Two book reviews of Dr.Manfred Gerstenfeld’s “Behind the Humanitarian Mask and of Judging the Netherlands in the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, by Steven Jacobs at the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism. Volume 4, Issue 1. If you haven’t read these two ground breaking books by Gerstenfeld, they are available to be read freely at the JCPA’s own website.
Manfred Gerstenfeld, ed. Behind the Humanitarian Mask:
The Nordic Countries, Israel, and the Jews
(Jerusalem: Jewish Center for Public Affairs, 2008). 256 pp. $29
Available online: www.jcpa.org.
Manfred Gerstenfeld’s Judging the Netherlands:
The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process, 1997-2000
(Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs), 2011. 217 pp. $29
Steven Leonard Jacobs*
Writing in the (British) Weekly Standard on the controversial rightwing
Dutch politician Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the third largest
political party in Holland, the Party for Freedom, Sam Schulman makes the
Looking, no doubt, for a noncontroversial way to recapture his momentum, in the new year, Wilder’s eyes fell on an unlikely savior: Manfred Gerstenfeld, an Israeli who grew up in Holland and now directs a Jerusalem think tank. Gerstenfeld is widely feared among European elites. He is the scourge of anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism and is likely to pop up in any EU country with carefully documented statistics and dramatic examples of mistreatment of Jewish schoolchildren, hypocrisy on the part of proudly anti-Israel governments and media, and a well turned phrase describing the level of anti-Semitism in contemporary Norway, Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Belgium, Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands—to name only countries that he eviscerated in the first three weeks of 2012.1
These two texts presently under review further concretize Schulman’s observation about Gerstenfeld’s important and significant work. Taken together with three previous volumes also reviewed in this journal—The Abuse of Academic Memory (2009), Academics Against Israel and the Jews (2007), and Europe’s Crumbling Myths (2003)—they are a veritable encyclopedia in microcosm of the treatment of Jews throughout the EU, before, during, and after the Holocaust/Shoah.2 And while Gerstenfeld’s anger is apparent in all these volumes, it is his disturbing and uncomfortable comment that “it now seems that the Holocaust’s impact on European democracies may largely have been a temporary phenomenon” that must give us pause.3 And given the reporting of increasing incidents throughout the European continent, and Great Britain as well, of the so-called “new antisemitism,”4 it is not too far-fetched to suggest that Jews, once again, find themselves at the precipice edge of the abyss waiting for the next bomb to drop.
Turning first to Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process, 1997-2000, Gerstenfeld’s solo-authored text, one must begin with the sobering fact that “the Dutch Jewish community lost a larger percentage of its population [upwards of 70%—SLJ] during the Shoah than any other West European Jewish community.”5 As Gerstenfeld writes:
The aim of this book is thus not only to describe the research findings of the commissions of inquiry and the negotiations of the renewed Dutch
1. Sam Schulman, “So Sorry: The Old sStory: European Politician Gets in
Trouble, Helps the Jews,” The Weekly Standard, February 13, 2012, 30. Emphasis
2. Steven Leonard Jacobs, “Gerstenfeld Redux,” Journal for the Study of
Antisemitism, 2(2): 495-499.
3. Manfred Gerstenfeld, ed., Behind the Humanitarian Mask, 20.
4. The term “new antisemitism” is itself a controversial and much-debated
term but nonetheless fully equated with either “anti-Israelism” or “anti-Zionism,”
using the tropes of “classical” antisemitism, such as blood libels, global conspiracy,
financial acumen and ruination of others, and governmental manipulation and
5. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Judging the Netherlands, 13. The pioneering work of
Dutch historian Jacob Presser (1889-1970), professor of modern history at the University of Amsterdam, remains the best overall telling of this tragic story, and one
commissioned by the Dutch government. See Jacob Presser, Ashes in the Wind:
The Destruction of Dutch Jewry (London: Souvenir Press, 2010; originally published
in 1965. Translated by Arnold Pomerans.).
restitution process. It also attempts to create a perspective about the interaction between the Jewish community and the Dutch government, as well as with other powerful segments of Dutch society: the banking sector, the insurance world, and the stock exchange . . . The description of the essence of the research findings of the commissions of inquiry and the ensuing negotiations with their counterparts is one main aspect. This book, however, also deals with issues concerning the Jewish community. Another aim was to show the actions and feelings of those involved and how they expressed themselves.6
Given Gerstenfeld’s extensive agenda for this volume, and his accompanying documentation, it is certainly not surprising that he skewers the “myth” of the supposedly positive attitude of the Dutch toward the Jews, buttressed by the fact that “the Netherlands—relative to its population—had the highest number of Waffen SS volunteers in Western Europe” (24), and further buttressed by its vaunted parading of the Anne Frank story but without reflecting Dutch reality at all, explicitly stating instead that “the vast majority of the nation accommodated itself to circumstances” (27). Following Presser and others, Gerstenfeld also concludes that “The Dutch government in exile made little effort to help the Jews. Nor was it prepared to ease the plight of returning Jews after the war” (25).
Assessing and documenting the work of the Kordes Commission (1997), the Scholten Commission (1999), and the Van Kemenade Commission (1999), coupled with the weakness and lack of unity of the surviving Jewish community and its hesitancy and reluctance to involve international Jewish organizations in its situation (e.g., the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization [WJRO]), it is not surprising that years later the Jews remained vulnerable and somewhat at risk, not only from the government but powerful banking, insurance, and stock exchange interests as well. Though commenting directly on the Kordes Commission, Gerstenfeld’s conclusion applies equally well to the other two: “How coldly the surviving Jews were treated by the Dutch postwar governments and other authorities” (65). Earlier, his summary conclusion is equally transparent:
“The renewed restitution process of the late 1990s underlined that the Dutch government had no intention of taking full responsibility for the shortcomings of its wartime and postwar predecessors toward the Jews”(19).
