The Holocaust wasn’t only the mass murder of Jews and others, it was preceded by other crimes. Although many people would not have perceived them as crimes, because they were legalised by Nazi laws.
The rapacity of the Nazis was expressed in a large number of measures, orders and ordinances (VO) with the force of law. Several ordinances were explicitly intended for Jews and pertained to all forms of property.
The most important regulations for Jews were the Liro Regulations of 1941 and 1942. The first Liro Regulation (VO 148/41) was issued on 8 August 1941. The ordinance stipulated, among other things, that Jews had to transfer their cash assets and securities to an account to be opened at the Liro bank in the Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam. On paper, the Liro bank was a branch of the renowned bank Lippmann, Rosenthal and Co. on the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat in Amsterdam. In practice, the Liro bank was a robbery bank that served as a depository and sales office for looted Jewish property. Wealth less than 10,000 guilders and incomes less than 3000 guilders per year were exempt. An amount of 1000 guilders per month was freely disposable per person. In theory, the Jews could dispose of their assets, but in practice regulations and high commissions resulted in them losing their assets.
The Lippmann Rosenthal bank was a well-known and originally Jewish bank. It was a reliable and solid company. When the war broke out, the company had been in existence for 81 years and the Nazis made good use of the bank’s good reputation. The idea to use this company as a robbery bank came about because the Nazis thought that the Jews would take their valuables more quickly to a well-known Jewish bank. In addition, in this way, the stolen shares could be offered for sale on the stock market without any problems.
Jews who ended up in Camp Westerbork had to hand over their last money (the 250 guilders they were allowed to keep) to a local branch of the bank. To complete the expropriation, Lippmann and Rosenthal had opened a branch in Camp Westerbork, where everything that people had tried to hide on the body, including expensive coats and shoes, was forcibly taken away.
The money from the Liro bank was used, among other things, for the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. The bank made 11 million guilders available for the expansion and operation of transit camp Westerbork; 26 million for the construction and operation of the Vught. concentration camp.
The number of staff at the Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co Sarphatistraat bank gives some idea of the scale at which the robbery was carried out. At the time of the 1st LiRo Regulation, the bank had 268 employees, 160 of whom worked in the banking section. The staff doubled in 1942 (510) and fell back to 299 in 1943. The original core of the staff came from the real bank on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. At the end of 1941, this staff was convened and informed by director Fuld that some of them would be transferred to the bank on Sarphati Street. Fuld couldn’t give details at the time because he didn’t know them either. What was certain was that the banking business would be handled on Sarphati Street. Fuld advised the staff to comply with this order because the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat had already been placed under German authority and therefore its continued existence was not certain. The staff who would go to Sarphati Street would at least be sure of their jobs. On August 1, 1941, 27 employees moved from Nieuwe Spiegelstraat to Sarphatistraat.
Dilemmas are often encountered during World War II. People made choices and ended up on the right or wrong side of a dividing line. A line which was often blurred. An example of this was the director of human resources, Kurt Victor Karl Mulisch. He was appointed by the Nazis and collaborated with them. He was divorced from his Jewish wife Alice Schwarz in 1936 and his work at the Lirobank saved her life and that of his son, the writer Harry Mulisch. Alice’s parents and grandparents were murdered in the concentration camps. Kurt Mulisch was convicted of collaboration after the war and was jailed for three years in the Lloyd Hotel, which was used as a detention centre.
It wasn’t only money but art was also taken. In 2015, the provenance investigation of the Royal Collections] revealed that the painting The Hague Forest with a view of Huis ten Bosch Palace by Joris van der Haagen ended up with the Dutch Royal House via the Liro in 1960. Queen Juliana then bought it from an art dealer. She would not have known about the robbery. After the painting’s history became clear, the Royal House contacted the heirs of the original Jewish owner, a pre-war art collector, to return the painting.
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