Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Raymund Schütz
“During the Second World War, the Board of the Dutch notaries had a pragmatic attitude toward the measures of the German occupation. It did not want to recognize that their procedures were of a racist character. In this way the Dutch notaries collaborated with criminal measures against the Jewish community with respect to their real estate and other possessions. Dutch notaries were accomplices to the elimination of rights of Jews during the Nazi occupation.
“This happened out of financial considerations, and not because the notaries supported the ideology of the German government. They wanted both to make money and to be part of the new order. This is the shocking essence of my research findings.”
Raymund Schütz was born in 1964. He is the historian of the Dutch Red Cross, and works in The Hague in its War Archive. In 2016 he received his PhD at the Free University in Amsterdam. The title of his thesis translates to Cold Mist; The Dutch Notaries and the Heritage of the War.
“The notaries who had been appointed before the war had sworn obedience to the Dutch constitution, to honor the judicial authorities, and faithfulness to the crown. Notaries had to exercise their function honestly, impartially, and exactly. The content of their deeds had to be kept secret. This was the essence of the professional ethics of the notary. A notary had to protect both the equality before the law and the legal security of all clients independent of their background. That core function was violated during the occupation.
“These ethical considerations were an important reason for the existence of this office. Through collaborating with the measures of the occupier, this profession threw away its key values.
“The role of notaries in the confiscation of Jewish property and assets can be defined as the formalization of the injustice. Buildings owned by Jews were expropriated upon the instructions of the German authorities. Thereafter, they were sold. In this process the notary played a distinct role. For a transfer of property to occur, a deed from a notary is required. The notaries took care of these transfers and put their stamps on the deeds.
“The bulletin of the notaries in the years 1941-1944 copied the racist jargon of the Germans uncritically. Their Board gave them detailed instructions on how to execute the German contracts.
“Dutch notaries thus played a very proactive role. This becomes even clearer when one compares the Netherlands to Belgium. There, the organization of notaries tried to slow down the execution of the German dealings. Finally, the Belgian supervisory bodies forbade collaboration of notaries with this type of transaction.
“The process of dispossession had two phases. The dispossessed building was transferred from the Jewish owner to an intermediary. The notary created the deed for this. Then, the building was sold for a higher price to a private person. The notary therefore created the second deed. In this way, the ultimate buyer did not see the true origin of the building.
“We don’t know exactly the price of the buildings because part of the payments were in black market money. The notaries who established these deeds knew exactly what they were doing. They made good money from the transactions. The brokers earned even more. The tax authorities also benefited because registration rights had to be paid.
“A number of notaries who realized what was happening refused to collaborate. After the Dutch liberation, they criticized the Board of the Notaries. These people had chosen to facilitate the dubious transactions. A major discussion took place between the critical notaries and the board. The latter claimed that they had done nothing but execute measures ordered by the authorities.
“At the beginning of the war there were 854 notaries in the Netherlands. Of these, only a small number were Jewish: seven in Amsterdam, one in Rotterdam, and one in The Hague. In February 1941 the Germans ordered the dismissal of the Jewish notaries. The Dutch officials at the Ministry of Justice forced the German orders through.
“About 20 notaries had been members of the NSB, the Dutch Nazi party. These were dismissed after the war. About half of the other notaries had collaborated in the sale of the buildings owned by Jews. For them a typical Dutch solution was found. The prime consideration was not to affect the honor and image of the profession. The government applied its rules in such a way that the great majority of the notaries didn’t have to be dismissed, suspended, or even reprimanded. The government needed them in the framework of the post-war rebuilding.
“A kind of indulgence money was established. Notaries who had earned money from the dispossessed Jewish buildings should place 60 percent of the money earned into a fund. As this was voluntary, a certain number refused. The money obtained was divided between a foundation for resistance fighters and the Jewish social organization JMW.”