WWII Mythology Tour: The Netherlands

Lester Golden
Dec 1, 2020 · 38 min read

The Common Thread in Nations’ Mythologized War Stories

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Yellow star, “Jew” in Dutch (http://somewereneighbors.ushmm.org/#/exhibitions/workers/un104/description)

The Common Thread in All Nations’ Mythologized War Stories

The Netherlands is the third stop on our WWII mythology tour, after WWII east vs west and Italy. The common thread that links all the stops on our tour: narcissistic nationalism that evades uncomfortable truths that threaten victimology if the nation was defeated and occupied, or an emotionally satisfying glorious victory if it was on the winning side. The latter is the keystone of national ego in the UK, the USA, and the former USSR. Commemorating mythologized glorious victories defines a backward-looking, nostalgist sense of national identity that feeds into contemporary anti-globalization nationalist populism.

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Martyrology Marker #1: Rotterdam city center after German bombing of May 14, 1940…..(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Rotterdam%2C_Laurenskerk%2C_na_bombardement_van_mei_1940.jpg) and before the bombing:
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Dutch Martyrology: Rotterdam, Arnhem, Anne Frank, Hunger Winter, Last to be Liberated

The Dutch narrative of WWII focuses on the May 1940 bombing of Rotterdam, their resistance (the Netflix movie about the executed “Resistance Banker”), the Bridge Too Far battle for Arnhem in September 1944, Anne Frank, their Hunger Winter of 1944–45 and Amsterdam as the last European capital to be liberated. These are images etched into the Netherlands’ collective memory:

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Martyrology Marker #2: Arnhem after Operation Market Garden, September 1944 https://europeremembers.com/destination/the-battle-of-arnhem/)
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Martyrology Marker #3: Dutch children eating rationed soup during the Hongerwinter of 1944–45 (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/BC856_HUI-2050.jpg)

East-West Divide in Genocide

Despite Dutch Jews’ survival rate resembling eastern Europe’s, Anglo-Americans, French, Italians, Belgians, Norwegians, and Danes view Dutch wartime behavior as fundamentally western, as opposed to eastern like Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia, where many locals enthusiastically participated in pogroms, in some case before German occupation troops arrived, or hunted Jews for the Germans. The prevailing view is that the Dutch were nothing like their counterparts in eastern Europe; no Jedwabnes (Neighbors, Jan Gross, https://www.amazon.com/Neighbors-Destruction-Jewish-Community-Jedwabne/dp/0142002402) or Arrow Cross, Budapest in Amsterdam, Utrecht or Rotterdam. It’s true that Jews were not being shot at in the train station by local anti-semites as they sought to flee before the Germans’ arrival, as occurred in Riga (personal testimony, David Kagan, Riga, 7 years old in 1941), Kaunas (Kovno) and Vilnius (Vilna, https://defendinghistory.com/).

  • It ignores how such betrayals often took place with no prompting from the Germans. On May 21, 1940, a mere one week after the Dutch surrender, AVRO, the Dutch broadcasting company, fired all nine of its Jewish employees. No German order was needed for this precautionary measure by company management. (van Liempt, Hitler’s Bounty Hunters, 2005, page 6)
  • It ignores the institutionalized financial incentives employed with special effectiveness in the Netherlands vs other western European countries: the 7.50 FL bounty (kopgeld, literally “head money”) per Jew arrested paid to the Dutch volunteers of the Colonne Henneicke, which resulted in the arrests of 8000–9000 Dutch Jews in 1942 and 1943 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henneicke_Column)
  • As cited above, it ignores simple results: the percentage of Dutch Jews murdered resembled Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania more than France, Italy, or Denmark.

Dutch Reckoning and Confessional

A reckoning is now underway, first with the publication of Ad van Liempt’s The Bounty Hunters in 2005, then with the Netflix movie Riphagen, about Dries Riphagen, one of the leading bounty hunters who was never tried for his crimes.

An Orderly Western, Efficient, Financialized Pogrom

The pogrom in the Netherlands was top-down, orderly, and bureaucratic and had one motive similar to the Jedwabne, Poland case, and other eastern European counterparts: the plunder of Jewish property. What’s been ignored until recently is that the Germans could never have murdered such a high percentage of the Netherlands’ Jewish community without:

  • Ordinance 6 of January 10, 1941, mandated all Jews, including one half or one-quarter Jews to report to and register with the Office of Public Records. The data were necessary to prepare for a planned Amsterdam ghetto, modeled on those in Poland.

Genocide, Dutch Edition, an Information Enterprise

The Germans’ Polish style ghetto-centric model couldn’t work in Amsterdam. So they pivoted, copy-pasting the eastern Judenrat model to the Netherlands with replacing geographic with bureaucratic segregation. Genocide in the Netherlands was an information game played through the Office of Public Records. This explains the scene in the movie Riphagen in which the Dutch resistance carried out a daring raid on the State Printing Office to steal 10000 ID cards. It also explains why

Who Resists, Who Complies

Contrast the behavior of the Dutch police and civil service with the general strike by Dutch workers on February 25, 1941, to protest the arrest and deportation of several hundred young Dutch Jews to Buchenwald and Mauthausen (https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-netherlands). The Germans arrested and executed the leaders of the strike, which was the only anti-pogrom strike of WWII.

