Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands from 1940 to 1945. The Germans installed a civil regime, while the Dutch set up a government-in-exile in London. The occupying force implemented what has come to be described as “looting by decree” of Jewish property in the Netherlands. In the period from 1940 until deportations started in 1942, the Nazis registered and confiscated Jewish property. At the start of World War II (WWII), the Jewish community numbered about 140,000 people. Between 1942 and 1944, 107,000 Jews were deported, 5,200 of whom survived. Between 25,000 and 30,000 Jews went into hiding, about 16,000 of whom survived. An additional 14,000 survived through mixed marriage arrangements, while about 3,000 managed to flee to safe countries.
The Netherlands has made extensive restitution efforts, including the restoration of property, provision of pensions to survivors, and provision of financial compensation to the Jewish community. In 1999 and 2000, organizations representing the Jewish community concluded agreements with banks, insurance companies, the stock exchange, and the government on the settlement of unclaimed Jewish assets amounting to €346 million (about $385 million). The Netherlands continues to take measures to actively identify and return looted art to survivors and heirs, although significant challenges remain. Critics have questioned some Dutch decisions regarding art objects on the grounds that they give too much weight to museums’ interests. The Netherlands promotes education and remembrance of WWII and the Holocaust. Dutch Railways announced in 2019 that it will pay individual compensation for damages to roughly 5,000‑6,000 Holocaust survivors and their surviving spouses and children for the company’s role in transporting victims to the Westerbork transit camp during the war, but the company has not taken steps to recognize the suffering of those who perished.
Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property
Restitution of immovable property began immediately after the war under the framework of laws adopted by the Dutch government-in-exile in London during the war. The laws canceled wartime Nazi confiscation decrees and established the Council for the Restoration of Rights, which included an administrative immovable property division. Despite the existence of the legal framework for restitution, property return was a complicated and protracted process. Survivors and heirs did not receive preferential treatment. For example, the most recent owner of a property was often unaware of its origins, and in many cases, the rightful Jewish owner had to partially compensate the most recent owner in order to get the property back. The Council addressed approximately 200,000 claims, many of which were resolved in an out-of-court settlement process. The Council discontinued its activities in 1967, except for the securities division, which continued to operate as an independent entity until the late 1970s.
The Van Kemenade Committee, one of four committees established by the Dutch government responsible for various aspects of the restitution process, issued a report in 2000 concluding that the restitution process for all types of property except securities, while generally carried out in a lawful and precise manner, had unfair consequences. For example, the Netherlands initially (until the late 1950s) failed to waive the inheritance tax on the property of Jews who had died in concentration and death camps. The Van Kemenade report recommended additional analysis of the theft and restitution of Jewish property, particularly on the value of confiscated businesses and looted art.
The three other committees examined other aspects of the country’s post-war restitution process, such as the looting of securities, bank accounts, and insurance policies, and the theft of Jewish assets in the Netherlands via the Lippman Rosenthal & Co Bank (Liro). In response to the reports issued by each committee, the Central Jewish Board (CJO) and Platform Israel, which represented the Jewish community in the Netherlands, concluded agreements in 1999 and 2000 with banks, insurance companies, the stock exchange, and the government on the settlement of unclaimed Jewish assets. The settlement amount, equivalent to about $385 million and disbursed through the Maror Foundation, was material and moral compensation for the recognized deficiencies in the restoration of rights after WWII. The government paid more than half of this amount, and the banks, insurance companies, and investment funds paid the remainder. Of the total, €50 million ($55 million) was designated for the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund for projects in Central and Eastern Europe that promoted awareness of Jewish culture and society, as well as promoting tolerance. Of the remaining amount, 80 percent went to fixed-sum payments to individuals, which have been completed, while 20 percent was designated for communal purposes over a period of 20 years. The Maror Foundation administers the funds as grants to interested parties promoting the Dutch-Jewish community. Since 2005, it has funded grants totaling approximately $24.74 million for nearly 1,800 activities and programs.
At the local level, the city of Amsterdam decided in 2016 to reimburse rent and fines collected after the war from Jewish homeowners, totaling approximately $11.15 million. While the Jewish community had called for reimbursement directly to the survivors where possible, the bulk of the money went to a fund from which the Jewish community can finance future projects, such as the country’s National Holocaust Museum and National Holocaust Monument. The Hague also decided in 2016 to appropriate approximately $2.9 million for similar compensation, the bulk of which was paid to individuals. Rotterdam and Utrecht are considering paying similar compensation.
