Yesterday, former Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Els Borst passed away. In an interview that I published at the TT with Dr.Manfred Gerstenfeld in 2011, Deputy PM Els Borst recommended that the Netherlands finally apologize for its collaboration with the Germans against the Jews in the Second World War.
She confirmed that at the beginning of January 2012 to the Dutch daily De Pers after they mentioned that they had read about her comments in Dr.Gerstenfeld’s book on the post-war restitution called Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process 1997-2000.
That story was republished by hundreds of media in the world, including ABC, CNN, FoxNews, the official Chinese news agency and so on. This re-posting of that original interview is dedicated to her memory.
The Netherlands Should Apologize to the Jewish Community
Interview with Els Borst by Manfred Gerstenfeld
“If I had been prime minister I would have offered apologies to the Dutch Jewish community without hesitation. This would refer both to our government’s attitude during the Second World War and to the very late postwar discovery that the restitution process had been poorly conceived.”
Dr. Els Borst-Eilers was minister of public health, wellbeing, and sport from 1994 to 2002 and also Deputy Prime Minister for the last four years. She says about her background: “I was eight years old when the Germans invaded our country in 1940 and thirteen when they were ejected. At that age you are already aware of many things. I have always lived in Amsterdam. During the war we inhabited the Rivieren neighborhood where many Jews lived at the time. Our downstairs neighbors were Jews, and there were also Jews a few houses from us. We saw how they were rounded up and taken away. That made a very great impression on me.
“We now know that the persecution of the Dutch Jews hardly bothered Queen Wilhelmina in her London exile. She spoke all the time about the heroes of the resistance and thought that the entire Netherlands was resisting. The Queen spoke in a manner of ‘all of you who fight so courageously,’ which was far from the truth.
“The weak Dutch government in exile in London should not have left everything to the Queen. Prime Minister Pieter Gerbrandy should have addressed the population on the radio to the effect that ‘we expect you to protect your fellow Jewish citizens from deportation. Try to take them into your homes, help them to flee, do whatever you can. You must do something for our fellow citizens.’
“My feeling is that if all Catholics or Reformed Christians had been deported to Germany, the Dutch government in London would have instructed the population in the occupied Netherlands to help them. The government’s attitude testified that its members, like many others, saw the Jewish Dutchmen as a special group who were not ‘real Dutchmen.’
“Before the war many Dutchmen thought the 140,000 Jews among them were a group that should be watched. They might be a threat – for instance, they might get the good jobs, or aspire to dominance in the financial world. These people were parroting each other with no knowledge of the facts.”
“This lack of interest in the fate of the Jews was a consequence of prewar anti-Semitism in the Netherlands. It also existed in my nice family. I had a fully Jewish uncle who had married a non-Jew. At the beginning of the war he divorced his wife in order to save her from danger. He thereby endangered himself as he was then no longer in a mixed marriage. He was hidden all throughout the war and fortunately enough survived. Our entire family was happy about this.
“Yet before the war, for instance at family gatherings for a birthday, it was quite common to hear comments such as ‘a typical Jewish trick’ or ‘the Jews take good care of themselves.’ That was when someone had done something smart with money. I noticed this already as a small child.
“None of us would have wanted to do any evil to a Jew. Yet there was a feeling of ‘they have done very well financially’ despite the fact that there were many very poor Jews in Amsterdam.”
Borst sees parallels between the war years, her time in the government and current Dutch politics. She was a minister at the time of the mass murder in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, and also when the results of the subsequent inquiry by the Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) were published in 2002. The NIOD claimed in its report that when the Dutch government decided to recall the Dutch United Nations soldiers from Srebrenica, it did not know of the dangers to the Bosnian citizens. Borst remarks: “The NIOD embellished what had happened.”
After Minister Jan Pronk of the Labor Party said the government had actually known what was happening in Srebrenica and about the dangers to the citizens there, Borst confirmed that this was true.
As far as the present is concerned, Borst says: “There are many nice, peaceful Muslims, but the Netherlands is far too tolerant regarding the statements of the radical wing of Islam. This also concerns Moroccan youngsters who make anti-Semitic remarks or commit anti-Semitic acts. They were not born as Jew-haters, but they live in a culture where this is tolerated or even encouraged.”
This is a shortened version of an interview which appeared in Dutch in Manfred Gerstenfeld’s bestselling book “The Decay: Jews in a Rudderless Netherlands.”(2010) The full interview in English can be read at: