several elements of the subject of our enquiry, although no full overview can yet be given.

Before the war, public anti-Semitism was limited in the Netherlands and its violent form was absent. Yet, after the occupation, while it was the Germans who ordered the deportation of the Jewish population, this was mainly carried out by the Dutch authorities. The percentage of Jews from The Netherlands killed during the war was higher than for any other Western European country: from approximately 140,000, about 35,000 survived.

One reason why The Netherlands is so apt a case study is that Dutch wartime history is particularly well documented. Another is the persistent myth that the Dutch generally behaved courageously and helped Jews during the war. The main contributing factor to this is Anne Frank’s diary, which ended prematurely before she was able to mention that, while she and her family were hidden by good Dutchmen, they were probably betrayed by bad ones.

This myth seems to be indestructible. For instance, in early 1986, Claude Lanzmann visited The Netherlands for the television screening of his film Shoah. He stated that, while he would not visit other countries, he was coming to The Netherlands in view of “the impeccable wartime record of the Dutch towards the Jews.”104

Even as recently as 2001, the Jewish Travel Guide wrote in its introduction to The Netherlands: “the Germans transported 100,000 to various death camps in Poland, but the local Dutch population tended to behave sympathetically towards their Jewish neighbors, hiding many.”105 The discrepancy between the war-time image and reality is probably still greater for The Netherlands than for any other country.

Negative Attitude toward Returning Jews

Dutch historians cannot be blamed that the myth persists. The government institute Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) has done important work in publishing the country’s wartime history. In 1986 Jan Blom, the present director of the NIOD, described the Dutch wartime attitude toward the Jews:

The population and the bureaucracy were equally cooperative and deferential, especially in the first years of the occupation. The immediate and strictly enforced segregation policies of the Germans were not only accepted but even willingly and efficiently assisted. With few exceptions, opposition to the occupation and sabotage of the Germans’ measures came relatively late and had little to do with the persecution of the Jews. By the time there was a large-scale underground, it was too late for the Jews.106

Another motif that merits investigation is how recent Dutch governments skillfully embellish history vis-à-vis the Dutch’s post-war attitude toward the Jews. Early on, Jewish historian Jacques Presser focused on how the Jews were received after the war in The Netherlands: “There is little doubt that, certainly in the first years after the liberation in The Netherlands-and not only in The Netherlands-there have been significant phenomena of-let’s put it neutrally-a negative attitude toward the returning Jews.”107

Among other examples, Presser relates the experience of a Jewish school teacher returning to Dutch society: “‘The good Jews are dead. The bad Jews have returned.’ That’s what a colleague of mine, a teacher, had to listen to from his boss in front of a full hall, when he returned from horrible experiences.” The “boss” in question was a generally respected personality.108 Later analyses of anti-Semitism in The Netherlands after the Liberation were carried out by historians Dienke Hondius109 and Michal Citroen.110

One of the most painful elements of the period immediately after the war was the Dutch authorities’ attitude toward Jewish children, particularly orphans. A struggle for custody of these children ensued between the remnants of the Jewish community and Christian members of the committee dealing with the issue. Israeli historian Joel Fishman states: “Upon examining the administrative development and ideological basis of the Commission for War Foster Children, one may observe that, from its inception, its spirit and structure were inherently offensive to the Jewish minority, and, of necessity, predicated an adversary relationship.”111

The most poignant definition of the post-war situation of the Jews in Holland has been given by Lipschits, in his book, The Little Shoah. Explaining its title, he says:

In the liberated Netherlands, the Jews were not physically threatened. However, we do find other symptoms of the Shoah. Verbal anti-Semitism became sharper; the despoilment of the Jews continued….Deportation and extermination had come to an end, but the…isolation of Jews continued….The [post-war] reception was so cold, bureaucratic, hostile, humiliating, so disappointing that I call the post-war period “the time of the Little Shoah.”112

Embellishing the Past

The report of the Van Kemenade Commission, which dealt with supplementary financial restitution, was published immediately after the Stockholm Forum in 2000. In anticipation of this document, Prime Minister Kok’s speech at the gathering was submitted to more than the usual scrutiny. One of his claims was that “the restoration of legal rights in the impoverished post-war Netherlands was basically correct from a legal and formal point of view.”113 Kok, leader of the Labor party, should have known that even the Van Kemenade Report would hardly support this conclusion. The commission writes: “In retrospect, a special arrangement for the Jewish victims of persecution would have been justified.”114

Embellishing the past is not an isolated phenomenon. The present Dutch government does not want its political predecessors to be judged according to their deeds. Distorting history is a moral, not a financial, matter. The Dutch Jewish community is too weak, too indifferent, too ignorant or too frightened to battle this.

