The Netherlands

Historical Background

Jews in Westerbork boarding the deportation train to AuschwitzJews in Westerbork boarding the deportation train to Auschwitz

140,000 Jews were living in the Netherlands when the country was invaded by Germany in May 1940. Around 15,000 of them were Jews who had fled from Germany and who were once again under Nazi domination. Soon after the occupation, anti-Jewish decrees were enacted: Jewish civil servants were fired, Jewish businesses and then the Jews themselves had to be registered. Within two years, in summer 1942, the deportation to the death camps began. Transports regularly left the transit camps of Westerbork and Vught – mostly for Auschwitz and Sobibor. By the summer of 1943 most of the Jews in the Netherlands had been deported. By the time the last transport left in September 1944 a total of 107,000 Jews had been deported to the extermination camps. Only 5,000 of them returned after the war. More than 75% of Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust.

The German occupation authorities in the Netherlands were lead by firmly committed Nazism and an efficient system for the persecution of the Jews was set up. While the Dutch civil administration displayed compliance with the German anti-Jewish measures, the arrest in early 1941 of several hundred Jews who were deported to concentration camps in Germany generated widespread indignation. A general strike of the Dutch workers was called on February 25, 1941, which ended a few days later as a result of strong German pressure. Consequently the initial public’s indignation against the German persecution of the Jews dissipated. In summer 1942, when the deportations to the death camps began, the Catholic churches protested, and in retaliation, the Germans deported the Jews that were baptized to Catholicism. A few Dutch rescue groups of students and or church circles came into being spontaneously and sporadically and helped find shelter for Jews, especially for children, but during the first and most crucial period of deportation, most Jews could only rely on themselves to find hiding places. The situation became more dangerous after September 1942, when special units were formed, made up of Dutch collaborators that began hunting for hiding Jews. Organized and centrally coordinated Dutch resistance came into being in 1943, after the Germans began to conscript Dutch men for forced labor. By that time most of the Jews had already been deported. An estimated 25,000 Jews went into hiding in the Netherlands. A third of them were betrayed and discovered and two thirds survived.