Singling Out the Dutch Jews

On 29 April 29, 1942, the Nazis announced a new law to further humiliate the Dutch Jews. From 3 May, they had to wear an identification mark—a six-pointed yellow Star of David with the word Jood [Jew] in its centre. The star made it possible to recognize people as Jews on the street. The Nazis wanted to further isolate and single out Jews from the non-Jewish Dutch. Failure to wear the star was severely penalized. Non-compliance could lead to being sent to a concentration camp.

The majority of the Dutch Jews considered themselves primarily Dutch, and only secondarily Jewish, Judaism was their religion, other than that they were Dutch.

The Jewish Council was instructed to distribute the stars among the Dutch Jews within three days. They were obliged to buy four stars per person for four cents each and were also to be worn by children aged six years and up. A total of 569,355 Stars of David were distributed. In today’s terms that means that the Nazis would have earned $218,969, and this is only in the Netherlands, you can multiply this roughly by anywhere between 50-80 or so across the rest of Europe. That’s just my estimate based on the amount of Jews living in Europe at the time.

Singling out Jews wasn’t something new in Europe. In medieval Europe, the Fourth Lateran Council under Pope Innocent III of 1215 decreed that Jews and Saracens should wear distinctive clothing. Its implementation was left to the local authorities. This was not immediately adhered to everywhere, however, in the following forty years, the position was repeated 29 times by popes and councils. This had a clear effect and as early as 1218 Henry III of England decreed that Jews had to wear a sign, while from 1221 Frederick II in Sicily had ordered them to wear a blue sign. Similar measures were also announced in the rest of Europe, although it would take until 1270 before the Jewish hat was made compulsory in the Holy Roman Empire. Over time, it became not only a sign of distinction but also of inferiority.

After the new law in May 1942, some Jews wore the star with pride, others experience it as a humiliation.

The brothers Abraham and Hartog Benjamins wear the Star of David. Woudrichem, 1942

The new measure is also causing a stir among non-Jewish Dutch people. Some people protest by wearing a self-made star with Catholic or Aryan. Others greeted Jews in the street or gave up their seats on the tram. After a while the outrage subsides and the gap between Jews and non-Jews grows.

They were made by the Enschede textile factory De Nijverheid. This Jewish family business, as it was then, worked under an Aryan Verwalter, a non-Jewish agent, in this case, a German. Incidentally, the origin of the stars only came to light in 1997, during an investigation set up by the Jewish Historical Museum. They were previously assumed to have been produced in Poland.


On Sunday, 3 May, it became clear that the Nazis had gotten their way. Checking compliance was easy, after all, Jews had the J stamp on their identity card. Some Jews wore the star ‘with pride’. Others joked about it; the Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam was briefly called the Milky Way because of all those stars.

On 1 May (Labour Day) 1942, the group around the revolutionary, socialist resistance newspaper De Vonk carried out a daring protest in Amsterdam, they distributed 300,000 notes bearing a star and the text Jew and non-Jew in battle!

A lot of those notes were dropped from the Bijenkorf (department store) building onto the Damrak.

In the beginning, to the anger of Nazi supporters, there were quite a few expressions of sympathy for the Jews. In Deventer, for example, on Monday morning, 4 May 1942, large groups of students came to school with counterfeit Stars of David on their clothing. Twenty students from the Agricultural School were arrested; they then spent two weeks in concentration camp Amersfoort, where they emerged emaciated and exhausted.

A female diarist from the province of Gelderland, noted on Sunday, 3 May 1942:
“Joop entered the church this morning with a so-called Star of David. I was afraid that there was too much at stake. Will go to jail if necessary for my conviction…If everyone did it, it could make an impression, but there are few. In the evening he already told me that he had taken off that star in the afternoon because a granddaughter of Dr Lugtenburg had already been arrested for it. It’s hard to know what to do.”



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