Dutch Protestant Church Acknowledges Role in Holocaust: 'We Hope It's Not Too Late'

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Rene de Reuver, speaking on behalf of the General Synod of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, reads a statement at the Rav Aron Schuster Synagogue in Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 8, 2020.
Rene de Reuver, speaking on behalf of the General Synod of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, reads a statement at the Rav Aron Schuster Synagogue in Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 8, 2020.Credit: Peter Dejong,AP

The Dutch Protestant Church formally acknowledged on Sunday its role in the persecution of Jews before, during and after the Holocaust, and expressed its remorse for doing little to save the country's Jewish population.

"The church now wants to recognize without reservation that the church laid the ground under which antisemitism and hatred could flourish," The church's chairman, Rene de Reuver said. He added, "We hope it is not too late."

De Reuver gave his statement at a ceremony held at the Rav Aron Schuster Synagogue in Amsterdam commemorating the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht. Also called by its English name, the "Night of Broken Glass," it marks a two-day period in 1938 in which a frenzy of violence was unleashed against Germany and Austria's Jewish populations, taking at least 91 lives and destroying thousands of synagogues and shops. 

De Reuver said that the church's failures with regard to the Jewish population began hundreds of years before the Nazis came to power, by isolating the Jewish people from society "in such a way that they could be taken away and murdered."

He added that the church did little to help the Jews of the Netherland during the Nazi occupation, and failed many times to help Jews who had returned from concentration camps or were in hiding. During World War II, he said, "The ecclesiastical authorities often lacked the courage to choose a position for the Jewish citizens of our country.”

He did, also recognized that after the war, there were Christians who refused to return Jewish orphans to their relatives and had difficulty with returning Jewish property that was stolen from its owners during the war. "Antisemitism is a sin against God and against people. The Protestant Church is also part of this sinful history," de Reuver said.  

About 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands at the time of the Nazi invasion in May 1940, of which 15,000 were refugees who had fled Germany. Over 75 percent of Dutch Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Thousands of Jews who tried to hide were turned over to the Germans by the Dutch, including Anne Frank’s family, which had fled to Holland from Frankfurt.

In the summer of 1942, when Dutch Jews started being deported to death camps, the Dutch Catholic Church objected. As an act of retribution, the Nazis began transporting Jews who had converted to Christianity to the camps as well. Dutch aid groups were hastily and chaotically founded, among them church groups, which helped Jews find shelter and chiefly worked to save children.

The Yad Vashem website says that despite this, "During the first and fateful phase of the deportations, the Jews could trust only themselves to find places to hide." Later on, special units of Dutch collaborators were formed to hunt down Jews.   

About 44 percent of today's Dutch population is Christian, with the largest denomination being Catholic, with Protestants forming the second largest.  

Jews in the transit camp Westerbork in the Netherlands before being carried off. 1943Credit: Chronos Dokumentarfilm GmbH / ul

The Dutch Protestant Church's statement comes almost a year after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on behalf of the government for his country’s actions during World War II, saying too little was done to protect Jewish citizens from Nazi persecution.

“Since the last survivors are still among us, I apologize on behalf of the government for what the state was doing at the time,” Rutte said during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It was the first time the Dutch government has specifically apologized for actions taken by the state during World War II.

In 2018, the Dutch Foreign Ministry apologized to the family of diplomat Jan Zwartendijk, also known as the “Dutch Schindler,” who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust but was reprimanded for his actions after the war. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said his ministry’s treatment of Zwartendijk was “inappropriate.”

That same year, the Dutch Red Cross apologized for its treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. The organization’s president, Inge Brakman, came to Israel especially to express her regret, after historical research confirmed what Dutch Holocaust survivors had been saying for years: The Dutch Red Cross faithfully obeyed the Nazis’ orders, thereby betraying its mission, and didn’t lift a finger to help the country’s Jews.

The CEO of the Netherlands' national railroad company apologized in 2005 for its role in the Nazis’ Final Solution. In 2019, it announced that it would pay compensation to Holocaust survivors and heirs of victims whom the railway transported to Nazi death camps during World War II. In 2000, the government expressed sorrow for the “cold reception” Jewish survivors received in the country after returning from the concentration camps.

The Associated Press and DPA contributed to this report.

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