Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
The "Looting Dutchman"
Pieter Nicloas Menten was born on the 26 May 1899, in Amsterdam into a wealthy Amsterdam family. He claimed descent from the founders of Van den Bergh’s (Unilever) and that his father had been in Royal Dutch Petroleum, but broke away after the Shell take-over.
In truth and this was not to become apparent until well after the war, in 1980 at the conclusion of a protracted War Crimes Trial, it was disclosed that his predecessors had never had anything to do with Shell or Unilever.
His father had been a dealer in rags and waste paper, the company was named Menten and Stark and his grandfather had been a butcher’s assistant. Pieter had a brother Dirk who was two years younger, had joined the family’s waste paper business, but lived most of his life in the shadow of his elder brother.
On his father’s death in 1922 Menten broke away from the family empire and established a business in Danzig under the name “Menten and Stark.” With his business activities and deals of a dubious nature, he became a millionaire overnight, and the largest timber trader between Holland and Eastern Europe.
Most of his acquired wealth in Danzig was the result of fraudulent activities and as a result he fled with his wife to Lvov where they occupied a small flat. Dirk took over the family business in Amsterdam, and was to pay regular visits to his elder brother on his country estates in Poland.
In Lvov, Menten was introduced to the Jew Isaac Pistiner who had two large estates which he had purchased from Princess Maria Lubomirska. Both men went into partnership, Menten renting from Pistiner the timber rights and the hunting lodge of the Sopot estate and almost immediately, Menten acquired the stance of benefactor and employer of the local peasants.
The “Dutchman” or “Petro Menten” as he was known throughout the Stryj valley became “family” to Frieda and Isaac Pistiner and their eight children. This fatherly figure extended to relatives of the Pistiners in particular to a young boy named Lieber (Bibi) Krumholz.
Pieter Menten befriended the young impressionable “Bibi” Krumholz and they would often be seen together in their walks around the woods and fields in the Stryj valley. The Dutchman and Bibi Krumholz had become inseparable and remained so until Bibi Krumholz left Podhorodze for Palestine on the 24 October 1935.
Bibi Krumholz took the name Chaviv Kanaan and kept in touch with his family by letter, also with postcards to his uncle Pieter Menten. A regular correspondence was maintained for years, the dialogue ended when Poland was partitioned in 1939.
Five years later in 1944 met the Jew Jacob Loebel, a survivor from the war years who had just arrived in Palestine. When Kanaan (Krumholz) asked for news of his family, Loebel replied:
“Menten has murdered them! Your parents, your brother and almost all your other relatives who lived in Lemberg”
In 1935, Poland’s hyper-inflation was nearly as bad as Germany’s and provided rich opportunities for anyone with ready Dutch guilders. Pistiner now sorely pressed for cash was obliged to sell the Sopot estate to his partner Pieter Menten.
Pieter Menten and his wife became prominent among the Polish landowners and Jewish timber merchants around Lvov, and did many deals – some of a dubious nature –with the Jew Isaac Pistiner. But also in 1935 Menten and Pistiner quarrelled, this time the basis of the dispute was a shady land and property fraud on Menten’s holdings in the Stryj valley allegedly committed by Pistiner on Menten.
A bitter legal fight between the two men ensued and never abated. Meanwhile Menten had established his position in Lvov society. He became a naturalised Pole and also the honorary Dutch consul for Krakow. It was in this capacity he met Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, arriving in 1937 for a Carpathian honeymoon with her German husband Prince Bernhard.
When Hitler invaded Poland on the 1 September 1939 the Menten’s sought refuge on their estate in Sopot near the town of Stryj and awaited the imminent arrival of German troops.
Unknown to Menten and a great many other people the Nazi-Soviet Pact provided for East Galicia’s absorption into the USSR, and on the 17 September 1939, the Soviets arrived in East Galicia and immediately began confiscating Polish estates and distributing them to the Ukrainian peasants and deporting the owners to labour camps.
Menten had been operating in the area as an agent for the Sipo – SD – Abwehr in Berlin for some time, which was well known to pro-Soviet Ukrainian sympathisers.
