They Thought They Were Safe

Approximately 25,000 Jews from Germany and Austria sought refuge in the Netherlands in the 1930s after the Nazis came to power. They were welcomed in the Netherlands because many Dutch were appalled by the treatment of the Jews in Germany. The picture above shows a large protest meeting in the Amsterdam R.A.I. in 1938 against the treatment of the Jews in Germany. More than 25,000 Dutch people attended this meeting.

The Dutch were always known as a multicultural and lingual, liberal nation. German and Austrian Jewish parents sent their children to the Netherlands, knowing they would be safe.

The German Jewish refugees arrived at the Burger orphanage in Naarden (1938), undergoing medical examination.

To facilitate the influx of Jewish refugees the Dutch government established a refugee camp at Westerbork (Centraal Vluchtelingenkamp Westerbork) in 1939 to intern Jewish refugees, mostly from Germany. The first refugees arrived in Westerbork in October of that year. In April 1940, there were approximately 750 Jewish refugees housed in the camp. Some of them were German Jews who had been passengers on the ship MS St. Louis.

On May 13, 1939, more than 900 Jews fled Germany aboard a luxury cruise liner, the MS St Louis. They hoped to reach Cuba and then travel to the United States, but were turned away in Havana and forced to return to Europe.

After a journey that took weeks, 907 German Jewish refugees arrived with the MS St. Louis in the port of Antwerp. Two children look with dejected faces through the porthole of the ship at the disembarkation in the harbor.

For those who ended up in Westerbork, their troubles were far from over. On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands.

In the first two years after the invasion, Westerbork continued to function as a refugee camp. From May 1940 to July 1942, the camp remained under Dutch administration. And the conditions were still relatively good.

In July 1942, the Nazis began operating Westerbork as a Jewish transit camp. The majority of Jews, Dutch and non-Dutch, were deported from Westerbork to predominantly Auschwitz and Sobibor.

Also, the Dutch Jews who had lived in the Netherlands as fully integrated Dutch citizens, for centuries, suddenly became ‘lesser’ citizens. They were persecuted by the German occupiers, but there were many Dutch, often their neighbors, who were eager to help the Nazis to identify them, and make sure that new laws introduced by the Nazi rir.

Westerbork. At the Post Office.

In this secretly taken photograph(below) on June 20, 1943, Amsterdam-South and the Transvaal neighborhood in east Amsterdam were hermetically closed. Loudspeaker cars drove through the streets. Almost all Jews had to go to certain assembly points, from where they were taken to the station by trams. Many Jews, however, turned out to be hiding. That is why, later that day, all houses were systematically searched and arrested Jews were removed with army trucks, such as here on the Krügerplein/corner Schalk Burgerstraat in the Transvaalbuurt. The Ordnungspolizei was assisted in this ‘collection action’ by the special Jewish auxiliary police from the Westerbork transit camp. These men were recognizable by a white band around their arms.

They all thought were safe, but at some stage, they couldn’t have been more wrong. They arrived in a country that had a civilian registration second to none in the world, this efficient part of the bureaucracy, made it so easy for the Nazis.


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