When the Second World War came to a fiery and dramatic close in the Netherlands, the horror of what happened became clear. Most of Jewish, Roma, and Sinti descent did not survive the war. Approximately 107,000 out of 140,000 Jews in Holland were deported and more than 102,000 were murdered.
Three quarters of the Dutch Jews were murdered.
The Nazis’ plan for the total annihilation of European Jewry is excruciatingly visible at Sobibor. Of the 34.313 Dutch Jews that were deported to Sobibor, only 18 survived. The persecution was so severe, the acts so savage, that only 5,200 Dutch Jews survived the death camps, less than 25 percent of the Dutch Jewish population before the war.
The Nazis wanted to wipe out the Jewish people and with almost no survivors to bear witness, the names of the victims got lost. Human beings were turned into a number, and without no graves or marked tombstones they never got their names back.
It is through our names that our lives begin and how we place ourselves in the world. A name, generally given by ones parents, humanizes and is where individuality meets community. A name provides an identity, with all sorts of possibilities to secure yourself of having a future.
The stories of our lives begin with a name and tell the tales of who we loved, how we lived and died.
Losing one’s name and becoming a number leads to a silent death and only those who remember can break the silence. With fewer survivors to tell their stories, we must safeguard that the lives taken are never forgotten. The names we are remembering, are defining in many ways how we navigate the world. By remembering those who came before us we carry them forward in the world.
Elie Wiesel. “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time,”
I myself have never known religious persecution, but religious persecution knows me, through the eyes of my family members. If there is one thing, they taught me, is that surviving can be as horrific as being murdered, and in the end, you’re the only one left to carry the load of preserving the memory and telling the story.
For at least 102,000 names there is an absence of words. There are no graves.
The silence of the names.
The Netherlands suffered the largest number as a result of the persecution of the Jews, both in terms of percentages and in absolute numbers.
According to the Anne Frank House website, the large number and percentage of Jewish victims in the Netherlands can be explained by the fact that the German police had sole authority over the organization and execution of the deportations and that the authorities transported the Jews as secretly as possible, using misinformation and deceit.
The missing graves are about facing ourselves and history.
I have, too, heard the stories, that after the war ended, antisemitism still lived and affected those who returned in an appallingly way. Most of the general public wanted to forget the years of the war and move on with their lives. It made them feel uncomfortable by the questions it forced upon them. The last thing they wanted to hear about, was the genocide that had taken place.
There is a Yiddish proverb “Geshvign heyst oykh geredt,” which means “even silence speaks.” When people do not speak out when injustice is done, their silence speaks volumes, silence becomes consent.
Deportation is silence,
religious persecution is silence,
racism is silence,
bigotry is silence,
xenophobia is silence,
the absence of names is silence.
The names of the Dutch Jews deserve to be heard on our terms. But with no graves their voice is absent and, in that absence, a troubling distant can take shape. The story of their murder, the shootings, the hangings, the gassing, the killing of Dutch Jews will be forgotten. There is in the Netherlands no Holocaust memorial to be found, that has listed each individual victim, who can’t be found by grave.
There is nowhere a memorial to be found where each of the 102,000 Jewish victims and 220 Sinti and Roma victims can be commemorated by name. They were denied of a dignified funeral and burial by their executioners. Their beloved names will never be pronounced.
Truth can be found in memory. These victims deserve to be remembered and, in the remembrance, the victim’s voice is heard and the injustice he or she suffered will be stated. While Anne Frank speaks to the world, more than 102,000 voices were silenced. A monument of names would contribute to healing and eliminate any division between the Dutch Jewish victims.
But there is hope and a plan!
Giving a voice to silence.
It was after a 10-year struggle, that the Amsterdam City Council approved in May 2016, a location for a memorial wall for the roughly 102,000 Dutch Jewish victims of the Nazis.
Mr. Grishaver, chairman of the Auschwitz Committee, led the fight for the memorial wall. Since then the construction has been unnecessarily delayed by objections of residents against the construction of this monument, which is so much more than honoring and remembering these victims.
It will be a graveyard of the missing dead.
Last July the administrative court of Amsterdam dismissed all objections raised by a small group of residents.
This is our chance to have their voices to be heard before it’s too late. Every name we can add to this wall will be a small victory against oblivion, against the intent to wipe out the Jewish people.
They will no longer be ignored; their names will be spoken. Silence is not an absence of a tale. Silence is the story that keeps us from speaking up. It was imposed on us, from correcting the wrongs that were done to us. To halt this monument would be an act of withholding us from taking charge of our own future. By commemorating, we give them back their names, and hopefully their faces, and transmit their memories with their legacies, into the future.
“to write the names back into the book of life, out of the book of forgetting and into the book of the mind, of the heart and the soul of Amsterdam, of Holland.” Daniel Libeskind.
The 1,550 square meter memorial in Amsterdam will incorporate four volumes that represent the letters in the Hebrew word לזכר meaning “In Memory of”.
The Libeskind website provides the following description of the monument.
“As visitors enter the memorial, they will encounter a labyrinth of passages articulated by two-meter-high brick walls carrying the message of Remembrance. Each of the four volumes are crafted from mirror finished stainless steel that hovers above the walls of individually stacked bricks. 102,000 bricks will each be inscribed with a name, giving a tangible quantification to the many casualties, as well leaving 1000 blank bricks that will memorialize the unknown victims.
The materiality of the brick—a ubiquitous material of The Netherlands and throughout the cities of Western Europe – paired with the highly reflective and geometric forms of the steel letters reference the connection between Amsterdam’s past and present. At the intersection of the brick and metallic forms is a narrow void that creates the illusion that the steel letters are hovering above and represents an interruption in the history and culture of the Dutch people. This suspended emptiness, or ‘Breath of Air’, detaches the neighborhood from a future in which Dutch-Jewish families went missing”.
The Dutch Auschwitz Committee is fundraising for the memorial. The public can adopt a name to help realize the memorial. For more information about the memorial or purchasing a brick visit:
*The number of approximately 104,000 victims also includes the Jewish suicides in the Netherlands during the period from May 1940 to May 1945 and those that were killed or died while they were incarcerated by the Germans in the Netherlands. It also includes those who died while they were in hiding and those who tried to escape to other countries . Some of these victims were buried in the Netherlands (Pim Griffioen and Ron Zeller, 2011)