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Deportations from the Netherlands


German soldiers march through Holland

The Jews of the Netherlands had a long and distinguished history. Having first settled in the country in the 12th Century and thereafter been expelled, they had returned to dwell in the province of Holland in the late 16th Century, subsequently enjoying high levels both of tolerance and of security. The first returnees were Portuguese Marranos (Jews forcibly converted to Christianity who secretly remained Jews), who were now encouraged to practice their Judaism. Later, Ashkenazi Jews began to settle in the country. Although not admitted to most of the guilds, the Jews of the Netherlands enjoyed economic and social integration in a manner that was to be unknown to other European Jews for hundreds of years. It was during this period that the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, one of the creators of the concept of human rights, was born.

In 1796, under the influence of the occupying French Revolutionary forces, Jews were granted full civil rights, subsequently becoming prominent in all sectors of Dutch society. By the eve of the German occupation, the Jewish population numbered 140,000, or 1.6% of the total inhabitants of the country, a figure that had been swollen by 30,000 refugees who had fled from Germany, Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Among them were Otto Frank of Frankfurt am Main, his wife Edith and his daughters Margot and Anne.  The Jews had settled mainly in urban areas; 80,000 lived in Amsterdam alone, including the Franks.

On the night of 9-10 May 1940, German troops invaded the Netherlands. Following the barbaric aerial bombardment of Rotterdam, and fearing a similar fate for other of the country's cities, the Dutch army capitulated on 14 May 1940. Panic stricken Jews attempted to escape from the country. Some made their way southward through France, to eventually find sanctuary in Spain, Portugal or Switzerland. Several hundreds, including 80 children were evacuated to Britain. Some 150 committed suicide, young children having been killed by their parents first.

A German civil administration was installed under SS supervision. At its head was Reichskommissar (Reich Commissioner) Dr Arthur Seyss-Inquart, with 5 commissioners-general serving under him. Among them were Friedrich Wimmer (administration and justice) and Hanns Albin Rauter (commissioner-general for public safety and HSSPF). These men were to be among the principal perpetrators of the annihilation of Dutch Jewry.

Although the Dutch government had fled to Britain, they left behind an efficiently functioning civil service, which initially operated side by side with the German administration. However, Seyss-Inquart enjoyed absolute power. He acted, not upon instructions from Berlin, but on his own initiative. He soon made his intentions clear. As he later wrote, "The Jews for us are not Dutchmen. They are those enemies with whom we can come neither to an armistice nor to a peace." It did not take long for anti-Jewish legislation to be enacted. On 31 July 1940, "shechita" (the ritual slaughtering of animals) was abolished. A decree of 20 October 1940 required the registration of businesses operated by Jews, or in which Jews had financial interests. On 21 November 1940, all Jewish civil servants were effectively dismissed. Another decree issued on 10 January 1941 required all Jews to register with local branches of the census office. A Jew was defined as any person with two Jewish grandparents. The census revealed a total of 159,806 persons considered to be Jewish, of whom 19,561 were the offspring of mixed marriages.

Following the pattern established in Germany, other discriminatory measures quickly followed. Among many other restrictions, in the summer of 1941 Jews were barred from public places; a curfew was imposed from 8.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. and shopping was only permitted between 3.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. Jews were only allowed to use public transportation if they held a special permit, and then only if space was available. Jews were barred from public assemblies, museums, libraries, public markets as well as the stock exchange, and were excluded from joining the compulsory trade unions for journalists, actors and musicians. In August 1941, Jewish students were removed from public schools and universities.

In the same month, all Jewish assets, including bank deposits, cash, claims, securities and valuables were blocked. A maximum sum of 250 guilders a month was available to a Jewish owner for private use. Finally, with effect from 3 May 1942, every Jew aged 6 and over was ordered to wear a yellow star on their left breast, with the word "Jood" inscribed on it in black ink. These yellow stars had been manufactured in the Lodz Ghetto. Although there were no ghettos as such in Holland, the areas in which Jews were permitted to reside were restricted.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart

In December 1940, the Jews themselves decided to set up a body representing all of the various Jewish communities. The Joodse Coördinatiecommissie (Jewish Coordinating Committee) was chaired by Lodewijk Ernst Visser, who had been appointed Chief Justice of the Dutch Supreme Court in 1939. Following the German invasion he had been dismissed from this position in May 1940. On 12 February 1941, following clashes between Jews and Dutch Nazis, mainly in the old Jewish section of Amsterdam, Stadtkommissar Böhmcker, Seyss-Inquart's representative, ordered the formation of a Jewish Council ("Joodsche Raad") in the city. A diamond merchant, Abraham Asscher and a classics professor, David Cohen, became co-chairmen of the new body, with Cohen in effective day-to-day control of affairs. Visser strongly believed that the Dutch administration had a constitutional obligation to protect all Dutch citizens, including Jews.

When in July 1942, the letter "J" was added to the identity cards of Jews, Visser refused to accept a card so stamped. He was completely opposed to Jews wearing the yellow star and later protested against the forcible evacuation of Jews from various areas of Holland. Whilst Visser passionately believed in non-cooperation with the Germans, Cohen argued that the Jews had no choice but to cooperate, since the Germans now ruled the country. There followed a brief but acrimonious conflict between the two Jewish organisations before in October 1941, the Council's authority was extended to all of the Netherlands and the Coordinating Committee was disbanded. Visser continued to promote a policy of non-collaboration, until he was warned that if he persevered in doing so, he would be sent to a concentration camp. Three days after receiving a letter to this effect, Visser suffered a heart attack and died.

Following another violent incident in Amsterdam between Jews and German police, on 22 February 1941, 389 young Jews were arrested and sent to KZ Buchenwald, where fifty of them died within three months. The remainder were deported to KZ Mauthausen. In protest at the brutal German behaviour, the Dutch population declared a general strike in Amsterdam on 25 February 1941. The entire transport system, large factories and public services came to a standstill. After spreading to other cities, the strike was eventually suppressed two days later. To penalize the Dutch for their behaviour, the Germans imposed fines on three cities: 15 million guilders on Amsterdam, 2.5 million guilders on Hilversum, 0.5 million guilders on Zaandam.

The strike was to have fatal consequences for Holland's Jews. The Dutch realised that it had not produced any meaningful results, since the Germans refused to make any concessions concerning their treatment of the Jews. For their part, the Germans, recognizing that there was no support for their anti-Semitic policies among the Dutch population, decided to adopt a more radical posture regarding the "Jewish question".

In spring 1941, a Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) was set up. Officially under Willy Lages, head of the SD in Amsterdam, it was administered on a daily basis by
Ferdinand Aus der Fünten. A branch office of the RSHA department IV B 4, headed by Adolf Eichmann, the Zentralstelle's purpose was to round up and deport the Jews. It operated with a staff of 20 Germans and 100 Dutch employees. Two men seasoned in the murder of Jews in Eastern Europe were to subsequently take up office in Holland. Erich Naumann was appointed commander of the Security Police in September 1943, to be succeeded by Karl Schöngarth in June 1944. The Joodsche Raad had been made subordinate to the Zentralstelle, and in late 1941, forced-labour camps were set up for which the Joodsche Raad had to supply workers.

Jewish transport at Westerbork

 Beginning in January 1942, Jews were removed from the provinces and concentrated in the main in Amsterdam. The establishment of a ghetto in Amsterdam was discussed, but the idea was eventually rejected. A camp had been established in 1939 at Westerbork, in the northeast of Holland for the detention of illegal immigrants. Now, stateless Jews were interned there as well as some Dutch Jews. A second camp was established at Vught, in the southern part of the country, in January 1943, and a number of Dutch Jews were directly transported there. By April 1943, Jews had been prohibited from living anywhere in the Netherlands, other than in Amsterdam, Westerbork or Vught.

On 26 June 1942, on a day and at a time when the Sabbath had already begun, Cohen was summoned to the Zentralstelle to meet with Aus der Fünten and his deputy, Karl Wörlein. Cohen was informed that entire Jewish families would be placed under police supervision and sent to labour camps in Germany. He was to report the following morning with the number of Jews the Joodsche Raad could process daily. Haggling over numbers ensued between the Joodsche Raad and the Zentralstelle in the following days, until on 14 July, the Germans seized 700 Jews as hostages and threatened to deport them to KZ Mauthausen unless 4,000 Jews immediately presented themselves for transport to work camps in the Reich. The next day the first deportees were on a transport and most of the hostages were released. An observer of these events commented:

"Rumour had it that the British would smash Central Station to smithereens. They did not come. There would be a strike of railway workers. It did not materialise. The invasion would begin just in time. It did not. The Communists would spirit away all those who went to the station. They failed to do so."

