Holland’s Hecatomb: The Holocaust

Mike Warren History 375 March 24, 2008

-1I hear the ever approaching thunder... - Anne Frank Holland has long been known as a peaceful and democratic nation, similar to other countries in Europe. Holland was one of the many European countries under Nazi occupation during the Second World War, and was subjected to the Holocaust. However, while other neighbouring countries were struggling in the same way Holland was, a strange phenomenon took place. During the Holocaust no other Western European country had a higher deportation and murder rate of Jews to total Jews in the country than Holland did. Of the approximately 140,000 Jews in Holland before Nazi occupation began, only 35,000 were still alive in 1945. This paper will discuss this interesting phenomenon. While there are logical explanations that begin to unravel this mystery, there are many countless variables when trying to decipher why a higher percentage of Jews died in Holland than anywhere else. In this discussion the author assumes basic knowledge of the Holocaust, as certain basic facts will not be discussed. The scope of this discussion will be focused on Holland, and any comparisons made to the Holocaust outside of Holland will be done so in regards to Western Europe only. For purposes of this argument, the Holocaust in Eastern Europe will be ignored, with the exception of discussing Auschwitz and the deportation of Western European Jews. Dutch nationals as well as foreigners and refugees in Holland will be encapsulated in this

-2paper. Finally, when discussing why the murder rate was the highest in Holland, resistance, concentration, seizure, and deportation will be analyzed and considered. While the numbers of deported and murdered were higher and different than the other Western European countries, there were a number of similarities in the occupation of Holland. Anti-Jewish laws were passed, much like the Nuremburg laws in Germany1. This was similar to laws passed in France shortly after the surrender in June 1940. There were other familiar elements in Holland under Nazi rule, like “intelligence gathering, the creation of an illegal press, the fomenting of strikes, the organization of escape routes, and help for those evading forced labour and persecution2.” In dissecting what was different about Holland during the occupation, it becomes important to identify similarities. The idea is to determine subtle or obvious differences that may help explain the reason behind the high rate of deportation and murder. At the time the occupation began, there were 140,000 Jews in Holland, of which about 35,000 were foreign. Most of these stateless Jews were “undesirable”


Benjamin H. Cassutto, The Dutch Christians in the Netherlands and their effects on Jewish Identity, Retrieved March 16, 2008 from www.yadvashem.com. 2 Dick van Galen Last, The Netherlands, in Bob Moore (ed.), Resistance In Western Europe (New York: Oxford Press, 2000), p. 189.

-3German Jews3. Unlike other countries in Western Europe, Holland was ruled under civil administration. Government officials, including the royal family, had fled the country when the occupation began, leaving the country to be run fully by the Nazi’s. In other countries there was more reliance on government collaboration, like in France for example. This is a definitive factor in why the rates of murder and deportation were higher in Holland. Holland had a physical geography that was very undesirable to resistance. With less opportunity or availability for resistance or escape, Dutch Jews and refugee Jews in Holland were at a greater risk of being rounded up than in other countries. Unlike some of the other Western European countries under occupation, Holland had no mountains and little to no forested areas. Nazi officials could be anywhere in the country in a matter of hours4. Also, because of the density of the population within the country, there were little places to hide or attempt to organize any resistance. While it could be argued that other countries under Nazi occupation like Denmark or Belgium had similar geographical obstacles, Holland had more problems and obstacles in many ways. Unlike some other western occupied countries, Holland did not have a border with a neutral country. The topography allowed for virtually no maquis or partisan movement like in other western

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report On The Banality Of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1963), p. 167. 4 Louis de Jong, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 31.

-4countries5. The water areas around Holland also became a major barrier. The coast along Holland was heavily fortified by the German Navy. Dutch Jews were unable to escape by boat, unlike Denmark where thousands of people were able to travel by sea reach Sweden, a neutral and safe place6. Other countries also had access to certain air support of supplies and food during Nazi occupation. Because of stringent fortifications, Holland was had little outside help. With escape routes limited, and no suitable way for Jews to get out, or help to get in, it became very difficult to avoid the Nazi war machine. It’s important to link these geographical features of Holland with the rates of deportation in the country. “The geographic situation of Holland and the nature of the German administration installed there favored the destructive work. Extraordinary efforts on the parts of the Jews and the Dutch would have been required to change these odds, and the Jews were incapable of concerted counteraction7.” A factor that can also be attributed to Holland’s inability to organize or escape was the surprise invasion of Holland. Part of the lightning war, the Nazi’s did not even declare war before rolling in tanks in May 1940. The Dutch had no Maginot line like in France, and were unable to organize or deploy any sort of significant resistance8. The Dutch army that met the Nazi’s were obviously outnumbered and outgunned. The argument is that if the Dutch people had more
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Galen Last, The Netherlands, p. 189. Galen Last, The Netherlands, p. 190. 7 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction Of European Jews, Third Edition, Volume II (London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 631. 8 M.R.D. Foot, European Resistance to Nazism 1940-45 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1977), p. 260.

