A number of Dutch politicians are calling on their government to apologize for what they call the "passive" response of the exiled Dutch government to the mass deportations of Jews by Nazi occupiers during World War II. Of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands before the German invasion in 1940, more than 100,000 were deported and murdered in the Nazi death camps. About 30,000 Jews live in the Netherlands today, out of a total population of nearly 17 million.
Geert Wilders, the leader of the populist Freedom Party, wrote to Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday asking if he would apologize based on comments by two former government ministers in a recently published book about post-war reparations paid to Jews. Government spokesman Chris Breedveld said the administration would carefully study.
One of the former ministers, Els Borst, said in an interview for the book ‘Judging the Netherlands’ by Israeli writer Manfred Gerstenfeld (pictured right), that she believed the response by the Dutch wartime government in exile would have been tougher had Nazis been deporting Catholics or Protestants. Borst, who as health minister was involved in negotiations in the 1990s on reparations for Jewish Holocaust victims, said wartime prime minister Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy and Queen Wilhelmina, the grandmother of current Queen Beatrix, should have appealed from their exile in London to the Dutch people and asked them to do more to protect Jewish compatriots.
"The government's stance shows that they, along with many others, saw Jewish Dutch citizens as a special group and thought: 'We have real Dutch people and we have Jewish Dutch people,'" Borst said in an interview. Wilders said he was shocked by the comments. "It would be fitting if the government were at least to offer its apologies," he said in a statement.
Gerrit Zalm, a former finance minister who also played a prominent role in restitution negotiations in the 1990s, said he also would support calls for a formal apology. "I would not have had a problem with apologizing" at the end of the restitution process, Zalm told Gerstenfeld for his book. Zalm added that if a Jewish umbrella organization in the Netherlands were to bring up the issue of an apology again, "I would publicly support it."
The Dutch government agreed in 2000 to pay US$ 180 million in restitution to Jews and then-Prime Minister Wim Kok expressed regret for the way the Dutch had treated Jews after the war.
Ronny Naftaniel, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, said Dutch Jews would welcome an apology for the "passive" attitude of the monarchy and government in exile, though his group has not officially called for one. "The Dutch government in exile was terribly passive and the Dutch queen at the time, Wilhelmina, hardly spoke a word about Jewish suffering in the Netherlands," he told the 'Associated Press' news agency. Wilhelmina reportedly devoted only five sentences to the fate of her Jewish subjects in five years of radio broadcasts from exile.
The Germans relied heavily on the Dutch Nazi party NSB to administer daily life and facilitate the rounding up and deportation of roughly 85 percent of Holland’s Jews.
After the war, the Netherlands long had a reputation for protecting Jews from the Nazis, an image largely fostered by the story of Anne Frank, whose diary described her two-year refuge with her family in a concealed loft in an Amsterdam canal house. That benign image began to unravel with claims that the government and banks had profited from the seizure of Jewish assets, sparking national soul-searching in the years leading up to the reparation deal.
Gerstenfeld - who had to hide from the Nazis in Amsterdam for two years during the war - told AP that he was surprised at the current commotion about the government in exile's stance on Jews, as Dutch politicians and society had largely ignored the subject in the past. "This has never been an issue," he said. "Nobody wanted to hear about it."