It was the serving of a deportation notice on her sister Margot on 5 July 1942 that forced the family of Anne Frank to go into hiding, a course followed by many Dutch Jews.

The "labour camps" in Germany, were of course fictitious. The first 2,000, mainly German Jews, were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they arrived on 17 July 1942. 1,251 men, and 300 women were tattooed and admitted to the camp. The remaining 449 deportees, including all children, the elderly and the sick, were gassed. Trains began regular departures for the East. By 24 September 1942, Rauter was able to report to Heinrich Himmler that 20,000 Jews had been deported from Holland to Auschwitz, and that preparations were in hand to deport the remaining 120,000. The collection place for the Jews of Amsterdam was the Dutch Theatre, renamed in October 1941, Joodsche Schouwburg, on the Plantage Middenlaan, where more than 1,000 people could be held.

Westerbork became the main transit camp for the deportations. Commanded until September 1942 by Sturmbannführer Deppner, the camp was subsequently under the command of Obersturmführer Dischner and finally, from the end of 1942 until 1944 that of Obersturmführer
Gemmeker. The first commandant of Vught, which was known officially as KL Herzogenbusch and had originally been established as a Schutzhaftlager for Dutch political prisoners, was Hauptsturmführer Chmielewski. He was succeeded in turn by SS-Sturmbannführer Adam Grünewald and SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Hüttig. With the exception of two transports which went directly to Auschwitz, trains from Vught were directed via Westerbork. In view of police shortages, security for both camps was provided by
members of the Dutch SS Guard Battalion Northwest.

From 6 August 1942 a Dutch police battalion commanded by Sybren Tulp was deployed to seize Jews in Amsterdam. To a great extent, the German scheme for the annihilation of the Jews was aided by the cooperation of Dutch citizens; with few exceptions, the municipal administration, the railway workers and the police all contributed towards the roundups and deportations.

A survivor, Selma Wijnberg testified:

Hooghalen Station

"In 1942 I was arrested with my family and interned in Westerbork. We were 8,000 prisoners, and the German officers in charge announced that we were going to work in Poland or the Ukraine, and we were to take with us shoes, clothes and food..."

The deportations to Auschwitz continued throughout the rest of 1942 and early 1943. On 2 March 1943, the first transport left Holland for Sobibor, arriving on 5 March 1943. Himmler had visited the Aktion Reinhard headquarters as well as the camps at Sobibor and Treblinka in February 1943. It is believed that he was at Sobibor itself on 12 February. The camps were virtually idle at the time of his visit. Himmler apparently took the decision to direct transports from Holland to Sobibor and from the Bulgarian annexed regions of Macedonia and Thrace to Treblinka. He had also decided that in all essentials, Aktion Reinhard had completed its task. Sobibor and Treblinka were to be closed after the liquidation of these final transports and the destruction of the physical evidence of the crime had been accomplished.

Between 5 and 6 March and 23 July 1943, 19 trains containing 34,313 Jews, arrived in Sobibor from Holland after a journey lasting, on average, three days. The first two trains consisted of passenger wagons; after 10 March the deportees were transported in cattle cars. One transport contained 1,266 children. Some deportees were selected for work details within the camp. Several hundred others were sent to labour camps in the region. The vast majority were killed within two hours of their arrival. They knew nothing about their destination, or the fate awaiting them.

Selma Wijnberg wrote:

"(In Westerbork) letters were arriving from Wlodawa confirming that life was pleasant in Poland. Later I knew it was a lie, as the prisoners were forced to sign printed postcards. The name Sobibor was never mentioned… In March 1943 we were on our way to Poland. Many of us hoped to meet our families there again. Sick Jews were treated during the journey; German nurses distributed medicines to patients. We reached Sobibor on 9 April...
The men undressed immediately after leaving the train, then were led to Camp No.3. Women passed through an alley of pine trees, towards a barrack. They took off their clothes and had their hair cut. A German chose 28 women to work in camp no.2... I remember SS man Wolf approaching naked children going to the gas chambers, giving them sweets, and patting their heads. 'Keep well, children, everything will be fine', he used to say."

