Outspoken Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders called on the government Wednesday to apologize for the country's "passive" response to the mass deportations of Jews by Nazi occupiers during World War II.
The move is likely to re-ignite debate about Dutch attitudes to the wartime persecution of the country's Jewish population.
Of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands before the war, more than 100,000 were deported and murdered. About 30,000 Jews live here now, out of a total population of nearly 17 million.
Wilders is best known for his strident criticism of Islam and also is a strong supporter of Israel. He wrote to Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday asking if he would apologize based on comments by two former government ministers in a recently published book about postwar reparations to Jews.
Spokesman Chris Breedveld said the government would carefully study and respond to Wilders' questions.
One of the former ministers, Els Borst, says in an interview for the book, "Judging the Netherlands" by Manfred Gerstenfeld, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, that she believes the response by the Dutch wartime government in exile would have been tougher had Nazis been deporting Catholics or Protestants.
Borst, who as health minister was involved in negotiations in the 1990s on reparations for Jews, said wartime prime minister Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy and Queen Wilhelmina should have appealed from their administration in exile in London for Dutch people to do more to protect Jews.
"The government's stance shows that they, along with many others, saw Jewish Dutch citizens as a special group and thought: 'We have real Dutch people and we have Jewish Dutch people,"' Borst said in an interview, a copy of which author Gerstenfeld emailed to The Associated Press.
Wilders said he was shocked by the comments. "It would be fitting if the government were at least to offer its apologies," Wilders said in a statement.
Gerrit Zalm, a former finance minister who also played a prominent role in restitution negotiations in the 1990s, said he also would support calls for a formal apology.
"I would not have had a problem with apologizing" at the end of the restitution process, Zalm told Gerstenfeld for his book. Zalm added that if a Jewish umbrella organization in the Netherlands were to bring up the issue of an apology again, "I would publicly support it."
Gerstenfeld's book was released last October.
The Dutch government agreed in 2000 to pay $180 million in restitution to Jews and then-Prime Minister Wim Kok expressed regret for the way the Dutch treated Jews after the war.
Ronny Naftaniel, director of one of the Netherlands' main Jewish groups, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, said Jews would welcome an apology for the "passive" attitude of the monarchy and government in exile, though his group has not officially called for one.
"The Dutch government in exile was terribly passive and the Dutch queen at the time, Wilhelmina, hardly spoke a word about Jewish suffering in the Netherlands," Naftaniel said.
The Netherlands long had a reputation for protecting Jews from the Nazis, an image largely fostered by the story of Anne Frank, whose diary described her two-year refuge with her family in a concealed loft in an Amsterdam canal house.
That benign image began to unravel with claims that the government and banks had profited from the seizure of Jewish assets, sparking national soul-searching in the years leading up to the reparation deal.
The author, who successfully hid from Nazis in Amsterdam for two years during the war, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem that he was surprised at the current commotion about the government in exile's stance on Jews, as Dutch politicians and society had largely ignored the subject in the past.
"This has never been an issue," he said. "Nobody wanted to hear about it."