In March 2019, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad ran a four-part series examining antisemitism in the Netherlands and Europe. Published in the midst of global concerns regarding the rise of antisemitism and violent antisemitic attacks, the question of the resurgence of anti-Jewish sentiment is more pressing than ever. According to the Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI), there was a 19% increase in cases of antisemitism in the Netherlands from 2017 to 2018. In a survey conducted by the NRC, 70% of Jewish respondents (163 out of 800 identified themselves as Jewish) stated that antisemitism is indeed on the rise and 80% stated that while they have not witnessed antisemitism themselves, they are worried about its growth. This survey is backed by a recent investigation of antisemitism in twelve EU-member states. 89% of European Jews stated they experienced an increase in antisemitism in their home country, with another 38% responding that they have considered emigrating because they feel unsafe.
The Netherlands has a long and complicated history with antisemitism. During the Nazi occupation, 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported East to concentration and extermination camps. Despite the high deportation numbers, most analyses of collaboration and wartime behavior forgo an examination of the Netherlands in favor of Eastern European countries. This is due in part to the development of a postwar resistance narrative and the association between Dutch identity and tolerance. The resistance narrative, which states that the entire country resisted the imposition of Nazi rule and fell victim to its cruelty, has prevented the country from facing international scrutiny for its role in the Holocaust. While the field of Holocaust studies has certainly expanded in the Netherlands since the 1980s, the public has yet to fully move away from the resistance narrative. In addition, once the Shoah became the focal point of the Dutch Second World War experience, critics began accusing Jews of exploiting their victim status. The late historian Evelien Gans explains this phenomenon as secondary antisemitism or, “the conviction that the legitimate desire to draw a line under the past and move on to normalization is heavily obstructed by the frantic attention to the Shoah.” In addition, Muslim immigrants are often blamed for antisemitism in order to sidestep uncomfortable truths about Dutch treatment of their Jewish neighbors.
In the first article published in the NRC-series, political scientist Nonna Mayer remarked, “antisemitism is not back, it was never gone.” While antisemitism never vanished from Dutch society, the rise of far-right and populist political parties has contributed to the increased visibility of antisemitism. Right-wing rhetoric has not only emboldened antisemites but popularized antisemitic sayings and actions. The growth of antisemitism poses a serious threat to Jewish communities and by extension Holocaust memory. While the Jewish community in the Netherlands is far from homogenous, many feel that Jewish wartime experience has been marginalized. For example, the Jewish community faced a backlash in 2012 for speaking out against the broadening of the National Commemoration to include Dutch SS-volunteers. More recently, the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee has encountered numerous roadblocks to the building of a new Holocaust monument. After years of fighting local residents over a location, the city is now postponing the construction because they refuse to cut down 24 trees. It is clear that preserving Holocaust memory and supporting the Jewish community has taken on new importance within our political atmosphere. The NRC’s investigation of Dutch and European antisemitism will hopefully increase awareness of new forms of anti-Jewish sentiment and encourage people to speak out when they see it. At the very least, these articles reveal that silence is no longer the default reaction to Jewish persecution.
Jazmine Contreras is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation examines contemporary historical memory of the Second World War and Holocaust in the Netherlands. She is currently instructing History of the Holocaust.