Remembering the Holocaust
Remembering the HolocaustIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Many people think that the help that Anne Frank's family received from workers and friends typified the Dutch during the Holocaust. The facts are apallingly different.

More than 100,000 of the country's 140,000 Jews were deported with no outcry from official Dutch quarters but with the cooperation of many Dutch citizens.

On Wednesday, in the Netherlands, a huge debate started about why the Netherlands has never apologized to the Jews for the passivity of the country's Government during WWII as its Jews were deported and murdered.

Two former deputy prime ministers Els Borst (left liberal D66 party) and Gerrit Zalm (former leader of the liberals) are insisting strongly that apologies are in order.

Thereupon Geert Wilders asked the prime minister to present apologies.
This led to huge international interest triggered by Associated Press taking up the story. One of the many papers in which it is discussed after so many years is the Washington Post.

Arutz Sheva asked Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, whose book triggered the reawakening of the issue and whose opeds often appear on the news site, about Holland's guilt.

Q: Yesterday, the Dutch Freedom Party asked Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to apologize for misconduct toward the Jews by the wartime Dutch government in exile in London.

From international media such as the Washington Post and many others, we understand that this request has as its origin your recent book titled Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process 1997-2000.

How did this request for apologies come about so suddenly, more than 65 years after the end of the war?

A: Yesterday, Wednesday, the Dutch daily DePersput on its front page a yellow star with the heading “It is never too late to offer apologies.” Under that it said: “[Queen] Wilhelmina sent only a few words from London about the fate of the Jews," adding that

"[Former Deputy Prime Ministers] Els Borst and Gerrit Zalm request a genuine ‘sorry.'"

Furthermore, a whole page in the paper was devoted to the issue. The article was mainly based on interviews with Borst and Zalm which were appended to my book.

A journalist called Borst the day before and asked her to confirm that she still stood behind her interview. She was even more insistent than in my book. The journalist tried to reach Zalm as well, but he is on vacation.

Q: So what did Borst say?

A: She said that “Queen Wilhelmina hardly concerned herself with the persecution of the Jews.” She added that the government of Prime Minister Gerbrandy saw Jewish Dutchmen as a separate group and not as ‘real Dutchmen.’

Borst remarked: “My intuition is that if all Catholics or Reformed people had been deported to Germany, the Dutch government in London would have given instructions on how to act to the population in occupied Netherlands.”

She added: “If I had been Prime Minister and someone had drawn my attention to it, I would have offered apologies…it is never too late to offer apologies. But you have to choose the moment well. Not just on an ordinary day, but on National Memorial Day on the 4th of May, or on National Liberation Day on the 5th of May, or alternatively, at the commemoration of Auschwitz.”

Q: That still doesn’t explain all the sudden national and international media attention.

A: What created the media attention in the Netherlands was the publication of the statements made by Borst and Zalm. Within a few hours after DePers covered the story, it was on the websites of all Dutch national dailies, a number of regional ones and on many others.

Almost immediately after that, Geert Wilders and another Freedom Party parliamentarian Raymond de Roon put questions to the Dutch Prime Minister requesting that he should apologize. That triggered the Associated Press’s interest in it. They first put out a short news item, but then came out with the more detailed story, which made the Washington Post, Fox News, The Miami Herald and another 100 plus media from the U.S. to Taiwan.

The Washington Post headline was "Dutch Government Should Apologize for Passive Attitude to WWII Deportation of Jews".

Q: What is the position of the other Dutch political parties on the issue?

A: Several Dutch journalists who called me yesterday said that none of the other parties wanted to take a position. They needed to hold internal discussions first. This illustrates why it was so important that the apologies issue came to the fore. After so many decades, the Dutch politicians still haven’t thought it through.

Q: Has the Dutch Jewish community reacted to the publicity?

A: The umbrella organization of Dutch Jewry, the CJO has declared that genuine apologies will have to come as an initiative by the government itself, indicating that they are not going to ask for them. However, if apologies are offered, the CJO will accept them, even if the timing is very late.

Q: Have you ever dealt with this issue of apologies before?

A: I wrote a major essay on the subject in 2007 when the Chairman of the Dutch Railways offered his apologies for the role of his company in the Second World War. The railways had transported the Jews to the transit camp Westerbork and from there to the German border on their way to deportation and in 95% of the cases, to their deaths. I also raised the issue several other times for instance in my book in Dutch, The Decay: Jews in a Rudderless Netherlands, last year.

Q: How do you explain this sudden interest in a matter which was previously known and all but ignored?

A: Apparently, one needs good timing and a journalist who is interested in the issue. Up until two days ago, I never encountered one who cared during all the years I have been looking into this subject.

What is even more bizarre is that the issue of possible apologies from the Dutch government is a marginal one in my book Judging the Netherlands, which caused the flurry of interest. The book describes and analyzes the Holocaust restitution process in the years 1997-2000. To the book’s main subject, no one has yet given any attention.

[1] Associated Press, “Wilders: Dutch government should apologize for ‘passive’ attitude to WWII deportation of Jews,” The Washington Post, 4 January 2012.