The Righteous in the Netherlands
The German invasion of the Netherlands began on 10th May 1940 and ended eight days later with that country’s defeat. At that time, around 140,000 lived in the Netherlands, of whom the majority lived in the coastal provinces, including the 80,000 who lived in Amsterdam.
One of the German administration’s first moves against the Jews was when, in the summer of 1940, General Wimmer banned all Jews from being employed by the civil service and banned anyone with “Jewish blood” (i.e. who had a Jewish grandparent) from being promoted. At the same time, the Dutch Interior Ministry issued a circular to its regional aadminstration requesting a list of all their Jewish employees. On 5th October 1940, they received an edict from the Third Reich banning all such persons from the civil service. On 22nd October 1940, a regulation was issued defining who was a “Jew” in accordance with the Nuremberg laws.
Jewish doctors, notaries and lawyers were forbidden to work for non-Jews. Jews were expelled from universities and banned from all swimming pools and public parks. Soon afterwards, Jews were removed from commercial life and a process of “aryanisation” of Jewish assets began in the Netherlands. Jews were then removed from the industrial sector and from the liberal professions. In August 1941, bank accounts, debts owing and shares of Jews were frozen. All they were allowed were 250 guilders per month.
On 10th January 1941, Reichskommisar Arthur Seyss-Inquart ordered the registration of all Jews, including all those who had just one Jewish grandparent. That process showed that, at that time in the Netherlands, of the 160,000 who registered, 140,000 were considered Jews by the Nazis (i.e. they had at least three Jewish grandparents) and 20,000 whom the Germans called mischlings, those who had fewer Jewish ancestors.
In July 1941, all Jewish documents had to be marked with the letter “J”. Over the following months, measures were introduced which limited Jewish movement and the use of public transport. In January 1942, Dutch Jews were stygmatised with the compulsory wearing of the Star of David. A curfew was instated and Jews could only do their shopping between certain designated hours. Jews were banned from having a telephone and from entering the homes of non-Jews. In January 1942, members of the Jewish community, who lived outside Amsterdam, received a directive to move into the eastern part of the city. In the meantime, German Jews were deported to the camp at Westerbork.
At the end of 1940, Dutch Jews established their own organisation – the Coordination Committee, headed by Lodewijk Ernst Visser. After several months, on the orders of the Amsterdam Stadtkommisar, it became the Judenrat (Joodsche Raad), chaired by classical studies professor, David Cohen. Until October 1941, this body represented all Dutch Jews.
On 22nd June 1942, the decision was taken to deport 40,000 Jews out of the Netherlands. The first transports, headed for extermination camps, left in the middle of July 1942. Those spared from deportation included employees of the Judenrat, medical personnel, those in mixed marriages, converts, those employed in the munitions industry, foreign Jews and Jews of unknown origins. According to a German report, by the end of September 1942, 20,000 Jews had been deported to KL Auschwitz and KL Mauthausen. The assembly point for those who were to be transported was the Dutch Theatre building which, due to its use at the time, was later given the name Joodsche Schouwburg. From there, Jews were deported to Westerbork near Assen, or to Vught near Hertogenbosch. Ultimately, those transports went directly to KL Auschwitz.
A roundup of Jews began in Amsterdam on 26th May 1943. Those deported then included Judenrat employees, munitions industry employees and their spouses and those in mixed marriages. A second operation began on 20th June in which 5,500 Jews were arrested. At the end of 1943 and in January 1944, 4,894 Jews were deported, a section of whom were, in turn, transported to KL Auschwitz. In the first months of 1944, 3,750 Jews were sent to Bergen Belsen. In total, 105,000 Jews had been deported from the Netherlands, of whom around 60,000 were sent to KL Auchwitz and 34,300 to the Sobibor extermination camp.
