Dutch consider apology for indifference during Shoah

The issue was raised by Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom; Jewish community unenthusiastic about initiative.

Queen Wilhemina 311 (photo credit: Courtesy NIOD)
Queen Wilhemina 311
(photo credit: Courtesy NIOD)
THE HAGUE – The Dutch parliament and cabinet this month will consider issuing a formal state apology for the government’s silence on the extermination of over 100,000 Dutch Jews during the Holocaust.
The issue, which Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom raised on Wednesday in parliament, follows statements by two former ministers supporting the apology.
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However, the Jewish community responded to the initiative unenthusiastically, and historians from the University of Amsterdam told The Jerusalem Post that the debate was “politically motivated” and that an apology was “unnecessary.”
“We now know that the persecution of the Jews hardly bothered Queen Wilhelmina,” former Dutch deputy prime minister Els Borst said in an interview recently published in Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld’s book Judging The Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process.
Queen Wilhelmina devoted five sentences to the fate of her Jewish subjects in five years of radio broadcasts from exile in Britain.
The Dutch queen and government escaped Germany’s occupation of the country in 1940 by fleeing to London.
The Germans relied heavily on the collaborationist Dutch Nazi party (NSB) to administer daily life and facilitate the extermination of roughly 85 percent of Holland’s 140,000 Jews.
In Gerstenfeld’s book, former Dutch finance minister Gerrit Zalm is quoted as saying: “I would have had no problem offering such an apology and would’ve supported doing so had the Central Jewish Board broached the matter.”
On Wednesday, Wilders, whose party is the thirdlargest in the Netherlands, called the exiled government’s “passive approach” to the persecution of Jews “shocking” and filed a parliamentary query addressed to Premier Mark Rutte, asking whether he was prepared to issue the apology. The government has two weeks to reply.
Ronny Naftaniel, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, agreed that “the Dutch government in exile – and especially Queen Wilhelmina – were passive and indifferent to the fate of the Jews. That’s an ugly episode in history which merits an apology.”
However, he said, “the Jewish community shouldn’t solicit an apology, which should come from the heart of Dutch society.”
An apology “may be a nice gesture,” according to Shlomo Berger, a professor for Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of Amsterdam, “but as a political issue with no impact, it would be unnecessary.”
Dr. Bart Wallet, a historian from the same university, told the Post that demanding an apology was superfluous in light of past statements of regret by Dutch officials for the fate of the country’s Jewry.
In her address at the Knesset in 1995, Queen Beatrix referred to Dutchmen who saved Jews as “exceptions.” She linked this observation with the statement that “the people of The Netherlands could not prevent the destruction of their Jewish fellow citizens.”
A decade later, then-prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende called the deportation of Jews a “pitch black chapter” in his country’s history. He added: “We can point to many examples of courage, friendship and solidarity. But of indifference, cold-heartedness and betrayal, too.”
“I’m not sure what more can be asked of the Dutch government,” said Wallet, who specializes in Dutch Jewish history. He added that he suspected the anti-Muslim Party for Freedom was calling for an official apology in order to mend fences with the Jewish community following the party’s support for a controversial bill to ban ritual slaughter.
“Discussions about this issue should be left to historians. Statements by present-day politicians, former and present, are not helping our understanding of what happened,” Wallet added. According to him, the government in exile made a conscious choice not to speak up for any particular element in Dutch society out of a principled decision to view that society as one unit.
“The policies of the German occupation were radically different, and the government in exile failed to adapt to the unique circumstances on the ground in time,” he said.
But Borst takes a different view.
“The [exiled] government’s attitude testified that its members, like many others, saw the Jewish Dutchmen as a special group who were not real Dutchmen,” she said.