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Shofar FTP Archive File: people/v/van-tonningen.florentine/van-tonningen.002

Archive/File: holocaust/netherlands holland.002
Last-Modified: 1994/02/01

   [Continued from holland.001]

   "Seated primly in a wing-back chair in the living room of her suburban
   house, a German shepherd sleeping fitfully at her feet, Mrs. van
   Tonningen seemed bemused by the government's predicament and well
   aware of the psychological threat she posed. 'This is a very small
   country; we all know one another,' she said demurely. 'During the war
   we were all pro-German. My husband was murdered in prison because he
   knew ninety-nine of the hundred people in the Netherlands who had
   worked most closely with the Germans. I know these people too. Some
   are still around, a few in very high places. The Dutch like to think
   of themselves as healthy people in a democratic society. But deep
   down, they are not.'<2>

   The discomfiture over the black widow's pension rights is but one
   indication of the persistent sensitivity about the war years in the
   Netherlands, and, in particular, about the country's role in the
   Holocaust. In 1988, the Dutch government voted, following an
   impassioned twenty-four-hour debate in Parliament, to release two
   German war criminals from the prison in Breder where they had been
   held since the war. Supporters of their release argued that the men
   were old, that they had paid a sufficient price for their crims, and
   that they should be permitted to die at home in Germany. The
   government's decision in that case effectively ended a protracted
   debate and laid a painful war-related issue to rest. But a resolution
   of the dispute is not possible in the case of Mrs. Van Tonningen.

   Because of the gevernment's paralysis, the impasse over her pension
   seems likely to be resolved only by her death. Her ultimate weapon is
   a bevy of accusations against individuals, which, true or not, would
   stir up inconvenient memories of a time many of the Dutch have put
   behind them.

   The Netherlands, in fact, has gone to great lengths, sometimes
   consciously, often not, to create and preserve a positive wartime
   image. By and large, it has succeeded remarkably, mainly through the
   astute use of national symbols.

   If Waldheim has come to symbolize Austria, Holland's self-ascribed
   national symbol is not Mrs. Rost van Tonningen, known to few outside
   this country. It is Anne Frank, Holland's unofficial patron saint.

   Thanks to the country's careful cultivation of the memory of Anne
   Frank and to the world-wide dissemination of the poignant journal of
   the little girl who was hidden by a Dutch family for two years before
   being discovered and sent to her death at Bergen-Belsen, Holland has
   achieved in the West a near universal reputation for moral
   steadfastness, political courage, and resistance that can only be
   envied by Austrians and others.

   The Anne Frank Museum, located in downtown Amsterdam in the building
   in which her family hid, is one of Holland's most popular tourist
   sites, outranked only by the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum,
   according to Dutch tourism officials. Dutch schoolchildren throughout
   the country are taken to visit the house. In 1988, some 564,000
   people paid a modest entry fee to peer into the attic in which Anne's
   family stuggled to stay alive.<3> The Anne Frank Foundation, which
   operates the museum and sponsors research and activities aimed at
   fighting racism and preserving the memory of the Holocaust, is tax
   exempt. It has an office in New York, a staff of seventy part-time
   employees, and an annual budget of 5 to 6 million guilders, about
   $2.5 to $3 million. Dutch journalists say that the foundation,
   created in 1957, receives funding both from the federal government
   and the Amsterdam city council, and operates without independent
   scrutiny, a luxury in a country in which financial transactions of
   all sorts are closely monitored.

   'The independence of the foundation reflects the reverence that so
   many in this country feel for Anne Frank,' said Abner Katzman, who
   has headed the Associated Press bureau in Amsterdam since 1982. 'She
   has been canonized by the Dutch.'<4>

   This sanctification, of course, is convenient and self-serving. 'It
   enables the Dutch to alleviate their guilt and blame the Nazis for
   having decimated their Jewish population,' said Katzman. 'The Anne
   Frank lore says to the world: Look, we Dutch hid her, the terrible
   Germans killed her. They were all evil and we were virtuous.'

   The reality, of course, is more complicated. Most Dutch citizens
   volunteer that Yad Vashem in Israel has honored more of their
   countrymen than any other European nationality for saving Jews from
   the Germans, and that resistance to the Nazis in this small, cramped
   country was earlier and more fervent than anywhere else on the
   continent. It was, in fact, the Germans' seizure of four hundred Jews
   in February 1941 that helped trigger the celebrated general strike
   throughout Holland later that month, for which the Dutch were
   severely punished. Yet Holland's record during the war is in many
   other respects appalling. And in no Western European nation has there
   been as large and enduring a gap between the popular image and
   historical reality.