Moral Aspects of Financial Restitution

The financial restitution debate has other important moral implications. Should a society share the burden which has hit some of its members particularly hard? In 2001, the Dutch state compensated those farmers whose animals had to be burned because they were-or might be-infected with foot-and-mouth disease. Those who had been directly affected by serious flooding after the war, for example, were not expected to have to shoulder the burden alone. Already by 1953 large amounts of Dutch government money was paid to flood victims, their current value totaling 2 billion dollars. Showing solidarity is a moral choice, of which laws are only an expression.

The democratic Dutch government made a different moral choice after World War II: Jews had been unfairly discriminated against and excluded by the Nazis, so, from now on, they should not be treated differently. The restitution legislation did not speak about solidarity: it spoke about returning what could be located.

There is a second moral aspect to the restitution process: how it is executed? Does it aim to return stolen goods to their rightful owners, or does it protect those in whose possession the goods are found, even if that is through malfeasance? Little doubt exists today that Dutch democratic authorities discriminated against Jews in the post-war restitution process. When the latter went to court, however, the judicial system supported them in several important cases.115

Recently, much attention has focused on the Dutch attitude to restitution of art. De Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit (SNK) was established after the war to recover Dutch-owned art sold voluntarily or under pressure to the Germans. When facing claims from the original owners, it decided too often that a sale was voluntary and thus the recovered art belonged to the Dutch state. “It fitted its aims to enrich The Netherlands with a significant collection of art.”116 Obviously, such an attitude has a moral aspect beyond policies for material restitution.

The third moral aspect to the restitution process is: how did the bureaucracy behave toward those who had been despoiled? What was their human attitude? Lipschits relates how one Jewish survivor complained that the official dealing with his restitution application asked him detailed questions about the composition, quantity and quality of his wife’s underwear, who had been gassed.117

Justice

After the war, the Dutch did not severely judge the German war criminals caught or the many Dutchmen who had, in one way or another, helped or collaborated with the Germans. The historian Ido de Haan writes: “Many were condemned but almost all were freed within a short time. Of the 152 who were condemned to death, in 100 cases the punishment was converted to a life sentence. Eleven people were judged in absentia; one committed suicide, and 40 were executed.”118

Notaries’ services were frequently needed for liquidating Jewish possessions. After the war, active collaboration was considered punishable with either dismissal or a rebuke. The Dutch Ministry of Justice found that the behavior of several hundred notaries required detailed investigation. By November 1946, however, only 13 had been dismissed and 7 had received a private rebuke.119

Holocaust Education and the Battle for Memory

The issue of Holocaust education in The Netherlands was dealt with in detail in the annual report for 2000 of the largest Dutch Jewish community organization, the Ashkenazi Orthodox Nederlands-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap (NIK). It says: “In non-Jewish society, understanding of the Holocaust is notably declining. In the younger generations, there is less and less knowledge of the fact that six million Jews were murdered in the Second World War….This fact raises the question whether this is the natural result of the passage of time, which leads to distance from the Holocaust, or whether this is the result of government policy.”120

The NIK concludes:

The Dutch policy with respect to teaching about the Holocaust can be described as insufficient….The Netherlands does not provide Holocaust education, but in its curriculum puts emphasis on the occupation of The Netherlands. Although it is good to place the Holocaust in the context of the Dutch occupation, through this it loses attention. This attention is particularly necessary in The Netherlands, where a relatively large number of Jews were deported, where Jews have made and are making major, identifiable contributions to society; but where the Jewish community, after 1945, has barely been visible.121

The report also mentions that the Committee of the Jewish Resistance during World War II canceled its public memorial meeting in 2000, as they were afraid of disturbances by Arab youngsters. As a reaction, the Amsterdam Municipality supported an important memorial meeting of Kristallnacht. Against the wishes of the Jewish organizers, however, the municipality invited an Arab speaker who used his time to attack Israel. The NIK thus concluded that, due to poor Holocaust education, its unique aspects do not figure in the awareness of large parts of the Dutch population. For many of them, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and World War II are more or less the same.122

Current Defamation

In The Netherlands, extreme defamation of the Jews and Israel is mainly confined to some Islamic circles. Early in 2001 at the Muslim elementary school, Bilal, in the city of Amersfoort, pupils watched a violent-and probably anti-Semitic-video which showed how Palestinians are maltreated and killed by Israeli soldiers.123 This school is considered one of the most liberal Muslim schools in The Netherlands.

