This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was originally published by the Begin Sadat Institute, and republished here with the author’s consent.
ATTITUDE TOWARD JEWS AS INDICATOR OF PROFOUND DUTCH HYPOCRISY
The Netherlands is a profoundly hypocritical society. To prove such a statement in detail would require a lengthy book. One possible shortcut to support this claim is to observe a small segment of the population which has multiple complex interactions with society at large.
Dutch Jewry fits the bill for understanding a country whose extreme behavior cannot easily be seen. The Netherlands isn’t particularly hospitable to its Jews, nor can one rank its attitude toward them among Europe’s worst. Only a few foreign correspondents are based in the country. Negative aspects of the Netherlands rarely make it into international media.
In May 1940, the Netherlands was occupied by the invading Germans within a few days. In the following years more than 70% of its 140,000 strong Jewish population were murdered after having been sent to German camps, mainly in Poland. In the preparatory activities for what would lead to genocide, the Dutch authorities followed German orders. Dutch policemen arrested Jews including babies, knowing full well that the police should only arrest criminals. The Dutch railways transported the Jews to the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, and from there to the German border. Dutch police guarded the Jews in the camp.
The Dutch government in exile in London gave no instructions to the bureaucracy in their occupied country. One government employee in London, Henri Dentz, wrote a report in December 19431 which stated that most Dutch Jews had already been murdered. This report was sent to all ministries and to a number of other Dutch institutions in London including the Red Cross. After the war Dentz testified that nobody wanted to read it.2
While authorities in the occupied Netherlands assisted the Germans, a small minority of good Dutchmen helped 24,000 Jews to hide. A third of these were betrayed. The Netherlands was the only occupied country where special local police units and a group of private volunteers were tracking down Jews in hiding against payment.3 In spite of all this, the Dutch government remains the only one in Western Europe which refuses consistently to admit the huge failures of its London predecessors toward the Jews during the Second World War. Even the small states of Luxembourg4 and Monaco5 have admitted their war time failures and offered their apologies.
In an interview with an Israeli government radio station in 2000, then Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok said: “The Dutch have never been responsible for the misconduct of the Germans in the Netherlands during the war.” He made no reference at all to the responsibility for the wartime misconduct toward the Dutch Jews by the Dutch authorities, institutions, and many individuals. It was an example of creating a strawman that then can be brought down. Nobody had accused the Dutch for what the Germans had done.
This absence of admission and apology for crimes and negligence represent key elements of the hypocritical characteristics of Dutch society. One can see this even more clearly in Dutch behavior elsewhere. The Netherlands committed huge war crimes in the military campaigns of 1947 and 1948 — euphemistically known as “police actions” — in its then colony, the Dutch Indies, now Indonesia.
Over the decades hardly anybody cared about Dutch war crimes even after the occasional publication of articles about them. Dutch officer Raymond Westerling, had been in charge of “pacifying” parts of the island of Sulawesi during the Indonesian war. An interview with him in which he admitted war crimes was filmed in 1969. All Dutch TV stations refused to broadcast it. It was finally shown in 2012.6 In 1971, Westerling told a journalist over a glass of diluted whisky that he had court-martialed 350 captives and personally executed them.7 Again, no action was taken by justice authorities. In the late 1960’s a young Dutch historian, Cees Fasseur, was officially charged to investigate these “police actions”. He later admitted the superficial nature of the research.8
In 1997, historian Ad van Liempt wrote a book, The Train of Corpses in which he details how the Dutch starved to death about half of the local captives in a train transport during that war. Van Liempt told me that many found it scandalous that he wrote the book.9 A Dutch filmmaker I know made a movie in 1995 about the Dutch army’s mass killings of hundreds of men in the village of Rawagede on the island of Java. He told me that the locals mentioned that similar crimes had happened in nearby villages.10
In 2017, Dutch-Swiss historian, Rémy Limpach, published an 870-page book – including more than 2400 footnotes — about Dutch war crimes that took place in 1947 and 1948 in the Dutch Indies against independence fighters and criminal bands. He concluded that these crimes were structural and not incidental as had been claimed before. The book gives many examples of the soldiers committing arson, torturing and shooting prisoners, and killing women and children. It also mentions rape of minors by them.11 Several book reviews were published but there were no major reactions in Dutch society.
I have asked two leading Dutch historians about the reasons for the Dutch indifference toward their problematic past, Frank van Vree answered: “The history of war memory shows that the Netherlands is willing to look at the weaknesses of its society. But at the same time the obstinate thought exists that the Netherlands has erred in many ways; but all in all it has done many things better than others…The feeling of ‘if we haven’t done it well, we’ve done it better than others’ is deeply ingrained in Dutch culture. On the one hand there is acknowledgement, on the other hand there is glossing over.”12
Hans Blom said “The Netherlands is a country where the need to make compromises was present very intensely early in its history. In addition one can say that the Netherlands in the 19th and 20th century has developed a tradition to think that ‘we’ are a country with very high moral standards. In the 19th century it became unavoidably clear that the powerful Netherlands of the Republic of the United Netherlands was no longer a significant factor…In these small Netherlands a self-image emerged that it is nicer to be the world’s most moral nation, rather than the most powerful.
In such a tradition of high moral self-image, it is more difficult to publicly and properly treat events where that is evidently not the case.”13
In this environment of make believe, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, even dared to say in 2015 about the Netherlands: “We have a marvelously perfect country, full of energy and creativity.”14
The above are only some examples of Dutch indifference to its own criminal past. Many others can be added. Neglecting this past enables the Dutch government and parts of the political system to act as moral judges over others. Israel is a prime target.
1 Report H. Dentz, London, December 1943. [Dutch]
2 Isaac Lipschits, De Kleine Sjoa, Joden in naoorlogs Nederland (Amsterdam: Mets & Schilt, 2001), 11–12.
4 “Luxembourg apologizes for role in WWII persecution of Jews,” Haaretz, 12 June 2015.
5 Associated Press, “Prince Albert apologizes for Monaco’s role during the Holocaust,” The Guardian, 28 August 2015.
7 Rolf Boost, “Westerling spreekt voor de laatste maal: Ik was geen luitenant Calley,” Panorama, 1971.
9 Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Ad van Liempt, “Onvermoeibaar op zoek naar Feiten,” Aleh, April 2018
10 Personal communication Alfred Edelstein.
11 Remy Limpach, De brandende kampongs van Generaal Spoor, (Amsterdam: Boom,2016)