While all of us are talking about the Holocaust in Germany as well as a number of East European nations, in today’s world, there is very little if not stories or interviews on the murders of 105,000 Jews in the Netherlands. Thanks to Rose, member of a Holocaust victim family from, who has started providing me information on what had happened in Holland during the Holocaust and how the Jewish people in that country still are facing numerous forms of intimidations, repressions and cruelties.
During a conversation with me Rose said, in the Netherlands there were over 140,000 Jewish population, while 105,000 were killed in the Nazi camps. Non-Jewish individuals received 7.50 guilders for reporting a Jew, and they did this enthusiastically. At that time, the Dutch government was administrated by the Nazis, while they created the Jewish Council, which had closely collaborated with the Nazis. Abraham Asscher, a Dutch Jewish businessman from Amsterdam, a politician, and a leader of his community who attained notoriety for his role during the German occupation of the Netherlands – used his power in sending Jews to Westerbork and to death camps.
Later, I also started doing some online research on the Jewish population in the Netherlands as well as on Abraham Asscher’s collaboration with the Nazis. On the basis of the information, I am giving the following information and would request Jewish population in Holland as well as other parts of the world, including the State of Israel to start discussing on this important issue through articles, commentaries while we also shall continue to interview various individuals. In my opinion, this important issue needs to be told repeatedly so that world will understand the degree of sufferings and pains the Jewish population in the Netherlands had suffered during the Holocaust.
Who was Abraham Asscher?
Abraham Asscher’s grandfather founded the Asscher Diamond Company (now the Royal Asscher Diamond Company) in 1854, but it was Abraham and his brother Joseph who built its international fame. In 1907 the brothers opened a new factory at 127 Tolstraat in Amsterdam and soon they received a request from King Edward VII of the United Kingdom to cleave the legendary Cullinan Diamond, the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found.
Asscher translated his growing success in business into political and community involvement. In 1917, he took up a seat on the Provincial Council of North Holland for the Liberale Staatspartij (Liberal State Party). And in the 1930s, he became a leader and spokesman of the Dutch Jewish community. He served as the President of the nation’s central Jewish organization, the Nederlandsch-Israëlitsch Kerkgenootschap (Dutch Jewish Congregation).
Therefore, when in 1933 Jewish refugees began to flee in numbers to the Netherlands from the Nazi regime in Germany, it was Asscher, along with Professor David Cohen, who established (with government cooperation) the Comité voor Bijzondere Joodsche Belangen (Committee for Special Jewish Affairs – CBJB). An offshoot of the CBJB, the Comité voor Joodsche Vluchtelingen (Committee for Jewish Refugees – CJV), was formed to provide direct service to the refugees. The CJV provided advice and, as needed, financial support to the refugees, and worked to facilitate the emigration of refugees away from continental Europe. David Cohen was the chair of the CJV for most of its eight years of existence. Both of these committees were dissolved by Germany in 1941, and their responsibilities transferred to a Jewish Council.
It was in this context that the Nazi occupiers later, on February 12, 1941, ordered Asscher and Cohen to head up a new Joodse Raad voor Amsterdam; the only example of a Jewish Council in the German occupations of Western Europe. The first meeting was held at the Asscher Brothers headquarters in Tolstraat. The Joodse Raad had to mediate the occupation government’s orders to the Dutch Jewish community and, beginning in July 1942, to help organize the selection of Jewish deportees from the Netherlands to the work camps.
In September 1943, most of the remaining staff of the Joodse Raad, including Asscher were deported. Asscher, like most deported Dutch Jews, initially went to the Westerbork camp in the Drenthe province in the east of the country. From there, the Nazis transported him to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Asscher survived his imprisonment at Bergen-Belsen and returned to Amsterdam after the conclusion of the war. Aside from historian David Cohen, who also survived Theresienstadt concentration camp, all other members of the Jewish Council perished, including the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam Lodewijk Sarlouis.
The Dutch government instituted investigations against Abraham Asscher and his colleague David Cohen into charges of collaboration. A Joodsche Eereraad (Jewish Council of Honor or Community Tribunal) was also established to investigate wartime collaboration charges on behalf of the Jewish community. It was particularly concerned with activity after August 15, 1942, a point from which, according to the accusers’ post-war perspective, it was considered obvious that the Joodse Raad was assisting in a mass-murder of Dutch Jews in German-occupied Poland’s Nazi extermination camps.
However, what was obvious to either Jews or non-Jews in the Netherlands at the time is a matter of considerable historical controversy. The Nazi occupiers went to great lengths to conceal the fate of deported Jews from the Dutch population, including Dutch Jews and the Joodse Raad.
In 1947 the Council of Honor ruled to exclude Asscher and Cohen from ever holding public office in the Dutch Jewish Community.
When Abraham Asscher died in 1950 in accordance with his wishes he was not buried in a Jewish cemetery, but instead at the Zorgvlied cemetery.
