Dutch to refund bills sent to Jews while they were in WWII concentration camps
Families of those deported to camps will get back rent charged in absence
A photo taken on June 20th, 1943 shows a German raid in the eastern part of Amsterdam – the families of Jewish Amsterdammers who were charged ground rent for their homes and business premises during the years they spent in concentration camps or in hiding during the second World War are to have the money they paid refunded by the city, with interest. Photograph: Getty
The families of Jewish Amsterdammers who were charged ground rent for their homes and business premises during the years they spent in concentration camps or in hiding during the second World War are to have the money they paid refunded by the city, with interest.
Sixty-eight years after the end of the war, the decision is another indication that the Netherlands has not yet come to terms with the fact that it arguably failed to protect its Jewish population, which fell from 139,717 – the majority of them in Amsterdam – in 1941 to just 35,000 in 1945.
Westerbork transit camp
Most of those Jews were sent to Westerbork transit camp – many Jews still insist on referring to it as the Netherlands’ own “concentration camp” – in the northeast of the country, before being sent by rail to Auschwitz and other concentration camps in Germany.
Among those who made that journey and never returned was the young diarist Anne Frank.
She and her family were put on one of the three final trains to Auschwitz on September 3rd, 1944. Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945, and Westerbork the following April.
The latest round of soul-searching was prompted by the discovery during the digitisation of Amsterdam’s city archives recently that although the city authorities were fully aware most Jewish families had been “deported”, the bureaucratic machine continued to grind on regardless.
Students working on the digitisation found that not only had ground rent bills been sent repeatedly during the war years to the absent Jewish families, but that when the bills went without response, penalties had been added.
Some families who survived the war in hiding had even been sent the accumulated bills when they returned, traumatised, to their homes and former businesses in 1945.
Researchers have begun the long search to establish if electricity and gas bills were also handled in the same way.
“Every cent that this city council or anyone else earned by being heartless or bureaucratic should now be returned to the families of those who received those bills,” said mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan, adding every effort would be made to trace descendants.
The ground rents saga is eerily similar to extraordinary attempts by the French rail company SNCF, after the liberation of France, to recover the cost from the French government of transporting Holocaust victims to Germany. Each was charged a third-class fare. SNCF apologised in 2010.
Amsterdam city council is not alone in trying to make belated amends to its Jewish community. The Dutch Red Cross has set up an independent committee to examine its failings, which included sacking Jewish staff and preventing Jews from giving blood, on Nazi occupier insistence.
And a government committee is looking into the provenance of artworks “confiscated” from their Jewish owners during the war which somehow ended up in Dutch national collections. A 15th century wooden pieta which spent time in Hermann Goering’s looted collection is among the pieces already returned.