Leon Felhendler, a prisoner in Sobibor, wrote about the arrival of transports from Western Europe:

"These transports were treated entirely differently. They arrived in passenger trains. The Bahnhofkommando (platform workers) helped them carry their baggage to a special barrack near the station. The deception was carried on to such an extent that they were given tickets in order to reclaim their baggage. On the square was a special table with writing instruments to write letters. They were ordered by the SS men to write that they were in Wlodawa and to ask the recipients to send them letters at Wlodawa. Sometimes answers to these letters were indeed sent."

Another survivor, Ilana Safran, (Ursula Stern-Buchheim), who survived the uprising in Sobibor and later joined the partisans, testified:

"In Vught there were many Jewish families and many children ... Later we were transferred to Westerbork ... In April 1943 we left for Poland. The journey to Poland was dreadful; the prisoners from Western countries believed that we were going to labour camps ... When we reached Sobibor, a selection took place – young girls were placed on one side, the others, including children, went to the gas chambers."

Sobibor survivor Thomas Toivi Blatt described how he had befriended two Dutch fifteen-year old twin girls from Scheveningen, who had somehow survived the initial selection. They asked where they were and which barrack their father and brother were in. When could they meet their family again? Blatt was unable to bring himself to tell them the truth.

The next evening, he asked them what they had been told in Holland:


Toivi Blatt

"They told us we were going to be resettled until the end of the war.
'And you believed it?’
Why not? Even the Dutch guards and the Jewish officials told us so. We received cards from transports leaving before us."

Blatt forced himself to make them face reality:

"Listen, you will never see your father or brother again, nor will you ever leave here alive. This is Sobibor. A death factory... It's true. I'm not crazy. Please believe me. The smell is from dead bodies piling up for days in the hot sun, waiting to be burned. And the fire you see is burning them. This is a place that gasses and burns Jews."
The girls did not survive.

Dov Freiberg, who had been a prisoner in Sobibor since its first days, testified at the trial of
Eichmann about a particularly horrifying incident:

"There was a captain from Holland, a Jew. He headed an organization, a secret organization ... some contact was established between this Dutchman and the Ukrainian (guards). They began plotting an uprising. And then one day in a roll call they took him out, this Dutchman, and began questioning him. 'Who were the ringleaders?' This man withstood tortures and endless blows and he never said a word. The Germans told him that if he does not speak they would give orders that the Dutch block would be ordered to Camp III and they will be beheaded in front of his eyes. And he said, 'Anyway you are doing what you wish, you will not get a word out of me, not a whisper.' And they gave the orders to this Dutch block to move, all of them, about 70 people, and they were brought to Camp III. On the next day we learned that the Germans  had kept their word. They beheaded the people. Yes, they cut off their heads."

The Dutch captain's name was Joseph Jacobs. Some sources suggest that there were 72 Dutch prisoners executed in this incident and that they were gassed. Other sources state that the prisoners were shot.

Anne Frank

Deportations of Jews continued from Holland to Auschwitz and other camps almost up until the moment of liberation. On the eve of the Jewish New Year, 29 September 1943, 2,000 Jews, the remnant of the Amsterdam community, were taken to Westerbork. Amongst their number were the leaders and senior staff of the Joodsche Raad, including Asscher and Cohen. Asscher was deported to Bergen-Belsen, Cohen to Terezin (Theresienstadt). Both survived. On their return to the Netherlands, both were charged by the post-war Dutch government with collaborating with the enemy. After investigation, the charges against them were not pursued. However, a tribunal acting on behalf of the Jewish community found each man guilty, and they were barred from participating in any kind of Jewish communal activity. In 1950, the sentence against Cohen was annulled, but he never again became active in Jewish public life. Asscher refused to acknowledge the tribunal's competence and broke off all ties with the Jewish community. On his death he was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery.

On 3 September 1944, the final train destined for Auschwitz left Holland, containing 1,019 Jews. 549 were gassed on arrival. In total, more than 56,500 Dutch Jews were deported to Auschwitz, of whom a little over 1,000 survived. Of the more than 34,000 who had been deported to Sobibor, less than 20 were still alive at the war's end.1,750 Dutch Jews had been deported to Mauthausen. There was a single survivor from that camp.

Overall, 107,000 Dutch Jews had been deported, of whom approximately 102,000 had perished. Probably another 2,000 had been killed, committed suicide or died of privation in Holland itself. The death toll represented almost 75% of the pre-war Jewish population, the highest proportion of Jewish fatalities for all of Nazi-occupied Western Europe. How could this have happened in a country renowned for its alleged tolerance and compassion?
It is a difficult question to answer. Many reasons have been proposed, none of them wholly satisfactory. The Dutch were unfortunate to be governed by a fanatically Nazi, Austrian dominated administration. That the Dutch civil service was exceptionally efficient only worsened the situation. The geography of the country, with its absence of mountains and forests made sheltering Jews difficult. The Jews themselves, concentrated in the cities, became an easy target. The Jewish leadership pursued a policy with their persecutors bordering on collaboration. And the stratified nature of Dutch society, divided into columns, or "zuilen", of Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational communities that maintained self-contained political parties, trade unions, schools, clubs and medical institutions, unwittingly contributed
to the disaster. At the same time that the Jews were being victimized by the German administration, they were cut off from established support systems. All of these factors probably contributed towards a lethal result.

Fritz Pfeffer

It must equally be said that those Dutch Jews who survived in Holland only did so because of the bravery and compassion of their fellow non-Jewish Dutch neighbours. Anne Frank, her family and the others hidden in the annexe at 263 Prinsengracht were only able to endure their confinement for more than two years as a result of such a humanitarian commitment. Yet in the end, the Franks were also almost certainly betrayed by a Dutch citizen. Of the 8 who had sheltered together in the annexe, only Otto Frank survived. Edith Frank died in Auschwitz on 6 January 1945 from hunger and exhaustion. Hermann van Pels was gassed at Auschwitz on 6 September 1944. Auguste van Pels was transported to a series of camps – Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt and finally to an unconfirmed destination, where she died some time prior to 8 May 1945. Peter van Pels left Auschwitz on 16 January 1945, a participant in a death-march which eventually arrived at Mauthausen, where he died on 5 May 1945. Fritz Pfeffer was sent from Auschwitz to Sachsenhausen and thence to Neuengamme. He died there on 20 December 1944.

Margot and Anne Frank were transported from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen at the end of October 1944. Together, they survived the horrors of that camp until at sometime in mid or late March 1945, suffering from typhus and having fallen from her bunk, Margot died. Anne, also infected with typhus and desolate at the death of her sister, died a few days later. She was not yet 16 years of age. 2-3 weeks later the British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen.

Seyss-Inquart was tried before the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg, found guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to death and hanged in 1946. Rauter was tried by a Dutch court and executed in 1949. Aus der Fünten was condemned to death in Holland, a sentence commuted to life imprisonment. He was amnestied in 1989. Lages was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Dutch court, but released in 1966. He died 5 years later. Two other men found guilty of war crimes in the Netherlands, Joseph Johann Kotälla and Franz Fischer were imprisoned in Breda together with Aus der Fünten and Lages. Collectively known as "The Breda Four", Kotälla died in prison in 1979 and Fischer was amnestied at the same time as Aus der Fünten. The release of three of "The Breda Four" was the cause of outrage and protest on the part of many Dutch citizens. Naumann was condemned to death by a US military tribunal and executed in 1951. A British court had similarly condemned Schöngarth to death in 1946.


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Hilberg, Raul. Perpetrators Victims Bystanders, Harper Collins, New York, 1993
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Blatt, Thomas Toivi. From The Ashes Of Sobibor, Northwestern University Press, Evanston Illinois,1997
Arad, Yitzhak. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka - The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987
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Presser, Dr.J., Ondergang, Staatsuitgeverij, ‘s-Gravenhage, 1965.

De Jong, Dr.L., Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, Deel 8, RIOD / Martinus Nijhoff, ’s-Gravenhage, 1978.



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