The Dutch Railways (NS) in June 2019 agreed to pay individual compensation to Holocaust survivors or heirs for the company’s role in transporting victims to the Westerbork transit camp. NS will pay compensation to 5,000-6,000 Holocaust survivors, surviving widows, and their children in the range of about $5,600 to $16,719 per person. An independent committee recommended NS also work with organizations representing Jews, Roma, and Sinti on an appropriate way to recognize the suffering of those who did not survive and had no surviving partner or child. The Central Jewish Council stated, “Justice is done to the survivors and next of kin with compensation in three categories. However, 80 percent of the Dutch Jews did not survive WWII and NS owes them too.”
Dutch authorities returned communal property after the war through the Organizations of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands. This entity manages more than 200 of the 230 Jewish cemeteries in the Netherlands. There are 29 Jewish cemeteries designated as protected monuments. Of the approximately 100 synagogues that existed before WWII, 30 are still in use as synagogues, and others have been repurposed.
In the late 1990s, a number of countries led by the U.S. agreed to dispose of the remaining Nazi-looted gold in the possession of the Tripartite Gold Commission, which in 1946 was tasked with recovering Nazi-looted gold and returning it to its rightful owners. The Netherlands received a final payment of approximately 22.5 million guilders (€10.2 million, or about $11.3 million). The Netherlands used this money in 2001 to support Jewish communal activities in the country, including cultural programming, education, museums, upkeep of cemeteries, libraries, synagogues, books, and films.
Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art
After the war, the Allies recovered and returned looted and confiscated art objects to the Netherlands, which the Dutch state managed and which became part of the State Art Collection (NK Collection). The Dutch subsequently set up a foundation to facilitate the recovery and restitution of looted art to former owners or their heirs. Following the adoption of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998, the Dutch government established the “Origins Unknown” Committee, also known as the Ekkart Committee. The Ekkart Committee investigated the provenance of every piece of art in the NK Collection and published the results on its website, launched in 2001. In addition, the Netherlands Museum Association in 1999 began to research the provenance of the collections of associated museums, most of which were privately owned, yielding a list of 172 art objects with questionable provenance. The Central Jewish Council’s position is that all these objects should be returned to the former owners, their heirs, or to the Jewish community if the former owners or their heirs cannot be traced.
The Ekkart Committee issued recommendations in 2001 on how to deal with the NK Collection and subsequently issued additional recommendations on how to deal with artworks owned by art dealers or artworks that had been auctioned. In response, the government set up the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications, or “Restitution Committee.” The Restitution Committee is independent and has two mandates: (1) to advise the Minister of Education, Culture, and Science on requests for restitution of art objects from the Dutch State Collection, and (2) to deliver binding rulings, upon request of the involved parties, in disputes over the ownership of art objects that are not property of the Dutch state. To date, the Committee has issued a total of 156 recommendations and opinions, granting 74 claims in full and 19 partially, and rejecting 63 claims.
The Restitution Committee maintains that it follows the guidelines set out by the Ekkart Committee as well as those set out by the Minister of Education, including the recommendation to distinguish between private owners and art dealers. However, the Central Jewish Council disputes the Ministry’s revised policy guidelines to the Restitution Committee issued in 2012. These guidelines interpret the “fair and just” approach of the Dutch liberalized restitution policy as looking at all aspects of the case. These aspects include the museum’s interest in an artwork, the requesting party’s personal attachment to an artwork, his or her efforts to recover the artwork after the war, and the time that had elapsed since the artwork was acquired by the current owner, who may not have had any knowledge about the background of the artwork.
Since the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science revised its policy guidelines, there has been an increase in the number of domestic lawsuits challenging decisions by the Restitution Committee. One such example involves the U.S. citizen heir of Jewish art dealers who had been coerced by the Nazis to sell their artwork. When the heir failed to obtain redress for negative decisions by the Restitution Committee in Dutch courts, he sued the Netherlands and several Dutch museums in November 2018 in a Charleston, South Carolina court. The heir claimed ownership of more than 140 Dutch state-owned artworks. The case is ongoing.
At the November 2018 conference in Berlin marking the 20th anniversary of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the State Department’s Expert Adviser on Holocaust Issues expressed concern that the introduction of a “balancing test,” in which the interests of the museum in keeping a Nazi-looted artwork may be deemed greater than that of the representative of the owner from whom it was stolen, was contrary to the Washington Principles. The Chairman of the Restitution Committee publicly defended the policy in an opinion piece published December 10, 2018, in a Dutch newspaper, stressing that the victim’s interest always comes first, and asserting that the procedure is transparent and the Committee’s recommendations and opinions are public. The Central Jewish Council has urged the Ministry to revise these 2012 guidelines when it conducts its reassessment in 2020.
In 2018, the government established an independent Expertise Center, located within the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies (NIOD) to research the provenance and history of works of art upon request. The Ministry of Education in 2019 started gathering and making accessible previously scattered information about Jewish looted art, with the goal of giving potential claimants, researchers, and interested parties as much access as possible to available information. The government anticipates this information being available online by mid-2020.
Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property
There are four institutions in the Netherlands with Jewish holdings that have conducted research on their Judaica collections: the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana (Ros), the Biblioteca Ets Haim (“Tree of Life” Library) of the Portuguese Community of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam municipal archives, and the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. The University of Amsterdam hid part of the Ros collection during the war; the other part of the collection, which had been looted, was returned to Amsterdam almost intact in 1946. The Ets Haim Library has identified those objects from its pre-war collection that are missing and continues to search for them. The Amsterdam municipal archives are also missing important items, according to its survey of looted Dutch-Jewish archives that were returned to Amsterdam from the period after WWII through 2003. The Jewish Historical Museum conducted a survey of the 180-200 returned objects and 430-450 missing objects from its pre-war collection. The museum established an online database of missing pre-war objects and provided links to those of other Jewish museums. The Dutch government conducted provenance studies on archives that Russia returned between 2000 and 2002, transferring records to the Organizations of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands. NIOD established that there were still gaps in the available information, including the fate of the library of the Netherlands-Israelite Seminary in Amsterdam and many private collections.
Access to Archival Documents
In 1945, shortly after liberation, the Netherlands founded the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, the precursor to NIOD, with funding from the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. Today, NIOD administers the archives of the German occupation of the Netherlands and the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies and provides information to government agencies and private individuals. NIOD also carries out a wide range of research projects dealing with the social and political aspects of WWII. The National Archives and municipal archives, particularly of Amsterdam, are important sources of documentation. A government-sponsored research institution, Network War Sources, works to improve digital access to the Dutch collection on WWII and the Holocaust through a web portal, which helps users navigate fragmented sources from more than 430 institutions. The government also sponsors the Anne Frank Foundation, which, in addition to its many activities, conducts research. The Netherlands financially supports and participates in the Arolsen Archives (formerly called the International Tracing Service), which include 30 million Nazi documents and documentation related to approximately 17.5 million victims. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports excellent cooperation with archives in the Netherlands and engages closely with the Netherlands through the Arolsen Archives.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
The Netherlands is an active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The government endeavors to keep the memory of WWII and the Holocaust alive to combat discrimination, exclusion, and anti-Semitism. The Netherlands observes National War Commemoration Day annually on May 4, remembering those killed in WWII, including Holocaust victims. The country celebrates Liberation Day on May 5. The government-funded National May 4-5 Committee organizes national commemorations marking both days; it also develops teaching material, conducts research and public opinion polls, advises the government on how best to convey the lessons and history of WWII to younger generations, and advises local governments and private individuals on the upkeep of thousands of war memorials across the country. The Netherlands Auschwitz Committee commemorates the Holocaust annually on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the Auschwitz Memorial in Amsterdam. The country also commemorates the anniversary of Kristallnacht each November. The Netherlands has five national commemoration sites: Camp Vught, Camp Westerbork, Camp Amersfoort, the Dutch Indies Commemoration Center, and Oranje Hotel.
The National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam opened in 2016 on a site where 600 Jewish children were saved during the war. The Hollandsche Schouwburg, a former theater in Amsterdam, now commemorates the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews from that location. The Netherlands Auschwitz Committee is working, with financial support from national and local governments, to build a National Holocaust Monument with the names of the 102,000 Dutch victims in a park in Amsterdam. The national school curriculum includes mandatory education on WWII and the Holocaust, developed jointly by the Ministry of Education and several Jewish organizations. The Anne Frank Foundation produces teaching material and organizes workshops about Anne Frank, WWII, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and prejudice, for both youth and professionals. The government also sponsors a national network of guest speakers on WWII, including eyewitnesses who tell their personal stories at schools.
In 2016, the museums and Commemoration Center’s 40-45 Foundation, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, the National May 4-5 Committee, the War Cemeteries Foundation, and the Liberation Route Europe Foundation jointly established “Platform WWII” to enhance cooperation among the participants remembering WWII. The Platform reviews how best to shape remembrance and commemoration in the digital era. The Netherlands also participates in an international steering group working to create a dignified location of remembrance at the Sobibor Nazi extermination camp in Poland, where 34,000 Dutch Jews were killed. Throughout the country, Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones,” used as markers embedded along the sidewalks) indicate the former homes of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution
The Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport is responsible for providing assistance to victims of WWII. The government provides benefits, pensions, and a range of facilities and services to assist Holocaust survivors. The Netherlands has a comprehensive infrastructure of organizations, regulations, provisions, and services in the field of welfare and public health.
Several private agencies specialize in assisting war victims, in particular by providing services such as psychotherapy and social work. The government plays a role in all these activities by subsidizing and facilitating initiatives and by liaising with agencies working in the field. The government provides special pensions and benefits to resistance fighters and civilian and military war victims, victims of persecution, and the relatives of all these groups.