When the Palestinian uprising started in autumn 2000, Islamic extremists shouted “Death to the Jews” at a demonstration. The police disbanded the gathering. Such occurrences were unheard of in post-war Holland, except for football stadiums. This has been particularly noted with regard to one of the country’s leading soccer clubs, Feyenoord of Rotterdam. They identify their competitors as a “Jewish” club. Thousands of Feyenoord’s fans sing from their stands: “Gas the Jews.”124 One of the former Jewish Board members of Ajax is quoted as saying: “I have seen things that, if they were filmed, could be compared to Hitler’s Germany at the beginning of the 1930s:…you arrive by bus at Feyenoord or at The Hague; hundreds of people with hatred in their eyes call out “Jews,” hiss [as an indication of the gas in Auschwitz] and make the [Nazi] salute.”125

In its 1999-2000 Annual Report, Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute of Anti-Semitism and Racism reports:

Anti-Semitic slurs have long become the norm at football matches in the Netherlands. Hissing, slogans and chants such as “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” are often heard during games. The spokesperson of CIV (Center for Information on Football Vandalism) warned that “in football arenas things are accepted which would not be tolerated elsewhere.” Even though the authorities, the judiciary and politicians agree that hissing and anti-Semitic chanting are unacceptable behavior, the law is not being enforced and games are not stopped.126

Conclusion

The above strategic overview shows that the analysis of Europe’s moral attitudes toward the Jews is important not only for understanding the past, but also in preparing Jewish actions and reactions today. It provides implications for many key issues, which will require a much more detailed and profound assessment in the coming years. Such an analysis also leads to the question of how to proceed further knowing that in order to be able to protect one’s future, one must glean a more detailed understanding of the past and present. Historians have a major, but by no means exclusive, role to play. They will have to prepare the infrastructure of knowledge, which will enable, inter alia, an analysis of the present delegitimization of Israel against the background of similar Nazi propaganda against the Jews in the days before they came to power. Psychologists will have to explain the motivations for the various defamations over the centuries. Lawyers, public affairs experts and politicians can suggest what actions can be taken and how these can be shaped. Communication experts should play an important role in applying such actions. Many core elements for this multidisciplinary process have been identified above.

 

*     *     *

Notes

63. Lutz Hachmeister, “Bücher über Rudolf Augstein,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7 November 2002 [Dutch].

64. “Spiegel gegen Augstein” Welt am Sonntag, 23 December 2001 [German].

65. Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, (New York: Schocken, 1965), p. 71.

66. Ibid., p. 72.

67. Ibid.

68. See Shmuel Trigano, “France and the Burdens of Vichy,” Beker (ed.), The Plunder of Jewish Property During the Holocaust, pp. 177-192).

69. Laurence Weinbaum, The Struggle for Memory in Poland, WJC Policy Forum No. 22, 2001, p. 6.

70. Haim Shapiro, “Uncle Sumer’s Shop,” The Jerusalem Post Magazine, 9 November 2001.

71. “Wie Riess-Passer von den Parteifreunden gestürzt wurde,” Die Welt, 9 September 2002.

72. Beker, The Plunder of Jewish Property, op. cit., p. 21.

73. Neil A. Lewis, “Documenting a Death Camp in Nazi Croatia,” New York Times, 14 November 2001.

74. Ibid.

75. Miriam Shaviv, “Croatian President Mesic apologizes to Jews from Knesset podium,” Jerusalem Post, 1 November 2001.

76. Lewis, “Documenting a Death Camp.”

77. Ibid.

78. John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New York: Viking Press, 1999).

79. Interview with Aharon Lopez to be published in Gerstenfeld, “Anti-Semitism’s Post Holocaust Origins.”

80. Haim Shapiro, “HU Prof Quits Vatican Holocaust Commission,” The Jerusalem Post, 2 November 2001.

81. Robert Wistrich, “The Demise of the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission,” Midstream, December 2001.

82. From Remarks by Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, US Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Jerusalem, 15 June 1998, as quoted by Arieh Doobov, “The Vatican and the Shoah,” in Beker, The Plunder of Jewish Property During the Holocaust.

83. Arieh Doobov, The Vatican and the Shoah: Purified Memory or Reincarnated Responsibility? WJC Policy Forum No. 15, 1998, pp. 24-25.

84. Efraim Zuroff, Aerligt opgør giver hab. Berlingske Tidende, 16 February 2000 [Danish].

85. “Denmark urged to reveal long list of Nazi collaborators,” Andrew Osborn, The Guardian, 28 August 2002.

86. Efraim Zuroff, Vi har dissuntal okända namn. Aftonbladet, 23 February 2000 [Swedish].

87. Sven Fredrik Hedin and Goran Elgemry, “Sweden’s Financial Links to Nazi Germany, Beker, The Plundering of Jewish Property During the Holocaust, pp. 207-8.

