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Interview with Holland's Chief Rabbi: Dutch Anti-Semitism

Dutch Rabbi calls for education to stop anti-Semitic acts. INN asks him what that entails and what Holland is like for Jews then and now.
By Rachel Sylvetsky
First Publish: 7/4/2010, 8:33 AM / Last Update: 7/4/2010, 12:00 PM

Dutch rabbinate

Dutch Chief Rabbi Benjamin Jacobs’ family has lived in Holland for generations. As a little boy, he recalls being almost embarrassed to be the only one of his friends to have both grandparents, a rare miracle indeed since 90 percent of Dutch Jewry was murdered by the Nazis.

“This horrifying statistic” he told an Israel National News’ interviewer, “was achieved with the full cooperation of the Dutch police who went from house to house to round up the Jews for the Nazi death machine.

“And last week”, he continued, “when I left my home located opposite a kindergarten, a four year old child pointed at me and yelled ‘Jew, Jew;”

Recently, when the rabbi presided at a memorial for Holocaust victims, Dutch youths  yelled “Heil Hitler” during his speech. "Punshing them won't keep them from doing it again," he asserts. 

INN conducted a phone interview with Rabbi Jacobs on Thursday night, after he declared that the Dutch police force’s plan to impersonate Jews in order to catch perpetrators of anti Semitic acts was punitive but not preventive. He posited that only education could prevent the growing evidence that anti-Semitism is on the rise once again in Holland.

The Rabbi, whose jurisdiction as a chief rabbi includes 11 of the 12 Dutch Provinces and who serves also as a senior member of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), told INN that he was approached by the mayor-elect of Amsterdam to discuss his ideas on how combat the situation. His suggestions will appear in the Dutch Jewish Magazine, the NIW, as well.

INN: “What can you tell us about the Jews of Holland before the war?”

R. Jacobs : “Holland once had Jews in every town and city, fully integrated into Dutch society, mostly observant and with full communal services in each place in which they lived.  Jews felt very Dutch, but there were few mixed marriages, in comparison with Dutch Jewry today. In fact, a 600-year-old mikve (ritual bath) was just discovered in southern Holland.  Jews are part of Holland’s history.

INN: “And today?”

R. Jacobs: “The war changed all that with Dutch Jews believing until it was too late that what happened to German Jews could never happen to them. The Nazis began by forming a Judenrat and continued on step by step while the Jews were often unware to their approaching fate, trusting in their integration and loyalty to Holland.

Today there are 40,000 Jews in Holland by a generous estimate, and most don’t live in organized communities. There are
I see myself as a lifeguard.
three kosher bakeries and one kosher butcher shop in the entire country. Very few Dutch Jews are Orthodox as those towns were decimated and a large percentage of survivors moved to Israel. Those who remained have less interest in Judaism, although there is a traditional ‘cheder’ school and a regular Jewish school.”

INN: “Doesn’t Anne Frank’s diary show that Dutch gentiles helped save Jews?”

R. Jacobs: “Let me tell you two stories that will answer your question.

During vacation time, I supervise the kashrut (kosher food) at a Golden Tulip Hotel located in the country at Beekbergen.  The guests always want to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I tell them that I have never been there myself because that one example is the exception. It encourages the belief in the fairy tale that the Dutch hid Jews from the Nazis.

I tell them to go to the building that housed the Jewish Theater instead. That is the place to which the Dutch helped round up the Jews so they could be sent to Westerbork, the infamous transit camp where they were kept before continuing on to the death camps. (Picture at left: Rabbi Jacobs reads names of 102,000 Dutch victims of Holocaust.)

INN: “And the second story?”

R. Jacobs: “One day, the Queen of Holland was to attend a memorial service and I asked the venerable Rabbi Vorst, the former rabbi of Amsterdam, to honor us with the Kaddish prayer. It seemed more fitting that it should be said by a survivor, although my parents, who married after the war, also suffered much during that period.

My father was hidden in Amsterdam, where those who hid him took the food vouchers he got from the partisans he had joined and starved him until he made his way back to the partisans and told them. It took him a half year to get his home back from the Dutch gentiles who had taken it over. My mother, who was blond and looked Dutch, was hidden in northern Holland by a righteous gentile family who falsified her papers.

Rabbi Vorst agreed although it was hard for him, but he turned white as a sheet and almost fainted when he saw that the honor guards at the ceremony were wearing the same uniforms as the military police who had kept him imprisoned in Westerbork during the war. The head of the Military Police apologized for his unit’s behavior during the Holocaust even though he was born after the war.“

INN: “What is happening today?”

R. Jacobs: “There has as yet been no violence, but anti-Semitic behavior is becoming prevalent. On the way to synagogue during the week, youngsters will yell “Jew” at you. However, it should not be exaggerated. Many of the Dutch are upset by it. When paint was thrown at the door of a synagogue, we were deluged with flowers, fruit baskets and offers to pay for the restoration.

The difference is that during WWII, the government was anti-Semitic, and today the opposite is the case. The police and government are absolutely on our side.”

INN: “How can that help? Do you really think you can eradicate anti-Semitism through education?

R. Jacobs: “Not at all. Gentiles find many excuses for anti-Semitism, that Jews are richer, separate, brilliant, etc. etc.  None of them are valid, but you can’t change Jew hatred by reason and explanations.

Twenty years ago we founded the Jad Achat (Working Together) organization to combat anti Semitism. Government representatives came to see us and actually asked if we had managed to eradicate anti-Semitism. They asked that we record what we did and what results were achieved. It was almost laughable.”

However, you can demand behavioral standards and I think the government will help us do this. We don’t have to just sit and wait for the spread of the poisonous process that Hitler also started by brainwashing youngsters.

INN: “What is your educational plan?”

R. Jacobs: “To become Dutch citizens, immigrants are compelled to study Dutch culture and the Dutch mentality. An integral part of this curriculum has to be educating for the acceptance of the multi culturalism which characterizes Holland. Dutch culture is an accepting, tolerant culture and Muslim immigrants must be told clearly that this is a basic condition for citizenship. The child who taunted me with shouts of “Jew” is an immigrant and the teacher said she learned it at home. Why not insist that her parents learn and accept that tolerance is part of law observant behavior in Holland, no matter what their private views are? Right now it’s not part of their language.

It’s not only Muslims, though. As for the native Dutch, groups must go to schools and teach about diversity, about Jewish history in Holland, about what Jews are and what happened to them in WWII. Dutch youth must hear survivors and meet Jews.

INN: “What does the future hold for Dutch Jewry in your eyes?”

R. Jacobs: “As the situation is today, the future for Dutch Jewry is moving to Israel. I see myself as a lifeguard, sent here by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, keeping Judaism alive while surrounded by a 70-80 percent assimilation rate.  But in order to save those who will, G-d forbid, assimilate, we need lifeguards and lifeboats. And the more lifeguards and lifeboats, the more Jewish souls could be saved for Holland and for Israel.” (Picure: Rabbi Jacobs leads Dutch boy at Bar Mitzvah ceremony at Western Wall.)