Jews in the Netherlands
The history of the Jews in the Netherlands began largely in the 16th century when they began to settle in Amsterdam and other cities. It has continued to the present. Following the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in May 1940, the Jewish community was severely persecuted.
The area now known as the Netherlands was once part of the Spanish Empire but in 1581, the Northern Dutch provinces declared independence. A principal motive was the wish to practice Protestant Christianity, then forbidden under Spanish rule. Religious tolerance was effectively an important constitutional element of the newly independent state. This inevitably attracted the attention of Jews who were religiously oppressed in different parts of the world. In pursuit of religious freedoms, many Jews migrated to the Netherlands where they flourished.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, more than 75 percent of the Jewish population of the Netherlands fell victim to the Holocaust, which included deportation to concentration and extermination camps.
It was likely that the earliest Jews arrived in the “Low Countries”, present-day Belgium and the Netherlands, during the Roman conquest early in the common era. Little is known about these early settlers, other than they were not very numerous. For some time, the Jewish presence consisted of, at most, small isolated communities and scattered families. Reliable documentary evidence dates only from the 1100s; for several centuries, the record reflects that the Jews were persecuted within the region and expelled on a regular basis. Early sources from the 11th and 12th centuries mention official debates or disputations between Christians and Jews, in which attempts were made to convince the Jews of the truth of Christianity and to try to convert them. They were documented in the other provinces at an earlier date, especially after their expulsion from France in 1321 and the persecutions in Hainaut and the Rhine provinces. The first Jews in the province of Gelderland were reported in 1325.
Jews have been settled in Nijmegen, the oldest settlement, in Doesburg, Zutphen and in Arnhem since 1404. As of the 13th century, there are sources that indicate that Jews were living in Brabant and Limburg, mainly in cities such as Brussels, Leuven, Tienen and Maastricht. Sources from the 14th century also mention Jewish residents in the cities of Antwerp and Mechelen and in the northern region of Geldern.
Between 1347 and 1351, Europe was hit by the plague or Black Death. This resulted in a new theme in medieval anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Jews were held responsible for the epidemic and for the way it was rapidly spreading. Jews were falsely accused of poisoning the water of springs used by the Christians. Various medieval chronicles mention this, e.g., those of Radalphus de Rivo (c. 1403) of Tongeren, who wrote that Jews were murdered in the Brabant region and in the city of Zwolle because they were accused of spreading the Black Death. This accusation was added to other traditional blood libels against the Jews. They were accused of piercing the Host used for communion and killing Christian children to use as a blood offering during Passover. Local Jewish communities were often murdered in part or entirely or exiled in hysterical pogroms. In May 1370, six Jews were burned at the stake in Brussels because they were falsely accused of theft and of “desecrating” the Holy Sacrament. In addition, documentation can be found of instances in which Jews were abused and insulted, e.g., in the cities of Zutphen, Deventer and Utrecht, for allegedly desecrating the Host. Rioters massacred the majority of the Jews in the region and expelled those who survived.
In 1349, the Duke of Guelders was authorized by the Emperor Louis IV of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany to receive Jews in his duchy, where they provided services, paid a tax and were protected by the law. In Arnhem, where a Jewish physician is mentioned, the magistrate defended him against the hostilities of the populace. When Jews settled in the diocese of Utrecht is unknown, but rabbinical records regarding Jewish dietary laws speculated that the Jewish community there dated to Roman times. In 1444, Jews were expelled from the city of Utrecht. Until 1789, Jews were prohibited from staying in the city overnight. They were tolerated in the village of Maarssen, two hours distant, though their condition was not fortuitous. But, the community of Maarssen was one of the most important Jewish settlements in the Netherlands. Jews were admitted to Zeeland by Albert, Duke of Bavaria.
In 1477, by the marriage of Mary of Burgundy to the Archduke Maximilian, son of Emperor Frederick III, the Netherlands were united to Austria and its possessions passed to the crown of Spain. In the sixteenth century, owing to the persecutions of Charles V and Philip II of Spain, the Netherlands became involved in a series of desperate and heroic struggles against this growing political and Catholic religious hegemony. In 1522, Charles V issued a proclamation in Gelderland and Utrecht against Christians who were suspected of being lax in the faith, as well as against Jews who had not been baptized. He repeated such edicts in 1545 and 1549, trying to suppress the Protestant Reformation, which was expanding. In 1571, the Duke of Alba notified the authorities of Arnhem that all Jews living there should be seized and held until their fates were determined.
At Dutch request, Archduke Mattias established religious peace in most of the provinces, which was later guaranteed by article 13 of the 1579 Unie van Utrecht. Moreover, in 1581, the deputies of the United Provinces declared independence by issuing the Act of Abjuration, which deposed Philip as their sovereign. As a consequence of these two events, Jews persecuted in Spain and Portugal turned toward the Dutch Republic as a place of refuge.
We shall continue publishing more about the Jewish population in the Netherlands as well as horrific description of their sufferings during the Holocaust. Stay tuned!