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January 11, 2019 9:36 am

The Crimes of the Dutch: A Lesson in Hypocrisy

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld


Amsterdam, Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Netherlands is a profoundly hypocritical society. To prove such a statement in detail would require a lengthy book. But one possible shortcut to support this claim is to observe a small segment of the population that has multiple complex interactions with society at large. And 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, and negative aspects of the Netherlands rarely make it into the 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 1943, 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.

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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 people were betrayed — and sometimes hunted by local police units and a group of private volunteers. In spite of all this, the Dutch government remains the only one in Western Europe that refuses consistently to admit the huge failures of its London predecessors during the Second World War. Even the small states of Luxembourg and Monaco have admitted their war time failures, and offered their apologies.

This absence of admission and apology for crimes and negligence represents 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. In 1971, Westerling told a journalist over a glass of diluted whisky that he had court-martialed 350 captives and personally executed them. Again, no action was taken by justice authorities.  

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.

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 the rape of minors. Several book reviews were published, but there were no major reactions in Dutch society.

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 — and Israel is a prime target.

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