Today, was a beautiful and impressive inauguration of a first beautiful national Holocaust monument in its Capital of Amsterdam. Among others, the PM and mayor spoke. The king was present, gave no speech, but spoke with survivors for all of us to hear. A memorial—better late than never.
The monument, as the speakers remarked, honors the Dutch 102,000+ Jewish and 220 Roma and Sinti victims. It gives permeance to the names of the murdered who never received a grave. It also screams out: how was this possible. And it is a warning against again looking away from bigotry.
Permit me to highlight something that seems to be overlooked in this.
In the heading of this blog post, it says ‘non-Jewish’ between quotation marks because there is nothing non-Jewish about them. I’ll explain.
Before WWII, many Dutch Jews, especially in the working class in the larger cities, were well integrated into the general population. Just like many German Jews were more German than the Germans. These Dutch were fellow socialists, intellectuals, and moderns, who didn’t live in isolation and felt equal to everyone else.
If they were religious, Judaism often was their religion; their nationality was Dutch. Jews lived in the Low Countries for hundreds of years in peace.
In the Middle Ages, Holland was cleared of all Jews (who were all murdered or chased out) twice, and before the French occupation (Napoleon), they had lived under apartheid, but that was long forgotten.
The first thing the Nazi occupier did was to separate the Jews from the Gentiles. People hardly aware of their Jewish roots, suddenly were ‘the other.’ In Denmark, the king put up a Jewish Star, preventing this separation. In the Netherlands, no such thing happened from the high end of society. However, in ’41, Communists and Socialists organized the world’s first general strike against Antisemitism when the first group of Jews was rounded up. Something the Dutch are not sufficiently proud of.
Then there was another large group of ‘non-Jewish’ Jews on Dutch grounds. The intermarried Jews and their offspring. The Nazis were very scared to touch them as they didn’t want to risk annoying their Gentile family members. They reassured everyone that intermarried Jews would not be bothered. Secretly, they had plans to deport them to the death camps in the late ’40s. Just, the war was over before they could.
Thus, a large percentage of the only 25% Jewish survivors, besides Jews who were hidden successfully, were intermarried Jews and their offspring. The curious thing was that those with a traditionally Jewish family name were not Jewish for Jewish Law (Jewish father), while the Jewish ones often had a Gentile last name. But often, all of them felt very Jewish.
And then there was a third group of ‘non-Jewish’ Jewish survivors. Those who did not tell their children that they were Jews. No Jewish first names, no circumcision, no religion, or sometimes adoption of a Christian religion. In an attempt to save their loved ones from future dangers.
In talking about Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust, the above three groups are too often overlooked. Please note that not all Dutch Jews, before or after the war, were stereotypically ‘the other.’ Not all Jews identified as Jews (so much). Not all Jews lived in a Jewish bubble. After the Holocaust, many hid their roots, stayed in the closet. Sometimes, their children or grandchildren discovered the family secret. Some never did.
Restored raw Nazi footage from 1944 of the largest Dutch concentration Camp Westerbork to show that life there was normal, calm, and fun.