The Dutch apologize to Javans and Bosnians, but not to Dutch Jews

With each apology and admission of guilt, the refusal to do the same about the heartless attitude to Dutch Jews during the Holocaust becomes more poignant.

Tags: Netherlands
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

The Dutch war time government in exile in London has scandalously ignored its own murderous persecution of Jewish citizens in the occupied Netherlands by the Germans. This is a well-documented historical fact.[1]

Much less known is that the Dutch governments, under the current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, have admitted or even apologized for a variety of other failures of their predecessors. With each new such admission, the obstinate refusal of the Rutte government to admit to the extreme heartless attitude toward the Dutch Jews of its wartime predecessors becomes more poignant.

The most recent case of the Dutch government finally admitting responsibility for a huge fiasco concerns a genocide-related event in the Yugoslav war of the mid 1990s: the flight of the Dutch UN soldiers of the Dutchbat unit from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995. After the Bosnian Serbs conquered the town, the Dutch soldiers helped them to separate Muslim men and boys from the remainder of the population. An estimated 6,000-8,000 Muslims were killed by the Bosnian Serbs. After the assistance in the selection, the Dutch soldiers left the town for Zagreb upon the instructions of their government.

Though it was already known that Bosnian hostages had been executed, and rumors of genocide were rife, the commander of the Dutch land forces at the time, General Couzy, decided that the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were entitled to a party.[2] The Dutch historian Henri Beunders wrote a year later: "While the Bosnians were standing up to their knees in blood, the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were standing up to their ankles in beer, being applauded by Crown Prince Willem Alexander, [Prime Minister] Kok and [Minister of Defense] Voorhoeve."[3] Among the Dutch soldiers were racist radicals who were known to make the Nazi salute.[4]   

While the Bosnians were standing up to their knees in blood, the Dutch soldiers in Zagreb were standing up to their ankles in beer, being applauded...
On this year’s Veterans Day Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert made devastating remarks about her predecessor at the time, Relus ter Beek, without mentioning his name. She said that nothing about the original assignment of the Dutch soldiers going to Srebrenica was clear. This, with one exception: it was clear that there was no mandate for a “genuine protection of the area or of the population. That created an illusion of security.”

Hennis mentioned that while other countries refused to send soldiers to Srebrenica, the Netherlands did. She added that Dutchbat was sent there “without adequately being prepared for the specific circumstances, with insufficient means and capacities, a poor information position, all this to maintain peace where there was no peace. The assignment could not be carried out from the outset.”[5]

Already in 2014 Hennis had apologized to the families of three Bosnian Muslims, who after having been expelled from the Dutch military compound in Srebrenica, were killed by Bosnian Serbs. These apologies were only made public in 2015 after an agreement was reached regarding payment to the three families.[6]

The current government has also apologized to the family of a former Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Els Borst, who was murdered in her home in 2014. Prosecutors apologized for not having better supervised a suspect in the killing who was suffering from mental illness.[7] At the time of the apology, this suspect had not been judged for or even admitted to the murder, which he confessed to only later. The apologies were thus highly premature.

In 2011, the Netherlands apologized to the Indonesian widows of the village of Rawagede on the island of Java.[8] In 1947 during the Dutch Colonial War in what were then the Dutch East Indies, male inhabitants of this village were gathered and shot to death by Dutch soldiers without any process of law.

On several occasions, Dutch parliamentarians have put questions to the Dutch Prime Minister on the absence of apologies to the Jewish community for the continued failure of the wartime Dutch government. In one of his answers, Rutte said that the government stood behind a statement made about the issue by then Queen Beatrix in the Knesset in 1995.[9]

That glib text read: “We know that many of our fellow countrymen put up courageous and sometimes successful resistance and often, exposing themselves to mortal danger, stood by their threatened fellow man. During our visit to Yad Vashem yesterday we saw their names too among those remembered forever under the trees planted there. But we also know that they were the exceptional ones; that the people of the Netherlands could not prevent the destruction of their Jewish fellow citizens.”[10]

Had Queen Beatrix been more truthful she could, for instance, have said: “The Dutch government in exile and the Dutch population in the occupied Netherlands might not have been able to prevent the persecution of the Jews, the deportation and murder of over 100,000 Jews -- more than seventy percent of the Dutch Jewish population -- by the Germans. That does not mean that the wartime government could not have done anything. From London over the Dutch international radio, it could called on all Dutch citizens to help Jews who wanted to go into hiding. It was also the duty of the then Dutch government to inform itself as best it could of the unprecedented criminal developments concerning the Jews in the occupied Netherlands. I have to admit, that instead there was no interest at all to even read the report of Henri Dentz, a Dutch official in London, who had been charged to describe the persecution and murder of the Dutch Jews. Even according to the norms of that time, this was a major failure.” She could have apologized for the Dutch who turned in their fellow Jewish citizens..

The Queen could have added a few remarks about the misbehavior of her own grandmother, the wartime Queen Wilhelmina, saying for instance: “Already before the war, when the Dutch authorities wanted to house Jewish refugees from Germany in empty barracks in Elspeet, my grandmother considered that location too close to her palace in the town of Apeldoorn, which was more than ten kilometers away. As a result, these refugees were housed in the Westerbork camp which had to be built from scratch in one of the most remote areas of the Netherlands. The Dutch Jewish community had to pay the costs of the building.”

Queen Beatrix could have added: “We also know from my grandmother’s wartime speechwriter, that almost all references in his drafts concerning the suffering of the Dutch Jews were removed by her when she read these texts on the Dutch radio broadcasting from London to the Netherlands.” The Queen might have concluded: “It makes no sense to whitewash this. It should be admitted honestly.”

A monument with the names of all the Dutch Jews murdered during the Holocaust by the Germans is finally planned to go up in Amsterdam. Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam, has proposed to pay for its establishment with money from the municipality’s very belated restitution payment to the Jews.[11] This payment was meant  as recompense for the fact that after the war, the Amsterdam municipality demanded ground lease payments from the Jews returning from hiding or the camps for the wartime years in which they could not live in their apartments.

This time thus the Jews do not have to pay for a camp for German Jewish refugees, but only for a monument for those Jews murdered while the Dutch government in exile did not care at all about them.


[1] Dienke Hondius, “A Cold Reception: Holocaust Survivors in the Netherlands and Their Return,” Patterns of Prejudice 28:1 (1994): 0031-322x/47-65, based on quotation from L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, vol. 9: Londen (The Hague: Staatsdrukkerij, 1979), 501-503.

See also: Report H. Dentz, London, 30 March 1944.

[2] Bakker Commission Report, 2000, p. 200. [Dutch]





[7] Marije Willems, “Kabinet maakt excuses voor ‘ernstig falen’ in moordzaak-Borst,” NRC, 25 June 2015.


[9] file:///D:/Users/user/Downloads/beantwoording-kamervragen-over-uitblijven-van-excuses-voor-passieve-houding-nederlandse-regering-ten-tijde-van-de-jodenvervolging%20(1).pdf