|Diplomacy and Persecution|
The Holocaust – the massacre of six million people during World War II whom the Nazi regime defined as Jews – was preceded by a mass exodus of German Jews who had been systematically stripped of their rights in Germany. Between 1933 and 1939 the main recipient countries were the USA and Palestine. But some migrants arrived in Britain, France, the Netherlands and other European countries, especially in the years immediately after 1933. The Netherlands gave sanctuary to an estimated 35,000 German-Jewish refugees: 24,000 of whom stayed for longer than two weeks and 11,000 for only a few days. France and Britain were the only European countries that accepted more refugees than the Netherlands. After May 1940 – though the ban did not officially go into effect until October 1941 – emigration was no longer an option for the estimated 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands, including those who had fled Germany. They were trapped, all except a tiny group of ‘foreign’ Jews, who had managed to acquire a foreign passport while in the Netherlands and a few German Jews who could still emigrate‘legally’.
Having already been involved in German-Jewish migration after Hitler seized power in 1933, the Auswärtige Amt (German Ministry of Foreign Affairs) became deeply embroiled in the anti-Jewish policy of the Nazi regime. German embassies and legations kept the Auswärtige Amt in Berlin informed of the situation of German-Jewish emigrants abroad. In the Netherlands the German Legation in The Hague had been actively collecting information on the so-called ‘Jewish question’ since 1934. A close watch was kept on the daily life and activities of German-Jewish refugees while attempts were made to encourage antisemitism among the Dutch population.
During World War II the diplomats of the Auswärtige Amt played an important role in masking and facilitating the Holocaust, which was then taking place in large parts of Europe. In the Netherlands, though there had been no diplomatic representation since the start of the Nazi occupation in May 1940, the Auswärtige Amt appointed diplomat Otto Bene as its representative at the Reich Commission of Arthur Seyss-Inquart. In this position Bene was ideally placed to keep his superiors in Berlin abreast of the progress of the persecution of Jews in the Netherlands. The archives of the Auswärtige Amt provide extraordinary insight into how the persecution of the Jews was implemented on a pan-European scale from 1933 and the part played by the Netherlands in this process.