  • Why the much lower survival percentage in the Netherlands? Citing the Netherlands’ geography — flat, densely populated, unforested land compared with Belgium and France — as the culprit conveniently absolves human perpetrators and bystanders. The real reason is hiding in plain sight — money and the ferocious hunt for Jews it generated:
  • “Try not to think about it too much, because it only makes you miserable. At the moment, a human life does not count for much, especially if it is a Jewish life.” — Dutch shopkeeper, diary entry, September 1942 (http://somewereneighbors.ushmm.org/#/exhibitions/workers/un104/description)

The Bounty System

  • When the number of Dutch Jews caught decreased in the spring of 1943, the Germans instituted an incentive system to meet quotas.
  • “The civilian Jew hunt was undoubtedly the blackest page in Dutch history. It is striking how few Germans appear in Van Liempt’s book: the arrest of Jews was carried out exclusively by the Dutch. A Price on Their Heads sketches a depressing world: motivated by a thirst for power and wealth, ordinary Dutchmen, socially unsuccessful, were prepared to turn their Jewish countrymen over to the Germans.”
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Dries Riphagen, Dutch Nazi, gangster, bounty hunter, star of Netflix movie “Riphagen”
  • In 2002, Ad Van Liempt published Kopgeld: Nederlandse premiejagers op zoek naar joden, 1943 (Bounty: Dutch bounty hunters in search of Jews, 1943). It was published in English as Hitler’s Bounty Hunters: The Betrayal of the Jews (2005). He had found in newly declassified records that the Germans paid a bounty to police and other collaborators, as in the Colonnie Henneicke group, for tracking down Jews.”
  • “Drawing upon administrative documents and post-war trial records, Ad van Liempt reconstructs the membership and activities of the so-called Colonne Henneicke group within the Zentralstelle fur Judische Auswanderung (Dutch Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration). Originally engaged in tracking down Jewish goods, this group of just over fifty civilians started tracking down Jews in hiding in the spring and summer of 1943. Although not authorised to arrest individuals, they ignored such legal niceties and handed over an estimated 8,500 Dutch Jews. Despite post-war claims to the contrary, van Liempt points to the payment of seven guilders fifty per Jew as a critical incentive to these activities. This money came from the proceeds of Jewish property sales, and was thus another example of self-financing genocide seen elsewhere in Holocaust Europe. Financial gain was, van Liempt suggests, ‘the most important motivating factor’ (p. 210) for the group of ‘middle-aged…” (https://academic.oup.com/ehr/article-abstract/CXXI/494/1562/389360?redirectedFrom=fulltext)
  • “Van Liempt describes some particularly shocking cases. The most gripping are the arrests of young children. Two bounty hunters travelled hundreds of kilometres across the country to get their hands on a two year old girl who was living in a safe house; a month later she was gassed at Sobibor. The father of three other young children had all his teeth knocked out; in this way the Henneicke Column were able to learn the addresses where the children were being put up.” (http://www.letterenfonds.nl/en/book/76/a-price-on-their-heads)
  • In court the bounty hunters said they weren’t paid for finding hidden Jews. Van Liempt’s research proves they were lying: “Family members of the perpetrators give detailed accounts of how much was earned from their activities and where all the money went.”

The Plunder Bonus Revealed: After Half a Century

Why did it take more than half a century to reveal the bounty system? At the special court’s postwar trials of collaborators proving the existence of the bonus system was not a requirement for a conviction for deporting Jews. Therefore prosecutors didn’t challenge defendants’ denials. But the defendants had a very good reason to deny receiving bonuses for arresting Jews. Three friends on trial in March 1946 who had worked together in the card catalog of the Zentralstelle fur Judische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration, where deportation records were kept:

The Plunder System and the Bonus Supply Chain

Plundering Jewish property for shipment to the Reich required a sophisticated Dutch supply chain and logistics operated through the Hausraterfassung:

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NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Amsterdam (http://somewereneighbors.ushmm.org/#/exhibitions/workers/un2994/related/un2996 , Some were neighbors: collaboration and complicity in the Holocaust)
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lippmann,_Rosenthal_%26_Co.#/media/File:Amsterdam_-_Lippman-Rosenthal.JPG Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co in 1944. I’ve biked past it dozens of times without knowing its real history as a “Roofbank”, quite literally a plunder bank.

Who Plundered, How and Why

When Colonne Henneicke member Gerritt Mijnsma went to work for the National Labor Front in late 1943 after working in the Colonne Henneicke, his salary dropped 40% to 140 FL/month. “For men like bankrupt taxi driver Nico Evertsen, living off the welfare of 13 FL/week, and Jacob Gist, whose girlfriend’s mother refused to let him in the house, “the Colonne Henneicke was a goldmine. Their lifestyle changed overnight.” (van Liempte, page 59).

