Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on behalf of the Dutch government on Sunday for his country’s actions during World War II, saying too little was done to protect Jewish citizens from Nazi persecution.
Rutte offered the apology during commemorations in the Netherlands to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945.
“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 in Amsterdam.
It is the first time the Dutch government has specifically apologized for actions taken by the state during the war.
Dutch officials willingly carried out what the German occupiers ordered, Rutte said. They stood by as “a group of fellow citizens was singled out, excluded, and dehumanized under a murderous regime.”
While some resistance was put up, “overall it was not enough,” Rutte continued. “Too little protection. Too little help. Too little acknowledgement.”
Rutte’s statement is the latest stage of Holland’s efforts to address its conduct during the war. A year ago, the national railroad company 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. That followed a 2005 apology by the company’s CEO over its role in the Nazis’ Final Solution.
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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.
In 2000, the government expressed sorrow for the “cold reception” Jewish survivors received in the country after returning from the concentration camps.
Despite being officially neutral in World War II, the Netherlands was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. The government, along with Queen Wilhelmina, fled to Britain.
Of the 140,000 Jews who had lived in the Netherlands prior to the Holocaust, around 102,000, or almost 75 percent, were murdered by Germany. 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.
Much has been written since then about the indifference of Holland’s silent majority and the authorities’ treatment of the Jews. A few years ago, it emerged that the Amsterdam municipality had fined Holocaust survivors for failing to pay their taxes during the war years, when they were in concentration camps.
In recent decades, many countries and organizations have apologized for their role in Holocaust or their failure to help Jews who sought to flee the Nazis. In some cases, historical research has been commissioned about the role various organizations played in the Holocaust.
The list includes the Polish government, which apologized for the involvement of Poles in massacres of the Jews; France’s national railway company; the Belgian government; the Norwegian government, which apologized for deporting Jews from its territory; and even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who apologized in 2018 for his country’s refusal to accept a Jewish refugee ship in 1939.
Last year, Finland completed a study of the role its soldiers played in persecuting Jews. It found that hundreds of Finnish soldiers collaborated with the SS in murdering Jews.