|The persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands (and the position of ‘foreign’ Jews)|
Jews were excluded from Dutch society more or less from the start of the occupation. After August 1940 Jews were denied admission to public office. This decree was followed in October of the same year by the ‘Aryan Declaration’ form, which was filled in by almost all civil servants. On 21 October the occupying authorities announced the dismissal of all Jewish civil servants. In January 1941 Jews were denied access to cinemas and theatres and were obliged to register. In September signs saying ‘Forbidden for Jews’ appeared in all public places.
Razzia, Jonas Daniel Meyerplein, 22 February 1941 (NIOD 97185)
After the February strike of 1941 the systematic persecution of the Jews rapidly gathered momentum. The Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung) became operational in Amsterdam. Officially an agency for voluntary emigration, the Central Office was nothing less than a facilitator of universal deportation. The isolation phase had come to an end. The occupying forces now launched raids (razzias) that were initially intended to inspire fear. From the start of 1942, unemployed Jewish males (most having lost their jobs due to the exclusion legislation) were transferred to labour camps in the North and East of the country. In May 1942 Jews were obliged to wear a yellow star on their clothing and thousands of Dutch Jews were forced to move to Amsterdam to await deportation. In February 1941 the Jewish Council was established which, in theory, was to act as a mediator between the occupiers and the Jewish community. In mid-1942 the first train left Amsterdam for Westerbork, the transit camp from which many Dutch Jews were transported to Auschwitz or Sobibor. The last major razzia in Amsterdam took place at the end of September 1943. Out of the 107,000 Jews that were deported only around 5,000 returned.
The occupying forces did not quite know what to do with ‘foreign Jews’. Strictly speaking, the anti-Jewish measures applied equally to Jews with a non-Dutch passport, but the Auswärtige Amt decided that account should be taken of the different nationalities and the Reich Commission assented. Jews who were nationals of annexed or occupied countries could not automatically expect special protection. The fate of nationals from countries allied with Nazi-Germany depended on the interest of the respective governments. Croatia, Slovakia and Romania showed no interest, while Denmark, Finland, Italy and Hungary demanded the return of their Jewish nationals. Jewish nationals from neutral countries, such as Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Liberia, Argentina and Turkey, received more consideration. Nationals from enemy powers – Great-Britain and the US – were also treated with caution due to fears for the safety of German nationals in these countries. The special status of some foreign Jews seemed to create openings for escape. The consuls of Paraguay, Honduras and el Salvador in Switzerland, and the consul of Ecuador in Stockholm were happy to issue papers in return for appropriate payment. Despite all the chaos and upheaval, possession of such a passport brought a longer stay in the Netherlands and eventually deportation to Bergen-Belsen ‘holding camp’ – where thousands died in the months before the liberation.
From the very start the German Jews were objects of special ‘interest’ for the occupiers. This ‘interest’ manifested itself in, amongst others, arrests, forced relocations and incarceration in Westerbork. One question posed time and again since 1945 is whether German Jews ultimately had a better chance of survival than Dutch Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The results of statistical research indicate that nationality played no significant role in the survival figures. It is also clear that, given their previous experience in Nazi Germany, German Jews who feared the imminent occupation regime may have been more ready to flee – provided they had the contacts and the means to do so. It has been confirmed many times that German Jews saved their own skin by helping to run the camp at Westerbork. The historian Bob Moore points out, however, that it was the structure of the persecution system that gave “a select group a head start in the scramble for jobs with prospects of (at least temporary) safety”.