Deportees Meet Their Deporters: Westerbork Transit Camp, May 1945

The Netherlands’ Canadian liberators began filling the transit camp of Westerbork in April 1945 with suspected collaborators even before Amsterdam’s liberation and Amsterdam Jews stuck in the transit camp with nowhere to go had left. Thus, the deported met their deporters and helped get them prosecuted. One example was testimony at the trial of Martin Hintink on September 24, 1948:

Retiring on Taxable Plunder

Thus, the Colonne Henneicke became a club of nouveaux riches, with wives decked out in jewels and one of its members declaring the astronomical figure of fl. 6000 on his income tax return, a paradox of plunder coupled with law-abiding obedience to the Dutch revenue service.

  • A pro-German burgomaster
  • An early starting date to deportations, giving the Colonne more time to find Jews.
  • Presence of more Jewish converts to Christianity as a bridge to Dutch gentile social networks
  • Non-NSB Dutch police instead of Sicherheitspolizei (the “Colonne”) in charge of hunting Jews, as occurred in Utrecht.
  • Less polarization between Catholic and Protestant confessional political parties ((https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/11105, page 484–86).

Low-Level Accountability Only + Coverup

  • The Dutch punished many Dutch Nazis and collaborators after the war, but none of those were high level Dutch civil servants and railway company managers who formed the key part of the machinery of genocide. No police chiefs were ever punished. In addition, the coverup began right after liberation:
  • “After the liberation, the new Dutch government…decided that it did not want any incriminating material in the archives. Therefore the original archival material pertaining to the registration of the Jews, including the registration forms the municipalities had sent to the RvB, was destroyed. The central authorities then instructed the municipalities at the end of April 1946 to send for destruction the population registration cards that were marked with a “J” for “jew”. (https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/11105, page 480)

Sampling Error in the Family

Stories the Dutch tell themselves were typical: The maternal side of my sister-in-law’s family from Maastricht hid a Polish Jewish family in their attic for 22 months until Maastricht was liberated in October 1944.

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War Crimes, Plunder and Reluctant Restitution a Half Century Late

The other side of Dutch WWII mythology and martyrology lies on the other side of the world: Indonesia. It’s a key link in the chain of Dutch self-deception and coverup. The two linked up after the war when the repatriated Dutch victims of the Japanese complained about the larger restitution claims of surviving Jews, as recounted by the Dutch Minister of Public Health, Dr. Els Borst-Eilers, whose ministry was charged with administering both sets of claims:

Indonesian Support for Japanese Invaders and Postwar Dutch Recolonization

The Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, already had an incipient nationalist independence movement when the Japanese invaded in January 1942. The Japanese government envisioned this Dutch colony as one of the linchpins of its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, supplying labor, oil and raw materials to industrial Japan.

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Young Indonesian boys being trained by the Imperial Japanese Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_the_Dutch_East_Indies
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  1. Lifting the ban on the nationalist name of Indonesia for the Dutch East Indies and encouraging
  2. Conscripting and training tens of thousands of Indonesians from many different islands, which enabled them to defeat the Dutch recolonization effort from 1945–49.
  3. Disrupting the rigidly hierarchical racial and caste social order that had prevailed before the war: “the Japanese had opened training schools for government officials, normal schools, agricultural and forestry schools, commercial schools, engineering colleges, medical colleges, merchant marine school, for provide higher education to Indonesians, and made “Indonesian” the official language instead of English or Dutch. The Japanese banned the use of Dutch and English language.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_the_Dutch_East_Indies#End_of_the_occupation)

Coverup Hiding in Plain Sight

The brief Indonesian part of the Dutch WWII story seems added on almost as an afterthought. This illustrates how the Pacific part of a worldwide conflict was, in relative terms, a mostly American run sideshow, sensibilities of China, Korea, Burma and Indonesia nothwithstanding. Though Germany’s defeat doomed the Japanese empire, Japan’s defeat would not have necessarily led to Germany’s defeat. To defeat Germany the world’s largest empire (the UK), the world’s greatest industrial power (the USA) and the world’s largest country (the USSR) had to form an awkward alliance of convenience. No two of them alone without the third could have defeated Germany and its eastern European satellites. Also, Japan, unlike Germany, had no nuclear weapons development potential. So the fate of the Netherlands and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe depended on this odd alliance of British imperialism, American liberalism and Soviet communism.


The Holocaust in the Netherlands and the Rate of Jewish Survival, Marnix Croes, Research and Documentation Center of the Netherlands Ministry of Justice, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 20, Number 3, Winter 2006, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/11105

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Lester Golden

Written by

From Latvia I write to share learning from life in 6 languages in 5 countries & seeing fascism die in Portugal & Spain in 1974 and 1976.

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Lester Golden

Written by

From Latvia I write to share learning from life in 6 languages in 5 countries & seeing fascism die in Portugal & Spain in 1974 and 1976.

Lessons from History

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