-5time to prepare for the invasion, numerous things could have taken place that may have eventually saved numbers of Jews from being killed. With more time, Jews and citizens in general could have planned escape or hiding options, or had more time to organize some sort of guerrilla resistance9. There is some evidence show that Nazi techniques in rounding up and deporting Jews was more effective in Holland than in other countries in Western Europe. In Holland the Nazi’s had a ruthless administration that became a “catastrophic factor in the situation for the Jews10.” Many members of the administration were Austrian, and the Propaganda Minister Goebbels had expressed admiration of their abilities in the treatment of subject peoples. This was unlike Norway, where there was a puppet regime in place11. In France the Nazi’s had a similar political plan in place, employing fewer Nazi’s and depending more on domestic regimes. In Denmark the Nazi presence could not have been the same extent as in Holland as thousands of people, including Jews, were able to escape. Confiscation of property and deportations of Jews were uncommonly thorough against the Jews in Holland12. The pressure of the Nazi collection of Jews is almost certainly linked to the rates of deportation.


M.R.D. Foot, European Resistance, p. 261. Hilberg, European Jews, p. 601. 11 Hilberg, European Jews, p. 601. 12 Pieter Lagrou, The Legacy Of Nazi Occupation In Western Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 76.

-6Along with the pressure exerted by the Nazi’s, there were many other factors that made the uprooting and deportation process easier in Holland than in other countries in the west. It was easier for Jews to be identified in Holland as there were concentrations or pockets in urban places. 80,000 Jews, more than half the total of 140,000 Jews, lived in Amsterdam alone13. With an urban area so concentrated with Jews, the Nazi’s obviously had an easier time with collecting and deporting than in other rural places. Hilberg reported that “it was as though the Dutch Jews were already living in a trap14.” One could argue that once again the geography of Holland doomed them. With such a small area, and being so close to Germany, Nazi administrators could easily infiltrate and comb every area in Holland. Northern parts of Denmark or Norway, and western parts of France were further out of the way, which may help describe why more Jews in those countries escaped deportation15. The factors that have been used to argue why Holland suffered the highest proportion of deported Jews are only part of the puzzle. There are probably numerous factors that lie in the untold stories of the Nazi administrators, or Jewish residents that may or may not have survived. The fact is that with an unprecedented event such as the Holocaust, the historian has a limited scope in trying to understand such a weird phenomenon. The fact is that while many
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Jacob Presser, The Destruction Of Dutch Jews (New York, 1969), p. 23. Hilberg, European Jews, p. 601. 15 Presser, The Destruction Of Dutch Jews, p. 27.

-7things were different in Holland, many things were also the same or quite similar to routines or technique used in other countries. The role of everyday citizens is an important facet of this issue. The Nazi’s are well known for placing importance on local citizens and officials throughout the war. The question of ‘why?’ comes up when describing the extent of local involvement, like the Dutch police battalion that was “highly efficient in seizing Jews” in August and September of 194216. Schogt also describes how the Dutch state police were incredibly firm and as harsh as Nazi’s in the methods of identifying and seizing Jews17. Much of the research on the topic of ‘why?’ in regards to the issue in Holland states that it is an under researched area. When discussing the idea of Dutch people in regards to helping the Nazi’s in the rounding up of Jews, whether through direct aid or through passivity on different levels, there is an element of mystery involved. Half the population of Holland were Calvinists and knew the bible well. To these people, anti-Semitism was going beyond abnormal or inhumane behavior: it was sacrilegious18. Some of these same people would later help the Nazi’s identify and seize the Jews. This causes some confusion and complexity over what happened at the lowest levels of the Holocaust. Mazower discusses this issue. With the wartime phenomena and

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Hilberg, European Jews, p. 618. Henry G. Schogt, The Curtain: Witness and Memory in Wartime Holland (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press, 2003), p. 115. 18 M.R.D. Foot, European Resistance, p. 260.

-8constant flux and ideological uncertainty that the war produced, mysteries of this sort happened, and require further investigation19. In conclusion, there are many identifiable factors in arguing why Holland had such high rates of deportation and ultimately murder, as well as some unidentified factors. Resistance was severely restricted in Holland on many levels, beyond the realities that other Western European countries faced. The concentration of Jews in Holland was different than the makeup of Jews in other countries: in Holland they were saturated in urban areas. The seizure of Jews in Holland was a process that saw uncommon techniques used by both Nazi’s and local officials and citizens. All of these points create more questions which ultimately require more study; however one cannot deny that these all helped create a society where Jews were easily rounded up and deported at proportionally astonishing rates.


Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century (London: Penguin, 1998), p. 192.


Arendt, H. Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report On The Banality Of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1963). Cassutto, B.H. The Dutch Christians in the Netherlands and their effects on Jewish Identity. Retrieved March 16, 2008 from www.yadvashem.com. Foot, M.R.D. European Resistance to Nazism 1940-45 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1977). Galen Last, D. van. The Netherlands. In Bob Moore (ed.)Resistance In Western Europe (New York: Oxford Press, 2000). Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction Of European Jews. Third Edition, Volume II (London: Yale University Press, 2003) Jong, L. de. The Netherlands and Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990). Lagrou, Pieter. The Legacy Of Nazi Occupation In Western Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Mazower, Mark. Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century (London: Penguin, 1998). Presser, Jacob. The Destruction Of Dutch Jews (New York, 1969). Schogt, Henry G. The Curtain: Witness and Memory in Wartime Holland (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press, 2003).

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