Dutch Jews reclaim stolen wealth
More than 50 years after World War II ended, the Dutch Jewish community is reclaiming what was stolen from them and their families during the Nazi occupation.
When the files were discovered three years ago, thousands of people sought copies of the index cards that recounted a small piece of their family history.
And five decades after "The Diary of Anne Frank" first shone light on the travails of Dutch Jews during the German occupation of World War II, a shamed nation was taking another hard look at its failings toward its Jewish citizens.
Although survivors had reclaimed lost real estate and major assets in the 1950s, the Lippmann-Rosenthal archive — named for the bank used by the Nazis to confiscate Jewish property — brought home the small injustices and humiliations suffered by Jews and aroused an impassioned public response.
Within a few months, the Dutch Government, insurance companies, banks and the Amsterdam stock exchange that profited from the seized assets negotiated restitution settlements with Jewish representatives.
By this past July, a total of NLG 584 million had been set aside to be divided among war victims like Elizabeth de Jong, now an 84-year-old resident of Canada.
"When I came back from Auschwitz, I had nothing. Everything had been taken. And the Dutch Government didn't do anything for me," said de Jong, who hid in an attic for two years in the coastal town of Heemstede before her family was captured by the Nazis.
De Jong, who emigrated in 1954, said she was surprised when a nephew told her she could apply for compensation. Last year she received a check for NLG 14,000 guilders.
"I never thought they would do it," she said.
The Dutch Jewish community has found 25,000 survivors or their descendants in about 50 countries and is trying to track down 10,000 more. Claimants have until 31 December to apply.
Rather than trying to establish who lost what during the Nazi occupation, the Jewish community decided to split the money equally among the surviving Jews who lived in the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945, or their descendants.
An initial payment was set at NLG 14,000, based on a rough calculation that 36,500 people survived the war.
"It is not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for lost assets, but more of a restitution for moral shortcomings," said Robert Israel, director of Maror, an organisation set up to identify survivors and pay them their share.
Many of the survivors had fled during the war or left afterward, most going to North America or Israel.
Despite the Dutch reputation for liberal tolerance, proportionately twice as many Jews were killed from the Netherlands as from occupied France or Belgium. Of the 140,000 Dutch Jews before the German invasion, 104,000 died in Nazi death camps.
Beginning in the 1960s, the Dutch conducted a series of introspective studies into why there had been so little active resistance to the Nazis. But it wasn't until emotions were wrenched by the discovery of the bank archives in 1997 that discussions began in earnest about compensation.
The earlier studies found that although the Nazis had few sympathisers, Dutch habits of orderliness and passiveness were exploited by the German occupation force.
De Jong's hiding place, for example, was uncovered through the food stamps used by a friend to feed the hiding Jewish family.
Like the teenage Anne Frank in Amsterdam, de Jong never left her attic hide-out for two years. Then a 26-year-old fashion designer, she lived in a small, concealed room with her husband and her parents, both of whom were deaf and mute.
When she was captured and her parents killed, de Jong was sent to the notorious Bloc 10 in Auschwitz, Poland, where Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on inmates.
"I'm still broken in pieces," she said from Toronto.
De Jong said she was delighted to receive the payment from her native country, which she said she used to pay for her own funeral.
"I don't want to be a burden on anyone when I go," she said.
[Copyright 2001, Associated Press EN]