However, in 1943 and 1944, when Germans began calling Dutch men for forced labor in Germany, 300,000 Dutch men were hidden to avoid this fate. Clearly, more than enough hiding places for the 140,000 pre-war Dutch Jews existed in the Netherlands, so how is it that more Jews were not able to dive under? The first factor is that many did not know to try. Particularly because of the extent to which the Nazis sought to please or at least appease the Netherlands, few people had any idea of Hitler’s ultimate plans. Therefore most people, Jews included, thought they would ride out whatever burdensome measures were put in place by the Nazi regime. To go into hiding in violation of the law did not seem to make sense to most families.

Next, arrangements to go into hiding were difficult to make. Families would have needed to secure a place to stay and

Hitler murdered approximately three out of every four Jews living in the Netherlands before World War II. These numbers reflect the devastation of the Holocaust in general, however become particularly meaningful when compared to similar statistics from other countries. Such a comparison sheds light on what factors that were uniquely Dutch allowed Hitler to be so “successful” in carrying out his Final Solution. The responsibility for the destruction of Dutch Jewry has become very historically controversial. While the factors that led to these events can be analyzed, it is impossible, when one is not faced with the extreme decisions Europeans faced during World War II, to justifiably place blame on anyone other than the Nazis themselves.

The Dutch tend to have a good name in World War II history—resistors are recognized for their work in rescuing Jews. Most people are shocked then, to learn of the destruction of the Jewish community in the Netherlands, which was much more severe than that in other Western European countries. The reality is that resistance efforts were successful—approximately two of every three people hidden survived the war, whereas only approximately one in twenty sent to concentration camp survived. A combination of geographic and human factors prevented more from being done to rescue Jews.

Kamp Westerbork (above); Monument at Hollandsche Schouwberg (right)
Genocide
Monument to Jewish Holocaust victims, Gouda, South Holland (above); Netherlands War Documentation Center (NIOD), Amsterdam (right)
The most important factor in the efficiency with which Dutch Jews were murdered is the efficiency of the Dutch civil services. The Netherlands had a well-organized bureaucracy in place at the beginning of World War II. Seeking to keep Dutch citizens content; German overseers kept most Dutch civil servants in place, German officials were only placed in positions deemed absolutely necessary. Not knowing the full extent of German plans, most Dutch citizens complied with German measures, wanting to wait out the turbulent times. Further, Dutch civil servants who distrusted the Nazi regime thought it better that they retain their position than resign and be replaced by a Nazi official. Thus, when Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reichskommissar or Imperial Commissioner in the Netherlands, requested maps of where Dutch Jews lived, Dutch civil servants compiled these maps with more detail than was even requested of them. Trains carrying Jews from around the Netherlands to Kamp Westerbork, the primary transit camp for Dutch Jews, were run by the Dutch Railway with Dutch train conductors. As is often a theme in the World War II Netherlands, a railway strike came once it was too late—in late 1944 once all Jews not in hiding had been deported

from the Netherlands. Blind to the fate of Jews in which they were complicit, most Dutch citizens, particularly civil servants, passively followed German orders, allowing the Nazis to efficiently murder Dutch Jews. Particularly because the Dutch government had fled to London and there was therefore no authority in the Netherlands but the Germans, resistance seemed out of the question for most of the Dutch populace.

Not only were the Dutch civil services efficient, but the Joodse Raad or Jewish Council allowed the Germans to take a relatively hands-off approach to its implementation of the Final Solution. According to Nazi orders, the Council produced names weekly of who was to be deported. Abraham Asscher and David Cohen, Chairmen of the Council, have become very controversial as many consider them responsible for allowing so many Jews to be murdered. The leaders of the Council expected to be immune from deportation, though they ended up being sent to concentration camp after the Netherlands had otherwise been declared judenrein. The extent to which the Joodse Raad is responsible for the efficient execution of German plans is debatable. While some say they did not need to carry out orders as precisely and work as efficiently as they did, they were in the impossible position of representing a genocidal regime, albeit to their own people. Further, registration and deportation of Dutch Jews was relatively easy as the Jewish population was concentrated in Amsterdam (over half of Dutch Jews) and other major cities.