   These are the facts. Before the war, the NSB, the National Socialist
   party in Holland, had more than 100,000 members in a population that
   then totaled about 8 million, the largest indigenous National
   Socialist party in Europe, saving perhaps Austria's.<5> More than
   30,000 Dutch volunteered after the Germans invaded to serve with the
   Nazis and their Waffen S.S., again one of the highest percentages in
   Europe. The Germans ruled Holland through a brutally efficient
   civilian occupation of barely one thousand men and women,
   administration that would have been impossible without the active
   cooperation of thousands of Dutch civil servants from the country's
   well-disciplined bureaucracy. Westerbork and the other Dutch
   concentration camps were run mainly by the Dutch S.S., not by
   Germans. And the brutality of the indigenous Dutch S.S. was such that
   at Amersfoort Camp, for example, the German-sponsored Dutch Jewish
   Council once officially protested to the Germans the ill-treatment of
   Jews by the Dutch Gestapo.<6>

   But the important figure to note is the Jewish death toll: of the
   140,000 Jews in Holland at the outbreak of the war, 35,000 survived,
   only 25 percent. The Dutch Jewish death rate was the highest in
   Western Europe. In the East, only Poland had a higher kill ratio.<7>

   Because the Dutch and Germans kept meticulous records, we know that
   approximately 110,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands, and
   that a total of 5,450 people (2,361 men and 3,089 women) returned,
   less than 5 percent.<8> Some 1,150 of the 60,000 sent to Auschwitz
   survivied; fewer than 20 of the 34,313 sent to Sobibor; 2,000 of the
   5,000 sent to Theresienstadt; about half of the 4,000 deported to
   Bergen-Belsen; and of the 1,750 Jews deported to Mauthausen, there is
   one recorded survivor.<9>

   Jacob Presser, the late Dutch hjistorian and a Jew, noted in his
   exhaustively researched book on the extermination of Holland's Jewish
   community that even these staggering figures do not fully relfect the
   enormity of the loss. Within the country itself, almost all Jews over
   fifty years of age and under sixteen were destroyed. So Jews who
   returned to the Netherlands from the camps often had no alternative
   after the war but to marry non-Jews and assimilate, 'not only because
   so many Jewish had been butchered, but also because quite a few of
   those who had survived preferred to emigate.'<10>
   A. Harry Paape, of the government-sponsored Netherlands State
   Institute for War Documentation, estimates that in 1987 there were
   only 10,000 to 20,000 Jews in a country of 14 million.<11> Awraham
   Soetendorp, the chief liberal rabbi of the Netherlands, puts the
   estimate as high as 30,000 Jews, but added that fewer than half were
   members of a congregation and identified themselves as Jewish.<12>

   Many analysts share Presser's view, that, because of the wartime
   devastation, those Jews who lived in Holland after the war did not
   constitute a community as such. 'Can we really call it that?' Presser
   wrote in the late 1960s. 'The write himself prefers to speak of a
   group. A group pieced together after the Liberation, from a host of
   fragments; a few thousand men and women married to gentiles and
   spared for that reason, a few thousand who emerged from hiding, the
   survivors of Westerbork, the very small number who returned from
   Theresienstadt and the other camps. Among them is to be found every
   conceivable kind of misfortune: parents without children, children
   without parents... and all too many  who are left with no one in the
   world.... The working class, so strong before 1940, has been almost
   completely exterminated. A large number of family names has
   completely disappeared; the Jewish communities in the provincial
   towns have been broken up; only a handful of Jews have returned to
   retail trading; many artists and intellectuals have been massacred...
   All we can try to do here is to convey a vague idea of the enormity
   that struck down Dutch Jewry.'<13>

   The Dutch are fond of pointing out that 25,000 Jews were hidden by
   20,000 Dutch gentiles in the resistance during the war.<14> 'It's not
   too bad a record really, if you consider the difficulty of shielding
   people from the Germans and from informers in cramped quarters in
   such a small country,' Dr. Paape asserted.

   But about one-third of those who hid -- more than 8,000 -- were
   captured and sent off to camps. And the Germans and Dutch special
   police often found those in hiding, including young Anne Frank and
   her family, through the assistance of Dutch informers. Professor
   Louis de Jong, Holland's official historian, estimates that about
   16,000 Jews of the 25,000 Jews in hiding managed to survive the war."
   (Miller, 94-98)

   End notes: See Miller.
                               Work Cited

   Miller, Judith.  One, By One, By One: Facing the Holocaust.  New
   York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.  ISBN 0671644726

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