Dutch Protestant Church apologizes to Israel for role in Holocaust

Dutch Protestant Church spokesman Peter de-Boer said “unfortunately, Christian theology contributed much to the antisemitic discourse that led to the events of the Holocaust.”

Dutch Ambassador to Israel Naor Gilon (left) is seen shaking hands with Duth Senate President Jan Anthonie Bruijn. (photo credit: ISRAELI EMBASSY IN THE HAGUE)
Dutch Ambassador to Israel Naor Gilon (left) is seen shaking hands with Duth Senate President Jan Anthonie Bruijn.
(photo credit: ISRAELI EMBASSY IN THE HAGUE)
Representatives of the Dutch Protestant Church (PKN) gave a declaration of the church’s collective responsibility for its role in the Holocaust to Ambassador to the Netherlands Naor Gilon on Thursday.
The declaration admitted and apologized for the church’s role in encouraging antisemitism before, during and after the Holocaust, and said PKN said they are committed to learning the lessons of the past and teaching them to future generations. The church also apologized for the apology coming many decades late.
Gilon said he sees “the recognition and admission of responsibility as being part of a significant process the Netherlands is undergoing in looking to its past. This message is an important and significant step in taking collective responsibility and sends an important message to Dutch society.”
PKN spokesman Peter de-Boer told Gilon that “unfortunately, Christian theology contributed much to the antisemitic discourse that led to the events of the Holocaust.”
Pastor Ryan Freihoff quoted the recently-deceased former chief rabbi of the UK, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, as saying that “Jews are the canary in the coal mine. That which starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. What happens to Jews is a warning, as it exposes the level of hatred and destructiveness in a society. Antisemitism is anti-identity, anti-peace, anti-existence, anti-life.”
The declaration of responsibility and apology was also read in PKN churches on Sunday. PKN is the Netherlands’ second-largest Christian denomination, after the Roman Catholic Church, with its members making up about 9% of the population as of 2016, including the Dutch Royal Family.
PKN first issued its apology last week, ahead of a ceremony marking the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Germans destroyed Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues and sent Jews to concentration camps.
“For centuries a rift was maintained that could later isolate the Jews in society in such a way that they could be taken away and murdered,” René de Reuver said at the ceremony at Rav Aron Schuster Synagogue in Amsterdam last Sunday, speaking on behalf of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands’ General Synod, AP reported.
“Also in the war years, the ecclesiastical authorities often lacked the courage to choose a position for the Jewish citizens of our country.”
About 70% of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands when Nazi Germany invaded in May 1940 were killed in the Holocaust, most famously diarist Anne Frank and her family.
“The church recognizes faults and feels a present responsibility,” de Reuver said. “Antisemitism is a sin against God and against people. The Protestant Church is also part of this sinful history.”
Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs was “pleased” with the PKN’s apology, his spokesman Hans Knoop said Sunday.
“Chief Rabbi Jacobs hopes that the important message of the church will help to fight current antisemitism in Europe and help to eradicate it in the future... Much importance should be attributed to the fact that the message was passed on to the Jewish people at the Israeli embassy in The Hague. It implies that the Protestant Church rejects anti-Zionism as a cover for antisemitism.”
Ruben Vis, secretary of the Jewish community umbrella organization Nederlands-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap, said: “The book of the Shoah never closes, but with this confession of guilt the church turns a page.”
“It is a commendable and historic move for the Protestant Church to admit its failure, in what appears to be pure intentions,” Vis stated. “Of course, it is belated and certainly, too late for the victims and the survivors, many of whom have already passed. But it is not too late for the future. This is a new starting point for how I view the church.”
Earlier this year, as the world has marked 75 years since the end of the Holocaust, several senior Dutch figures and organizations have apologized, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, King Willem-Alexander, the Dutch Red Cross and the CEO of the Netherlands’ national railroad company.

Aaron Reich contributed to this report.