However efficient the apparatuses by which the Germans deported Jews were, the efforts of private citizens could have saved many, particularly given the relatively small German presence in the Netherlands throughout most of the war. Why then, was Hitler able to murder approximately 75% of the Jewish population? Partially responsible is the geography of the Netherlands. It is a very small and densely populated country. The terrain is uniformly flat, and it is not as densely forested as other countries. Nature provided few hiding places for Jews seeking to dive under, and there are few regions rural enough to afford a potential diver protection in isolation. All of these geographic features also made it difficult to move people from hiding place to hiding place. Finally, the Netherlands shares a considerable Eastern border with Germany. Most hiding places were found in rural parts of the country, along the southern and eastern periphery. Essentially, most Jews hidden on farms in the Netherlands were living right under the Germans’ noses. The great difficulty in locating hiding places and moving divers from place to place inhibited efforts to rescue Jews in the Netherlands.

Former orphanage for girls in Jewish Quarter, today just a cafe, a Hebrew date can be seen in top right(left); Map drawn by Dutch civil servants of Jewish residences in Amsterdam, on display at Hollandsche Schouwberg, Amsterdam (right)

people to bring them food and take care of whatever other arrangements were necessary. As the war went on and suspicions about where divers were hidden arose, divers needed to move from hiding place to hiding place. The risky maneuvering whenever a diver came out of cover required the aid of someone involved in the Resistance. Even if someone considered diving under, it would have been difficult to know where to start in making arrangements. It was difficult to know who one could trust, particularly early on in the occupation.

Why then, did the Dutch Jewish community suffer so much more than those of other Western European nations? France and Belgium each lost approximately one quarter of their respective Jewish communities. Poland, which lost between 85% and 90% of its Jewish population, is statistically much closer to the Netherlands. Poland, however, lacked the tradition of religious tolerance that the Netherlands was known for and the high level of assimilation of the Jewish population that existed throughout Western Europe.

One primary characteristic distinguishing the Netherlands from France and Belgium was its neutrality in World War I. Unlike those countries, the Netherlands was very much insulated from the fighting. In France and Belgium, resistance groups had developed among the civilians during the First World War. Thus, networks of resistors already existed, and people had experience in working against a foreign power. This experience proved key in resistance efforts in the early stages of German occupation, experience Dutch citizens never had. Thus, Dutch resistance was slow to organize, as it

required secretive networking. Further, most Dutch citizens had no interest in resisting, as they would be best off involving themselves as little as possible in the war. It is only once German measures grew harsher and harsher that many Dutch citizens were motivated to resist. Thus, there was not enough of a resistance apparatus to rescue more Jews during the early stages of occupation. By the time the Resistance reached its peak, almost all Jews not in hiding had been deported from the country. Further, most hiding places were found in the rural outskirts of the country on farms, while the Jewish population was concentrated in the Randstad (the area of North and South Holland encompassing the major Dutch urban areas, the most densely populated part of the Netherlands), particularly in Amsterdam. Not only then were Jews far removed from potential hiding places, but many potential rescuers were far removed from Jewish communities.

Many knew no Jews and were thus unsympathetic to their plight. Given the secrecy with which the Resistance needed to organize and the lack of incentive for many people to risk their own lives for others, it was difficult for anyone thinking about diving under to actually secure a place to go.

Finally, the survival rate of those sent to concentration camps is so low, because most were killed immediately upon arrival at the camp. Most Dutch Jews were sent either to Auschwitz, with its extensive gas chambers and crematoria complexes at Birkenau, or to Sobibor, which had no function other than a death camp. People went literally right from the trains to the gas chambers. At Auschwitz, Thereisenstadt, and Bergen-Belsen, disease and inhumane conditions took a toll on those who were not directly murdered. However, because the overwhelming majority of Dutch Jews were sent to Auschwitz and Sobibor, which were both primarily death camps, the survival rate was very low.