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February 14, 2023 11:30 am

A New Firsthand Account of the Dutch Holocaust Sheds Light on History

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avatar by Steve Wenick


The sign “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) is pictured at the main gate of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. Reuters/Pawel Ulatowski

History records that on Friday, May 10, 1940, the roar of propellers overhead heralded the arrival of a shower of Luftwaffe paratroopers that fell from the sky onto Dutch soil. Recently, a deluge of histories, accounts, and diaries of World War II have come to light, which illuminate the Netherlands’ response to the Nazis’ genocidal aims against the Jews of that country.

“The Diary Keepers” (HarperCollins Feb. 21, 2023) is a collection of diaries, gathered by a “second-generation survivor” — author and New York Times journalist Nina Siegal — who reveals the heretofore little-known stories of the Nazi conquest of the Netherlands, leading to the Dutch Holocaust. Siegal gleaned much of the history for her book from interviews of survivors, and from the archives of the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation. The institute serves as a repository where ordinary people can deposit their notebooks, scrapbooks, letters, index cards, photographs, and diaries, to serve as written witnesses to the greatest crime of man against man in human history.

A trove of first-hand accounts written by ordinary Dutch citizens shatters the illusion of Dutch neutrality, revealing the Dutch authorities’ shameful complicity of silence in the face of the persecution of their fellow Jewish citizens. The reasons for the cooperation were as varied as they were deceitful. There were government officials who said they felt helpless, defenseless, and afraid, while others were eager accomplices. The Dutch government felt the horrors visited upon the two percent minority population of Jews was better than it being put upon the rest of the population. As they explained, it was “the lesser of two evils.” Therefore, they discouraged any resistance against the Nazis, by the majority population.

But not all Dutch citizens remained silent. During February 1941, the Nazis, with the aid of local NSB (Dutch Fascist Party) thugs, unceremoniously dragged more than 400 Jews out of their homes, beat them, and then pushed them into trucks destined to haul them to terminals of death. Unlike their government, outraged Dutch citizens did not remain silent; they courageously called a two-day strike of 300,000 workers. It was a landmark event of resistance and valor, known until this day as The February Strike.

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But what is particularly shocking is that the Netherlands, which has always been considered a progressive country famous for its tolerance and broad-mindedness, had the worst survival rate of Jews in all of Western Europe. Of 140,000 Dutch Jews, only 35,000 survived, a meager 25%. That, compared to Belgium’s 60% and France’s 75% survival rate, is hard to square.

The answer, in part, is that it happened with the active participation of the Dutch police. They aggressively hunted down Jews and turned them over to the Gestapo. Dutch government officials were no better, as they expelled Jewish children from public schools, fired Jewish employees, invalidated professional licenses of Jews, shuttered Jewish businesses, and forbade Jews from owning radios, telephones, and bicycles. They were also forced to wear the Star of David.

However, there were instances of non-Jews who at great personal risk and peril, wore the Star of David in support of the Jews; some of those who did so were arrested and never heard from again. Another example of resistance was when a Dutch church organized a group they called The Triad. It was established specifically to save Jews by employing various surreptitious strategies; their efforts achieved a high rate of success.

By reading Nina Siegal’s collection of accounts of events, as written by the resisters, the collaborators, and the Jewish victims of Germany’s monstrous undertaking, you will learn, but not understand, how humankind could have willfully turned a blind eye to the Holocaust occurring in the Netherlands and throughout Europe.

Steve Wenick, upon retiring from IBM as an IT analyst, took up blogging and writing articles of Jewish interest. His book reviews and articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, and the Jewish Voice of South Jersey. He lives with his wife in Voorhees, New Jersey.

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