The Attitude of the Dutch Towards the Holocaust
By comparison to France or Belgium, the Netherlands’ percentage of Jewish survival was the lowest. It is assumed that around 58,000 Jews survived (27%). To what extent did the Dutch help Jews to survive? Already following the German ban, on 5th October 1940, on Jews working in the civil service, Leiden University professor Rudolph Pabus spoke out publicly against this measure, something for which he was arrested. The first mass protest by the Dutch, against persecution of the Jews, took place on 25th February 1941. On that day, a wave of strikes swept through the northern Netherlands and in Utrecht, while over 18,000 munitions workers also stopped work. In that way, the Dutch protested against the arrest of 400 Jews in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Those Jews were then sent to Buchenwald. Arrests followed incidents in Amsterdam – a series of Dutch protests against the activities of the Dutch Nazi party, among them the burning of a synagogue in the city in February 1941. As a result, the Germans surrounded the Jewish district in Amsterdam, removed all non-Jewish residents and established a ghetto there.
Other examples of Dutch solidarity included the wearing of a yellow star as a symbol of protest against the Jews being forced to wear a Star of David. In Rotterdam, posters appeared on walls, calling on the Dutch to show Jews respect.
The real test for the Dutch was during the mass deportation of the Jews to extermination camps. While taking part in assembling the transports for Jews in the summer of 1942, the Amsterdam Chief of Police wrote to Rauter, Commander-in-Chief of the SS and the police, that Dutch people watching what was happening had reacted sympathetically and were outraged.
On 26th July 1942, Dutch bishops wrote a letter to Seyss-Inquart in which they openly condemned the deportation of Dutch workers and Jews. The Archbishop of Utrecht, Johannes de Jong who before the War was a fervent opponent of Nazism and was one of the authors of that letter, provided the finances for various activities to help the Jews and urged other bishops to do likewise. Thanks to Bishop Lammers and others, 2,500-3,500 Jews were in hiding in the Limburg Province. Moreover, thanks to the efforts of the local population and a favourable topography (the numerous caves near the Belgian border), around 3,000 Jews were successfully smuggled into Spain and Switzerland. At that time, about 28,000 Jews remained in hiding.
Protestants in Heerlen, led by Arthur Pontier, also took part in saving Jews. The leadership of the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk) and the Calvinist Church (Gereformeerde Kerken) were also involved in helping Jews. Similar to what occurred in the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, 117 residents of the small Protestant village of Nieuwland, lying in the Drenthe Province, hid hundreds of Jews. They were urged to help Jews by Arnold Douwes, son of the local pastor. The villagers not only hid Jews, but also obtained false identity papers for them, as well as providing them with food and finances.
During the period of deportations from the Netherlands, several underground organisations took measures to help the Jews. In July 1942, a group of university students in Amsterdam made contact with the Utrechts Kinderkomitè (UKC), which was involved in looking for hiding places, in Utrecht, for Jewish children from Amsterdam. At the initiative of Piet Meerburg and Jura Haak, the Amsterdam Student Group (ASG) was formed, which focussed its activities on rescuing those youngest. The ASG received its greatest support from the well-known, at the time, Dutch paediatrician Dr Fiedeldij Dop, who urged his Jewish patients to place their children under the care of that organisation. Thanks to this, by the end of August 1942, seventy children had been successfully hidden outside the city. During the course of the following months, the ASG made further contacts and moved more children into safety. At that same time, the UKC was conducting similar activities. By the end of the War, the ASG had found shelter for 350 children, while the UKC had rescued around 400.
The hiding of Jewish children was also the main aim of the underground organisation Naamloze Vennootschap (NV Group). They succeeded in hiding 226 children and 28 adults, and their families, in northern Limburg. The majority of those children were taken from the Netherlands Theatre in Amsterdam, the assembly point prior to deportation. The NV Group provided the children with false identity papers, clothing and other essential items.
