Last Tuesday, a symposium took place at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on the renewed Dutch Holocaust restitution payments in 2000. Israeli correspondents of the Dutch National Broadcasting Organization NOS and leading Dutch dailies attended.
The subject received a radical twist a few days before when hundreds of media worldwide drew attention to a book which was the symposium’s subject.
Manfred Gerstenfeld had written Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process 1997-2000 in order to analyze the political, financial, psychological, and sociological aspects of four separate negotiations.
On one side during negotiations, there were respectively the Dutch government, the insurers, the banks and the stock exchange. Each group withheld looted Jewish monies after the Second World War.
On the other side was the umbrella organization of Dutch Jewry, the Central Jewish Council. Platform Israel, which represented 10,000 Jews of Dutch origin in Israel participated as an observer in the negotiations. All in all, close to 2 billion shekels were paid out to survivors or their children and to Jewish community organizations in the Netherlands and Israel.
The symposium was opened by Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, who praised the initiative of the Jerusalem Center to put this issue again on the agenda. The Embassy had brought over Christiaan Ruppert, a former official of the Dutch Ministry of Finance, who at the time coordinated the project on the ministry’s behalf.
In his presentation, Ruppert broadly agreed with the book’s author. He underlined however, the crucial role of then-Minister of Finance Gerrit Zalm in bringing the process to a positive conclusion.
Ruppert said that the Jewish negotiators did not want to embarrass Zalm in the final stages of the process by asking for amounts of money that he could not deliver.
The symposium was chaired by Avraham Roet, who had been Platform Israel’s Chairman at the time of the renewed restitution process. He mentioned that an issue still not dealt with was 20,000 real estate properties which had been looted from the Jews. Some had ended up with government organizations or municipalities. A study is now underway to prepare placing this issue on the Dutch agenda.
Gerstenfeld discussed a variety of still-relevant issues from the more than ten year old process. He remarked that if one went solely by the publicity, the entire symposium should have been redirected to the topic of the demand for belated government apologies to the Jewish community. This concerned the misconduct of the Dutch wartime government in exile in London which had shown no interest in the fate of murdered Dutch Jews.
This subject had actually been marginal in Gerstenfeld’s book, but worldwide media attention made it a central one. In interviews in his book, former Deputy Prime Ministers Els Borst and Zalm supported such apologies. Last week, Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders asked Prime Minister Rutte to offer such apologies.
Gerstenfeld also outlined what would happen should the Prime Minister decide against apologizing. The Netherlands would then remain the West European country which has officially admitted far less than other ones about its major wartime wrongdoing against the Jews. He also mentioned that it would lead to far more exposure of the misconduct of the Dutch government in exile and authorities which remained in occupied Netherlands.
Gerstenfeld said that the Dutch Royal Family, and in particular the wartime Queen Wilhelmina who resided in London, would be drawn into the debate. She had hardly shown any interest in the fate of her Jewish compatriots.
Gerstenfeld also added that many post-war issues where Jews were discriminated against would become known internationally and such a process of internationalization of the appalling things that the Dutch had done could start with the Jews, but would not remain limited to them.
Issues would come to the fore such as massive war crimes in the late 40’s in Indonesia, where more than 100,000 people were killed; the betrayal of their local allies there; as well as the flight of the Dutch U.N. troops from Srebrenica in 1995, after which the mass murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslim males by Bosnian Serbs took place.
Among other issues of the restitution process which were still able to be realized, Gerstenfeld drew attention to the written opinion of prominent Dutch lawyer Anton Kasdorp, more than ten years ago.
His opinion was that as the Dutch government along with the Dutch population did not do everything possible to prevent the making of Dutch Jewish victims, they were responsible for the damages the Jews incurred. Though this was an important argument to be discussed by Dutch legal professionals, no one had ever referred to it at the time or since
As of this writing, Prime Minister Rutte has announced that he will not apologize.