The Dutch Foreign Ministry has apologized to the family of diplomat Jan Zwartendijk (“the Dutch Schindler”) who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust but after the war was rebuked for his actions.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok acknowledged this week that his ministry’s treatment of Zwartendijk was “inappropriate,” expressed Holland’s admiration for his actions during World War II and relayed an apology to his family.
According to the Yad Vashem website, in the summer of 1940 Zwartendijk issued from 1,200-1,400 forged documents to Jews in the city of Kovno, Lithuania, where he was the Dutch consul, to enable them to enter the Dutch colony of Curacao. He wrote on the documents that the “Dutch Consulate hereby declares that no visa is needed to enter Suriname, Curacao and other Dutch territories in the Americas.”
The local Japanese consulate, headed by Chiune Sugihara, also took part in the rescue operation by issuing transit passes to those in possession of these fake visas, enabling them to leave Lithuania, which was under Soviet control, to reach Japan and from there to continue to America. About 2,000 Jewish refuges escaped Europe this way. More than half continued from there to free countries.
Before he was forced to close the consulate in early August 1940, Zwartendijk burned all the official documents and eliminated all traces of the illegal activity he pursued to help Jews.
Zwartendijk died in 1976. After his death, memorials to him were erected in Rotterdam and in Vilnius. In 1997, Yad Vashem recognized him as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. His Japanese counterpart, Sugihara, received the same recognition in 1985.
A new book called “The Rigteous” (De Rechtvaardigen) by Dutch biographer Jan Brokken claims that after the war the Dutch Foreign Ministry denounced Zwartendijk for having “broken the rules.” Joseph Luns, the Dutch foreign minister at the time who went on to become NATO secretary-general, also personally rebuked him.
Zwartendijk’s children said he was deeply hurt by this. The book also says that the Dutch Foreign Ministry sought to block Zwartendijk’s candidacy for a royal knighthood, for reasons unrelated to his actions on behalf of the Jews.
Following the book’s publication, the matter was back in the news, in Holland and the Foreign Ministry was asked to state its position on the episode. This week the Dutch foreign minister informed the parliament that his ministry had relayed an official apology to Zwartendijk’s family, saying that if the new information is correct, the ministry’s conduct was “inappropriate” and he deserves an apology.
It was also reported that last June, Zwartendijk’s children met with King Willem Alexander and with Foreign Minister Blok during a ceremony inaugurating a memorial to Zwartendijk in Lithuania. At the meeting, which was held away from the eyes of the press, the king and the minister spoke of the country’s appreciation for their father’s actions during the war.
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