Expanding his reach, Gerstenfeld devotes significant chapters to the cases of the insurance industry (Chapter 10) and the banking industry and the stock exchange (Chapter 13), all of which derived significant financial benefits from the plight of the Jews and their own collaboration/accommo-
6. Gerstenfeld, Judging the Netherlands, 16-18.
dation to their Nazi overlords. Though all three industrial areas have been forced to acknowledge their own complicity and have made numerous attempts to downplay and limit those involvements, when all is said and done, the picture Gerstenfeld paints is one of overriding tragedy for those who survived and their descendants, and a token pittance (upwards of only $250,000,000 guilders), which dishonors both those who did not survive
and the past and present Dutch governments and their participating institutions as well. Given all the denials and attempts at obfuscation, political manipulations, and other excuses, Gerstenfeld is forced to conclude that “what was achieved by the Central Jewish Council can be considered reasonable under the circumstances even if far from optimal” (188)—much to his own sadness, and ours as well.
Turning next to his edited text, Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel, and the Jews, Gerstenfeld takes great pains to remind his readers that the Jewish communities in Nordic countries are very small, numbering altogether about 25,000. The largest community is in Sweden, with an estimated 15,000 Jews. There are about 7,400 Jews in Denmark, 1,300 Jews in Norway, and 1,200 Jews in Finland. Iceland has a few Jewish inhabitants. but no organized Jewish community.7
After a long essay by Gerstenfeld (18-77), what follows are a series of essays and interviews focusing specially on the countries under his microscope by a variety of distinguished colleagues—historians, professors, journalists, ambassadors, parliamentarians, NGO executives: four on Sweden, our on Norway, two on Denmark, two on Finland, and one on Iceland.
While not major players on the world’s political stage—with the possible exception of the international hue and cry and responses over the case of the Danish anti-Muslim/anti-Islamic satirical cartoons in 20058—the pictures painted are uniformly bleak and depressing; “the projection of anti-Israel sentiments onto Jewish communities is a widespread pattern throughout Europe” (15). Such an assessment must, therefore, be coupled with the understanding that “anti-Semitism is a deep-rooted, integral part of European culture and has been promoted systematically and intensely over many centuries, initially by large parts of Christianity and since the nineteenthcentury by nationalist movements” (19).
In addition, specific examples abound throughout this text that further
reveal the increasing vulnerabilities of Nordic Jewish communities and the
refusal of their governments to acknowledge their own complicities in the
7. Manfred Gerstenfeld, ed., Behind the Humanitarian Mask, 30.
8. See Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons that Shook the World (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 2009).
2012] DOUBLE GERSTENFELD 319
past and continuing antisemitic activities in the present. Let me cite a few
Denmark: “. . . the increasing indifference toward Holocaust victims . . .
the state-run Department for Holocaust and Genocide of the Danish Institute
for International Studies decided, regarding the annual Auschwitz
Day ceremony, not to commemorate or even mention the Jewish victims
of Danish expulsions” (199)—Vilha’lmur O‥ rn Vilja’lmsson and Bent
Denmark: “The issue of Denmark’s wartime collaboration with the Nazis
may be much more substantial that has been acknowledged until now.
Unopened archives may contain the names of about three hundred thousand
Nazis or Nazi sympathizers . . . much of Denmark’s industry and
agriculture collaborated with the Nazis, and . . . twelve thousand Danes
actually fought with the Germans against the Russians” (64-65)—Manfred
Finland: “A few years ago, it became known that Finland had handed
over Soviet prisoners of war—among them a number of Jews—to the
Germans during World War II. Finland’s wartime past regarding the Jews
is worse than usually portrayed” (209)—Serah Beizer.
Iceland: “The situation for Jewish refugees in 1930s Iceland was generally
worse than for other foreigners . . . The Jews were simply not welcome
in this country . . . Jews in Iceland experienced open anti-Semitism
before the issue of Israel and the Middle East conflict emerged” (222,
223, 233)—Vilja’lmur O‥ rn Vilja’lmsson.
Norway: “In principle, the Norwegian law and constitution grant freedom
of religion to everyone. In practice, the one exception is the Jews. Norway
is one of the few countries in the world where shechita [ritual
slaughtering] is banned . . . In Norway . . . the ban was introduced three
years before the Nazis took power in Germany and continues until today,
whereas hallal [Muslim ceremonial slaughter] is permitted” (143) —Erez
Sweden: “Sweden remains only one of the few countries in the world that
refuse, in principle, to investigate suspected Holocaust perpetrators,
regardless of their being Swedish citizens or not, and the places where
they are suspected of having committed their wartime crimes” (116)—
If “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty [or freedom],”9 then for
Jews especially and others who support them, including governments and
9. Not earth-shaking, to be sure, but the actual authorship of both of these
versions is somewhat contested. Among the suggested authors are Irish politician
John Philpot Curran (1750-1817), African-American journalist Ida B. Wells (1862-
their various ancillary institutions, the work of Gerstenfeld and others and
the Israeli think tank the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and its
Institute for Global Jewish Affairs (IGJA) remain valued as primary
sources not only for the past but for the present and future as well. While
guaranteeing neither Jewish safety, security, nor survival, armed with this
information, we realize that what is now called for is a worldwide movement
committed to the survival of one of the world’s oldest contributory
groups whose own difficult journey continues to benefit humankind.
*Steven Leonard Jacobs is a rabbi and the Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair of Judaic
Studies at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa. He is an associate editor for the
JSA and the author of several books, including his most recent, The Jewish Experience
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010).
1931), U.S. president Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), and/or American abolitionist
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884).