A Dutch Historian Explains Why Jews Fared Worse in the Netherlands than Denmark

Roundup: Talking About History

Hans Blom, in the Financial Times ( London, England) 2-20-05):

When Simon Kuper wrote that proportionately many more Jews survived in Denmark than in the Netherlands during the last war, he was right ("Delivered from Evil", FT Magazine, January 22). The differences are striking. As the German occupiers of Denmark prepared to round them up and deport them, the Jews were first hidden and then ferried over the Sound to Sweden in a fleet of small boats. Almost all of Denmark's 7,500 Jews thereby escaped the Holocaust. By contrast, in the Netherlands - despite the safe, assimilated lives, with relatively little anti-Semitism, that Dutch Jews had led before the war - nearly 75 per cent were transported and killed.

Of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands at the start of the occupation, 102,000 were murdered, a larger proportion than in any other west European parliamentary democracy.

But Denmark is exceptional. Until the early autumn of 1943, no measures were taken against the Jews there. That was due to the nature of the Danish occupation regime until the late summer of 1943. In April 1940, the Danish government capitulated to the invading German forces almost without a fight. Germany sent merely a plenipotentiary diplomatic envoy (Reichsbevollmachtigte) who reported to its foreign ministry. The King of Denmark and his government could remain in office. There was occasional friction, but the country was spared anti-Jewish measures. That is until the late summer of 1943, when pent-up tensions erupted and the Germans decided to take complete control. The plan to round up Denmark's Jews was part of that development.

At that stage of the war, there was a strong upsurge in anti-German sentiment in western Europe and a willingness to actively resist the occupation. Furthermore, Sweden, which had at first been unwilling to take in Jewish refugees from other parts of Scandinavia, had changed its mind in late 1942. The relatively small Jewish population in Denmark, numbering only thousands, made it possible to carry out a concentrated evacuation to Sweden, whose proximity was another stroke of luck. Two other important factors were that the leaders of Denmark (and through them the country's Jews) had been informed about Germany's plans, and that the German navy did not respond with a great deal of force when all the boats bearing the refugees crossed the Sound.

In the Netherlands, the sheer size of the Jewish population made a comparable operation - evacuation of the entire group - unthinkable. The occupiers began working towards the extermination of the Jews actively and early on. Dutch society did little to fight back, though it is interesting to note an incident, unique in Europe, that took place in February 1941. This was Amsterdam's well-known February Strike, a more or less spontaneous outbreak of mass protests by non-Jews in response to overt violence against Jews. But, paradoxically, instead of leading to effective protection of the Jews, it played an indirect role in delaying the development of a resistance movement. The Germans sent 400 Jews that they had rounded up to the Mauthausen camp in Austria and cracked down on the demonstration forcefully. Word soon followed of the death of the Jews sent to the camp....

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