He was arrested and detained in the Stryj jail, from which Samuel Schiff, a Jew from Podhorodze, somehow extricated him. Pieter Menten and his wife fled to Lvov, where they sought assistance of the Dutch Consul to reach Nazi occupied Poland. On the 27 December 1939 the Merten’s arrived in Krakow, the capital of Germany’s colonial rule over Western Poland.
Krakow was considered the city most fitted for the privilege of becoming the capital of the “Land of Vistula,” as Hans Frank the Governor of the General Gouvernment had announced in Berlin, “Poland has been incorporated in the Reich until the end of time.”
Krakow was not a large city, so it was easier for the Germans to create a German majority there. All undesirable Polish elements had been removed, and only those Poles who showed allegiance to the Reich and who had been carefully vetted, remained as officials in the administration.
Pieter Menten immediately reported to the Sipo-SD Security Office and offered his services. This office controlled both the SD (Security Service, including the Gestapo) and the Sipo (Security Police).
It was commanded by SS Oberfuhrer Bruno Streckenbach, who was almost immediately replaced by Dr. Eberhard Schongarth, and it seems likely that Menten was able to gain access to Streckenbach because of his previous service with Nazi intelligence.
This would explain why a few days after his arrival in Krakow he was seen in uniform with the rank of SS Hauptscharfuhrer. As the Germans settled into ruling Poland, Jewish property was seized in operations enabling Menten to serve both the Germans and himself. He became administrator for Jewish antiques and art-collections under Streckenbach then Schongarth.
Menten in 1940 (according to family testimony) knew very little about art, but he knew how to pick brains, particularly, those of Joseph Stieglitz, a Jewish art dealer who had owned galleries in Krakow and Lvov, and with whose aid he tracked down numerous treasurers for the benefit of the Reich.
Just before the Wehrmacht invaded the USSR on the 22 June 1941, Menten enabled Stieglitz to escape to Hungary – from which he reached Palestine, returning many years later to Holland to help Menten stave off prosecution. The Barbarossa campaign sparked Menten’s deep commitment to something altogether darker than legalised art-robbery and treachery to his naturalisation: namely to Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish question.
The final extermination of European Jewry began as soon as the German army crossed the Soviet border each of the four army groups was accompanied by an Einsatzgruppe, mobile killing squad which by the end of 1941 could account for some half a million Jews exterminated and tens of thousands of others.
Menten’s commanding officer, Schongarth, contributed a personal Kommando (zbV) to which Menten was attached as a Sonderfuhrer. A report to Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich credited them with 17,887 victims in September 1941: a number doubled or trebled by the end of 1941, with Menten’s personal tally accounted for nearly a thousand victims in the Stryj valley.
The SD/ SS school at Bad Rabka under the command of Rosenbaum was used to store the stolen loot and investments. Returning to the executions in Podhorodze, Karolina Michailona Semelak, who had lived in Podhorodze all her life, interviewed in 1976 recalled what happened:
“When the executions happened here in 1941 I was eleven years old, but I still remember it as it were yesterday. Menten was in command …. ordered all the people of the village to come watch the executions, children also.
He himself didn’t shoot, but each time the order was given by him. It was shortly after the German invasion of 1941. Menten came back here to Podhorodze, ordering his soldiers to assemble all Jews and communist activists in the garden of Isaac Pistiner house.
Pistiner didn’t live there anymore. I saw it all with my own eyes. Everybody, the whole village, was there. All the victims were brought together in Pistiner’s house. And next they had to come out in groups of three and five and walk across a plank which had been placed across the grave. When they’d get to a point in the middle they were shot.
I can still very vividly see Pistolak walk the plank first- the local leader of the communists – he fell, shot into the hole. The commands were given by Menten. On that day, the seventh of July, only men were killed. But on August twenty-eighth it was the turn of the women and children. Their grave is right next to the first.
