The hunt for Jews! It sounds truly horrible, and that’s exactly what it was, horrible. Germany started stigmatizing and mistreating Jews long before the second world broke out. They were treated and persecuted as second rate citizens. Words like ‘Berufsverboten’ (ban on pursuing a specified occupation) were concepts the Germans had been familiar with for years.
Jews, who had felt safe in Amsterdam for centuries, were suddenly robbed of their property, identity and life. The Jewish community in the city would never recover.
10 per cent of the Amsterdam population was Jewish in 1939; about 75.000 out of 120.000 Jews residing in The Netherlands lived in the city.
Immediately after the Nazi’s occupation of the country in May 1940, the hunt for Jews was on. Raids in Jewish neighbourhoods resulted in the disappearance of hundreds a week. In February 1941, the city rose in insurrection and went on a total strike. This display of solidarity is still remembered each year; it’s known as the February strike.
The Davids star
The strike ended in a bloodbath, with nine dead and 24 seriously injured. The persecution of Jews increased; they were hunted down and murdered. To recognize Jews, they became obligated to wear a star on their clothes with the name Jood (Jew) on it. They would be arrested immediately; many Jews had already been arrested and never seen or heard from again.
Amsterdam had a civil registry where every civilian living in the city was registered. The Germans used this registry to determine who was of Jewish descent and who was not.
Jews were put on transport to extermination camps such as Sobibor and Auschwitz. Trains overloaded with people sent in the direction of Germany daily; they always returned empty.
The dubious roles played by the Jewish council, the NSB (National Socialist Movement), the municipality and the police.
The Jewish counsel
The Jewish council was an organization called into being by the Germans; they were supposed to look after the interest of the Jewish community in the city. However, that’s not what they did; they helped the Germans by handing them over lists of property held by Jews and their personal details.
The council was summoned in June 1942 to hand over a list of all unemployed Jews living in Amsterdam to work in German factories and labour camps. The Jewish council consented.
The National Socialist Movement was founded in 1931 and buried at the end of the second world war when peace broke out. This movement consisted of people of Dutch origin who agreed with the German Nazi ideologies. They helped in the tracking down of Jews and their consequent departure to Germany and Poland.
The movement was founded by an intelligent man called Anton Mussert. During the last three years of the war, the Germans considered him the most important ally they had in The Netherlands. The NSB was dissolved after the war, and Mussert was condemned to death.
The municipality and its officials
It was no longer allowed for Jews to work in several occupations; public functions were, for the most part, no longer available to Jews either.
The corrective measure stating that shops were to display signs on their front windows informing the public that Jews were no longer allowed to use its services was not disputed by the city officials. Town officials, to a man, all signed a statement that they were not of Jewish descent. Every Jew that worked in some way for the city’s administration was given notice and dismissed.
The Germans had placed the police force under their direct control; the police provided the Germans with lists of information and addresses of Jews that were supposed to be arrested. The police commissaries made it clear to the cop on the street that if he knew what was good for him, he’d better comply. Consequently, there is hardly any evidence of resistance by the Dutch police against the German anti-Jewish measures.
Not a lot has been published of the role played by the Amsterdam police force during those dark days. Rotterdam, however, tells a different story; they even called whole brigades into being that were used to “act” against Jews and their sympathizers. As for Amsterdam, unfortunately, in hindsight, we must conclude that the hands of the Amsterdam police also did not survive the war untarnished.
The Solution to the Jewish matter
The Germans considered the Jews to be a problem that needed to be solved. Literally! Out of the 120.000 Jews that lived in The Netherlands in 1939, 102.000 were murdered by the Nazi’s. Germany itself killed 160.000 German Jews, and in Poland, 2.5 million were butchered.
Shoah, the holocaust The systematic persecution of Jews at the hand of the nazis is often referred to as the holocaust. But actually, that’s not correct; the word holocaust gives a rather incorrect image of what really happened. Genocide gives a far better description of what the nazis were really after. The word Shoah ‘catastrophe’ is also used to refer to the genocide, but it, like holocaust (total devastation, great disaster, destruction by fire; burnt offering; mass killing, great massacre), is too general.
Six million European Jews (roughly a third of all Jews worldwide) were exterminated by The Nazi’s during their occupation of Europe. Most were killed in extermination camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor. Concentration camps were generally prisons, labour camps or halfway camps and did not function as death factories.
But people died there to, 500 in Amersfoort, Bergen Belsen (1.700), Ravensbrück (260) and Westerbork (680.)
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