88. Ibid.

89. Bjorn Westlie, “Coming to Terms with the Past: The Process of Restitution of Jewish Property in Norway,” WJC Policy Forum No. 12, November 1996, Institute of the World Jewish Congress, p. 8.

90. Interview with Avi Beker to be published in Gerstenfeld, “Anti-Semitism’s Post Holocaust Origins.”

91. Ibid.

92. Westlie, op. cit., p. 10.

93. Ibid. p. 12.

94. Ibid. p. 12.

95. Efraim Zuroff, “Justice from the Lithuanians,” The Jerusalem Post, 20 March 1990.

96. Ibid.

97. Philo Bregstein, Terug naar Litouwen: Sporen van een joodse familie (Amsterdam: Van Gennep, 1995), p. 128 [Dutch].

98. Interview with Naftali Lavie to be published in Gerstenfeld, “Anti-Semitism’s Post- Holocaust Origins.”

99. Efraim Zuroff, letter from Simon Wiesenthal Center to colleagues and friends, August 2002.

100. Ibid.

101. Zuroff, Aerligt opgør giver hab, op. cit.

102. Beker, The Plunder of Jewish Property During the Holocaust, p. 13.

103. Hadassa Ben-Itto, Introductory Remarks to the Panel on Jurisdiction of the CRT and Different Types of Procedures, AFA study day, 1999.

104. Quoted in Henriette Boas, “Commemorating the Holocaust in Holland: Positive and Negative Aspects” in Michman, Dutch Jewish History, vol. 2, op. cit., p. 320.

105. Michael Zaidner (ed.), Jewish Travel Guide 2001, international edition (London: Vallentine Mitchell, in association with The Jewish Chronicle, 2001), p. 154.

106. J.C.H. Blom, “The Persecution of the Jews in The Netherlands,” Michman, Dutch Jewish History, vol. 2, op. cit., p. 289.

107. Jacques Presser, Ondergang. De vervolging en verdelging van het Nederlandse jodendom, part 2 (The Hague: Staatsuitgeverij, 1965), p. 515 [Dutch].

108. Ibid.

109. Dienke Hondius, Terugkeer [Return] Antisemitisme in Nederland rond de bevrijding, second edition (The Hague: Uitgevers, 1998) [Dutch].

110. Michal Citroen, U Wordt Door Niemand Verwacht. Nederlandse joden na kampen en onderduik [Nobody Is Expecting You] (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1999), p. 9 [Dutch].

111. Joel S. Fishman, “The War Orphan Controversy,” in “The Netherlands: Majority-minority Relations,” Jozeph Michman & Tirtsah Levie (eds.), Dutch Jewish History, vol. 1: “Proceedings of the Symposium on the History of the Jews in The Netherlands,” November 28-December 3, 1982 (Tel Aviv-Jerusalem: Tel-Aviv University/Hebrew University of Jerusalem/The Institute for Research on Dutch Jewry, 1984), p. 431.

112. Isaac Lipschits, De Kleine Sjoa: Joden in Naoorlogs Nederland (Amsterdam: Mets & Schilt, 2001), p. 10.

113. Speech of Prime Minister Wim Kok, International Forum on the Holocaust, Stockholm, 26 January 2000.

114. Commissie Van Kemenade, “Tweede Wereldoorlog: Roof en Rechtsherstel,” Eindrapport van de Contactgroep Tegoeden WO II, Amsterdam, 27 January 2000, p. 102 [Dutch].

115. Gerard Aalders, Berooid: De beroofde joden en het Nederlandse restitutiebeleid sinds 1945 (Amsterdam: Boom, 2001), p. 194ff [Dutch].

116. “Er viel niet veel te willen,” NRC Handelsblad, 14 November 1997 [Dutch].

117. Lipschits, op. cit., p. 97 [Dutch].

118. Ido de Haan, “Na de Ondergang: de herinnering aan de Jodenvervolging,” Nederland 1945-1995 (Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers, 1997), p. 104 [Dutch].

119. Aalders, op. cit., p. 196 [Dutch].

120. Nederlands-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap,” Jaarverslag 2000: Het morele boek gaat nooit dicht [Dutch].

121. Ibid.

122. Ibid.

123. “Vertoning anti-Israëlfilm op islamitische basisschool,” De Volkskrant, 5 February 2001 [Dutch].

124. Simon Kuper, Ajax, de joden,Nederland (Amsterdam: Hard Gras, March 2000) Issue 22, p. 141 [Dutch].

125. Ibid.

126. 1999-2000 Annual Report, Stephen Roth Institute on Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, 2000. See also the web site: www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw99-2000/netherlands.htm.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is emeritus chairman (2000-2012) of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The author was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His latest book is The War of a Million Cuts: The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism (2015). His previous books include Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism; Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process, 1997-2000; and The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses.