Deportation of Jews from the Westerbork transit camp. The Netherlands, 1943. (c) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
On 15 July 1942, German authorities began deporting Dutch Jews to killing centers and concentration camps across Germany and German-occupied Poland.
About 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands before the country was invaded by Germany in May 1940. The overwhelming majority of Jews in the Netherlands, who had lived in the country for centuries, were largely considered to be socially integrated among the general Dutch population.
Soon after Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands, German authorities began implementing anti-Jewish decrees, including banning Jews from working at civil service jobs and requiring Jews to register their business assets and eventually themselves. In all, 159,806 people registered, including approximately 25,000 Jewish refugees as a result of the policies of the Third Reich.
After several hundred young Jews were arrested, Dutch workers began striking on 25 February 1941. However, German officials brutally suppressed the strike and segregated Jews from the general Dutch population, incarcerating 15,000 Jews in Nazi-administered forced-labor camps and proceeding to deport Jews to death camps. Most trains took Jewish citizens to Auschwitz and Sobibor.
By the summer of 1943, most Jews in the Netherlands had been deported to death camps, with 60,000 sent to Auschwitz and over 34,000 sent to Sobibor. While the last train to deport Jews from Westerbork to Auschwitz left on 3 September 1944, by that point the Germans and their Dutch collaborators had already deported some 107,000 Jews to death camps – only about 5,200 of them survived.
Unfortunately for the Dutch Jewish community, German police were almost in complete control of Dutch territory and were the sole authority over the organization and execution of the deportations. Furthermore, German authorities in the Netherlands effectively used misinformation and deception – for instance initially issuing tens of thousands of provisional exceptions to the deportation – to mislead Jews to believing that the situation was less dire than it actually was. These factors led less Jews to attempt to go into hiding or succeed at doing so. While some 25,000-30,000 Jews did manage to hide from the Nazis, the efficiency of the German authorities and cooperation of Dutch administrators made escape exceedingly difficult.
Adolf Eichmann, who organized the deportations of the Jews throughout Europe from Berlin, expressed his satisfaction by saying, “In the beginning you could say that the trains from the Netherlands were really rolling; it was quite wonderful.”
Less than 25 percent of Dutch Jewry survived the Holocaust. Among the victims was Anne Frank, whose diary documenting the fears of being discovered in the annex has been translated into 65 languages and is the most widely read diary of the Holocaust.