This was first published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), and republished here with the author’s consent.
DID DUTCH JEWS GO LIKE DOCILE LAMBS TO THE GAS CHAMBERS?
“I’ve always been intrigued by how it was possible, that the Jews – such a courageous, militant nation – were chased like docile lambs into the gas chambers.” This was said in an interview in the largest Dutch daily De Telegraaf on June 8 by retired General Toine Beukering. He is a freshman Dutch senator of the Forum for Democracy, which is anti-immigration and eurosceptic. This new party has become the largest in the Senate. As such, the Senate’s chair is expected to be chosen from it. Beukering is its candidate.
Beukering explained in the interview that one of the reasons he joined the Dutch military was that he read a shelf full of books on the Shoah as a child. The interviewer asked him whether he understood that people would be shocked when they read his remarks about the Jews and the gas chambers. Beukering answered that he had participated in the Dutch kippa-wearing day in solidarity with Jews. He apologized for his words a few days later.1
The former general’s words once again demonstrate the resistance myth the Dutch have created about their wartime history after their country was liberated from German occupation in May 1945 by the Allies.
The reality is very different. In May 1940, a few days after the Germans invaded the Netherlands, the Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina of Oranje, without consulting her ministers, fled to London. Most ministers followed her. They left no instructions to the remaining functionaries about how to act during the occupation. The Dutch army capitulated within a few days.
The Dutch Supreme Court was among the first to betray the Jews. In 1940, the Germans asked all Dutch officials and teachers to sign a declaration that they were not Jewish. Almost all concerned signed, including the non-Jewish members of the Supreme Court. So did almost all employees of the Ministry of Justice. The Germans used this declaration to exclude Jews from official positions. Lodewijk Visser, the Jewish President of the Supreme Court was dismissed by the Germans in early 1941.
In 2011, a book was published about the Supreme Court during the German occupation. The authors concluded that this court “lost the halo of the highest maintainers of justice in the Netherlands.” When the book was publicly presented the then President of the Supreme Court Geert Corstens said that this signing of the declaration of not being Jews: “went against everything which the Supreme Court should have stood for.”2
The Jews, who had to wear yellow stars, were increasingly isolated in a nation where the collaboration by far exceeded the membership of the pre-war Dutch national socialist party (NSB). In addition, among most of the population there was total indifference toward the Jews and their fate.
Members of the Dutch police knew that it was their task to arrest only criminals. Yet they greatly assisted the Germans in arresting Jews including babies and the elderly. Jews were transported by the Dutch railways to the Westerbork transit camp. There they were guarded by the Dutch military police. More than 100,000 Dutch Jews – over 70% of the prewar Jewish population — were sent to their death from Westerbork to German camps in Poland.
In 2018, an exhibition about the Jews and the Royal House of Oranje took place at the Amsterdam Jewish Museum. There one could listen to an audio-recording of the few sentences Queen Wilhelmina allocated to her Jewish citizens on Dutch radio in her multiple speeches during the war. They were spoken in an offhand manner. This impassive speech was contrasted at the exhibition by the recording of her fiery talk against the mobilization of Dutch men to work in Germany.3
A small percentage of the Dutch population – very courageous people — helped Jews. Twenty-four thousand Jews went into hiding. Of these, 16,000 survived. Many others were betrayed or caught by unique Dutch volunteer organizations — a civil and a police one — who were rewarded monetarily for every Jew they captured.4
In the Dutch resistance, Jews who before the war were less than 1.5% of the population played a disproportionately large role. This fact has been underpublicized by both media and historians. A monument near the Amsterdam municipality testifies to the Jewish resistance.5
A few months after the end of the war Steef van Schaik, Minister of Transport and Energy — of the Catholic KVP party — addressed a large gathering of railway employees in The Hague. He said: “With your trains, the unhappy victims were brought to the concentration camps. In your hearts, there was revolution. Nevertheless you did it. That is to your honor. It was the duty the Dutch government asked from you because the railways are one of the pillars which support the economic life of the Dutch people. That should not be put at risk too early.”
It was since clarified that Van Schaik was radically distorting the truth. There had hardly, if ever, been a discussion about transporting the Jews between the train drivers. One apprentice driver however refused to take part in the transports. Years later, a journalist wrote in an Amsterdam daily about Van Schaik’s words: “the most horrible text ever said by a Dutch minister.”6
After the war the Dutch had a psychological need to soften the impact of their rapid defeat in May 1940 against the Germans. That led to the verbal expanding of heroic acts by the Dutch during the occupation. Part of this was exaggerated or even imaginary. In that scenario, there was at best, place for the Jews as second rank victims. The image was that they had not resisted, but chose to be deported meekly. It is this profoundly false motif which came to light again in Beukering’s words. These type of feelings also played out in the attitude toward Dutch Jews among ministers of the first postwar government. There was a certain coolness toward or even disdain for the Jews.
When Jewish representatives met the first postwar Prime Minister Willem Schermerhorn – a Laborite – he told them that he did not consider it his task to see to it that Jewish capitalists would receive back their assets. These had been entirely stolen by the Germans.
Many decades later the management board of the railways and some local police chiefs apologized for the war time role of their predecessors in the persecution of Dutch Jews. Yet in 2012, the then liberal Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, refused to apologize on behalf of the police at large. This even though a number of members of police can be considered among the main Dutch accessories in the process of carrying out the genocide of the Jews.
The distorted “docile lambs” expression acquires even more perspective in view of the attitude of postwar Dutch governments. The current liberal Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has set the Netherlands apart as the only Western European country which has refused to admit the huge failures of its war time governments, let alone apologize for them.
3 “Expositie over Oranjes en Joodse gemeenschap, inclusief pijnlijke episodes”, NOS, 13 April 2018.
6 Frans Peeters, “Die lijn naar Westerbork diende goed doel?” Het Parool, 22 September 2005.
Isaac Lipschits, De Kleine Sjoa (Amsterdam: Mets & Schilt, 2001), 164.