Yet there was one woman murdered at the first execution, she was called Novicka. When her husband Novicky, had to walk on that board, she wouldn’t stop her frenzied screaming at Menten, upon which he ordered his soldiers to shoot her. The second execution also, I saw it with my own eyes, and again Menten was in command. He must have been a very high ranking man, for he gave his orders to a German officer, who then ordered the soldiers to shoot.
It is impossible that I should be mistaken that this man was really Menten. When Menten before the war came to Podhorodze he was a very well-known man in our village, and when he returned in 1941 wearing a German uniform, people of course recognised him. They all said, “That is Menten, Petro Menten.”
Menten and his men carried out further executions of Jews and communists in the villages of Urycz, Dovge, as well as Kropvivnik, the methods of execution were extremely similar, Menten did not personally shoot anyone, but in every case gave the orders, for the soldiers to shoot.
With the help of Dr Schongarth Pieter Menten was escorted out of the General Government with some pomp, a special train was placed at his disposal for his journey out of Poland to Holland, heavily laden with stolen Jewish property.
In Holland, Menten resided in the wealthy Aerdenhout where he kept a low profile as an art dealer. However, the Dutch Underground’s attention was now focused on Menten and they recorded visits by Schongarth to his residence. At the conclusion of the war, Menten was high on the agenda as a Nazi collaborator.
Shortly after the liberation Menten was arrested and held in custody and brought to trial. The trial concluded in 1949 and Menten was sentenced to an eight month term for having worked in uniform as a Nazi interpreter. In 1951 the Dutch government refused a Polish request for Menten’s extradition to Poland to face war crimes charges.
Menten lived an untroubled life until on the 22 May 1976, Holland’s most popular newspaper, De Telegraf, described a remarkable venture planned by the art-auctioneers Sotherby-Mak van Way.
Pieter Nicolas Menten, one of the richest men in Holland was selling his Amsterdam apartment. He had to dispose of 425 pictures and other objects’d’art for which there was no room in his country house at Blaricum, already crammed with other treasures.
Menten was quoted as saying that his fortune had first been acquired in pre-war Poland, he had been ruined by the Nazi occupation, but he had restored his finances, and his art collection.
What Menten failed to mention was his service in the Abwehr before the war, and his wartime service as an SS Sonderfuhrer, and that he was personally responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Jews and communists in the villages of the Stryj valley.
He also failed to mention that his coveted art collection was the proceeds of theft from the residences of the Murdered Professors of Lvov and elsewhere in the Galician District.
Following investigations by Hans Knoop the editor of the Dutch magazine Accent, in collaboration with Chaviv Kanaan that Menten was brought to trial after being extradited from Switzeland, where Menten had fled with his wife on 14 November 1976.
On 9 May 1977 the trial began with Menten claiming it was a KGB stunt, a show trial. Chaviv Kanaan and four women who had witnessed the executions in Podhorodze, testified at this trial. Menten was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but this sentence was annulled on a technicality and a further trial was held in The Hague.
At the end of 1978 the Menten trial re-opened in the Hague, Menten was given a last word, a “word” that lasted for two hours, full of allegations against Police Commissioner Peters, against Hans Knoop and against all the others who had contributed to his conviction.
Once again he stated that the late Justice Minister Donker had given him the promise in 1952 that he would not be prosecuted, as he claimed he had a secret dossier containing revelations about high ranking Dutch officials who had collaborated with the Germans during the war.
On 4 December 1978 the court announced its verdict Menten was released, which triggered public demonstrations against the release of a convicted war criminal. The Supreme Court reconvened during May 1979 and the verdict reached was that Menten’s appeal should be rejected and that he should stand trial again before a special court in Rotterdam.
In 1980 Pieter Menten was tried and convicted for murdering Jewish villagers in 1941, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. He served six years of the sentence. Upon his release in 1985 he tried to settle in his mansion in Ireland, but he was not allowed into the country.
Pieter Menten died at an old people’s home in Loosdrecht, Holland on the 15 November 1987.
Robin O’Neil unpublished article.
The Menten Affair by Hans Knoop published by Robson Books 1978.
New York Times 1987.
US National Archives.
Copyright Victor Smart H.E.A.R.T 2008