Moralist leaves WWII history as legacy

16th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

16 March 2005, AMSTERDAM — One of the most important Dutch historians who documented and morally judged the nation's response during the horror of World War II died on Tuesday at the age of 90.

16 March 2005

AMSTERDAM — One of the most important Dutch historians who documented and morally judged the nation's response during the horror of World War II died on Tuesday at the age of 90.

Shortly after it was confirmed that Dr Loe de Jong had died following a short illness, tributes began dominating Dutch headlines as the nation mourned the person many say as the "educator" of the Dutch public or even the "national conscience".

But the moral stance that De Jong adopted in writing the history of World War II also sparked sharp criticism, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

Born in Amsterdam on 24 April 1914, De Jong's lifework became the historical text, "The Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Second World War".

He was given the task in about 1954 by then Education Minister Jo Cals to complete the book by 1961. But De Jong — who did not complete it until 1988 — doubted if he could meet the deadline. He had expected to be granted an extension.

"When would I be finished? Maybe, I hoped, about 1965. If everything went badly, then maybe 1970," De Jong said in 1988 when part 13 — the final section of the book — was published. In total, the 13 sections had 15,000 pages and 27 audio tapes.

De Jong wrote the book while director of the Government Institute for War Documentation (RIOD), the forerunner to the present day Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD), news agency ANP reported.

Despite his popularity among the Dutch public, the Indonesian community in the Netherlands was enraged by De Jong, particularly his one-sided view of colonialism. It even led to courtroom battles.

After gathering information, organising it and reading it, De Jong started writing the text in 1967, having at one point admitted to be "drowning" in the information in 1960. He was rescued by a request from programme makers Milo Anstadt and Ben Klokman, who wished to make a television series called "The Occupation".

De Jong said the series "brought structure to my research" and it was awarded the Nipkowschijf, which rewards the best television series.

Through the book and his TV appearances, the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi forces in 1940-45 became a moral benchmark, which De Jong said should serve as a lesson to the Dutch nation. As historian, De Jong also became known as an educator, moral guide and perhaps, even executioner.

Former NIOD director Hans Bloom rejects the latter characterisation. "But the moral dimension was there without doubt. Collaboration or resistance; that was always the issue for him. But that also explains his success. The wide public wants to hear a judgment on what is good and what is wrong," he said.

Former politician Willem Aantjes, was one of the most prominent victims of De Jong's moralising. Aantjes was forced to resign in 1978 after De Jong unmasked him as a collaborator. A commission of inquiry later found that Aantje's crimes were not as serious as De Jong suggested.
Aantjes — who joined the SS in 1944 in a desperate bid to be sent back from work placement in Germany to the Netherlands — claims that De Jong never admitted his error, asserting further that an historian should always place the truth above anything else.

Blom describes the Aantjes affair as a work-related accident, admitting nevertheless that what Aantjes did during the war was minor and also "understandable".

"But De Jong had thought it was unacceptable that Aantjes later acted as a politician with integrity. That is a judgment in hindsight and I don't know if that suits an historian. That is not my style, in any case," Blom said.

Despite criticism of his love of fan mail though and his style of an opinion maker rather than academic, friend and foe alike agree that for those who want to read about the occupation of the Netherlands in WWII, they should start with De Jong's all-inclusive lifework.

[Copyright Expatica News 2005]

Subject: Dutch news

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