From April to November 1943, around eighty children were resecued by the illegal organisation Touw Group, which was established in January 1943 and was comprised of conservative Calvinists headed by Dr Gesina van der Molen. In August 1942, another underground organisation was established – the so-called Westerweel Groep, led by Dutch Christian Joop Westerweel and a Jewish refugee from Germany, Joachim Simon. The aim of the organisation was to help young refugees from Germany and Austria who wanted to leave for Palestine. The organisation hid these pioneers in safe places or smuggled them over the border. During one such operation on 11th March 1944,.Westerweel was arrested and ended up in the Vought camp where, five months later, he was executed.
Even though, unlike in Poland, helping Jews in the Netherlands did not automatically mean the death penalty, Dutch rescuers faced a far more severe punishment than, for example, those in France or Belgium. In his speech on 12th March 1941, Seyss-Inquart threatened the Dutch that if they supported them, then they would receive the same fate as the Jews. As Jozeph Michman observed, in practice, that never took place. Individuals, who were arrested for helping Jews, were sent to prison or to a concentration camp in Germany. In September 1942, Chief of the Gestapo and the police Rauter confirmed this in a letter to Himmler in which he said that anyone who gave aid to hidden Jews, for instance in helping them to cross over a border, would be sent to a concentration camp. According to Marnix Croes’s estimation, on 9th May 1943, 1,604 Dutch were under arrest in Amsterdam for helping Jews. A dozen or so months later, that number had risen to 1,997. That same author provides data on the number of Jews in hiding at that time. In Amsterdam, Dutch police arrested around 6,000 Jews. However, the so-called Kolumna Henneicke, which sought out Jews for profit, apprehended 8,370 individuals. That forty-strong group of Dutch Nazis received 7.5 guilders (later 40 guilders) from their German masters for every Jew whom they caught. Based on the above numbers, it is estimated that this group was responsible for the deaths of almost 9,000 Jews.
As at 1st December 2016, 5,516 Dutch individuals had been honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Among them is Gertruid Wijsmuller-Meijer who, from 1938 until 14th May 1940, as part of the so-called Kindertransports, saved around 10,000 children from Germany and Austria. During the occupation, she smuggled Jewish children out of the Netherlands into Vichy France or into Spain. Frederik Jacques Philips, the owner of the Philips company and at the time its Deputy Director, helped to save the lives of the 382 Jewish workers employed by his company. Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch Consul in Kowno, organised transit visas for 6,000-10,000 Jewish escapees. Alida Bosshardt, active in the Salvation Army, found shelter for Jewish children in the “Zonnehoek” orphanage near Amsterdam. In 1941, Nicolette Bruining, founder of Protestant radio Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep, theologian and Hebrew language teacher in a high school in The Hague, continued teaching her Jewish students in her own home after they had been expelled from their school. When one of her students, Elisabeth Waisvisz and her family, were threatened with deportation, Bruining found them a hiding place with the help of the underground.
It is estimated that, with the help of individuals and organisations, 16,100 Jews were hidden during the German occupation and survived (that number does not include children, but does include non-Jewish family members). At least 12,000 individuals were arrested while in hiding.
The Persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands, 1940-1945. New perspectives, ed. P. Romijn, B. van der Boom, P. Griffioen, R. Zeller, M. Meeuwenoord, J. Houwink ten Cate, Amsterdam 2012.
M. Croes, Zagłada Żydów w Holandii a odsetek ocalałych, „Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały”, 2008, nr 4.
B. J. Flim, T. J. Michman, The Netherlands [in] The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations. Rescuers of Jews during Holocaust, ed. I. Gutman, Yad Vashem 2004.
E. Fogelman, Conscience and Courage. Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, New York 1995.
R. Hilberg, Zagłada Żydów Europejskich, vol. II, translated J. Giebułtowski, Warszawa 2014.
D. Michman, Społeczeństwo holenderskie i los Żydów: skomplikowana historia, „Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały”, 2016, nr 12.
dr Aleksandra Namysło / English translation: Andrew Rajcher