In 1939, there were some 140,000 Dutch Jews living in the Netherlands, among them some 25,000 German-Jewish refugees who had fled Germany in the 1930s. The Nazi occupation force put the number of (racially) Dutch Jews in 1941 at some 154,000. In the Nazi census, some 121,000 persons declared they were members of the (Ashkenazi) Dutch-Israelite community; 4,300 persons declared they were members of the (Sephardic) Portuguese-Israelite community.
The census in 1941 gives an indication of the geographical spread of Dutch Jews at the beginning of World War II (province; number of Jews – this number is not based on the racial standards of the Nazis, but by what the persons declared themselves to be in the population census):
- Groningen – 4,682
- Friesland – 851
- Drenthe – 2,498
- Overijssel – 4,345
- Gelderland – 6,663
- Utrecht – 4,147
- North Holland – 87,026 (including 79,410 in Amsterdam)
- South Holland – 25,617
- Zeeland – 174
- North Brabant – 2,320
- Limburg – 1,394
- Total =139,717
In 1945, only about 35,000 of them were still alive. The exact number of "full Jews" who survived the Holocaust is estimated to be 34,379 (of whom 8,500 were part of a mixed marriage and thus spared deportation and possible death in the Nazi concentration camps.
Factors that influenced the great number of people who perished (some 75% of Dutch Jewry) were the fact that the Netherlands was not under a military regime, because the queen and the government had fled to England, leaving the whole governmental apparatus intact.
An important factor is also that the Netherlands at that time was already the most densely inhabited country of Western Europe, making it difficult for the relatively large number of Jews to go into hiding, if they would have chosen to. Most Jews in Amsterdam were poor, which limited their options for flight or hiding. Another factor is that the country did not have much open space or woods to flee to.
Also, the civil administration was advanced and offered the Nazi-German a full insight in not only the numbers of Jews, but also where they exactly lived. They had to get a large 'J' stamped in their IDs while the whole population had to declare whether or not they had 'Jewish' roots.
As happened in most other Nazi occupied countries, Jews were banned from certain occupations and further isolated from public life. Starting in January 1942, some Dutch Jews were forced to move to Amsterdam; others were directly deported to Westerbork, a concentration camp near the small village of Hooghalen which had been founded in 1939 by the Dutch government to give shelter to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, but would fulfill the function of a transit camp to the Nazi death camps in Middle and Eastern Europe during World War II.
- All non-Dutch Jews were also sent to Westerbork.
- In addition, over 15,000 Jews were sent to labour camps.
- Deportations of Jews from the Netherlands to Poland and Germany began on 15 June 1942 and ended on 13 September 1944.
Ultimately some 101,000 Jews were deported in 98 transports from:
Westerbork to Auschwitz (57,800; 65 transports) Sobibor (34,313; 19 transports) Bergen-Belsen (3,724; 8 transports) and Theresienstadt(4,466; 6 transports), where most of them were murdered.
Another 6,000 Jews were deported from other locations (like Vught) in the Netherlands to concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Austria (like Mauthausen). Only 5,200 survived.
The Dutch underground hid an estimated number of Jews of some 25,000–30,000; eventually, an estimated 16,500 Jews managed to survive the war by hiding. Some 7,000 to 8,000 survived by fleeing to countries like Spain, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland, or by being married to non-Jews (which saved them from deportation and possible death).
Working with the Nazis
At the same time, there was substantial collaboration from the Dutch population including the Amsterdam city administration, the Dutch municipal police, and Dutch railway workers who all helped to round up and deport Jews.
One of the best known Holocaust victims in the Netherlands is Anne Frank. Along with her sister, Margot Frank, she died from typhus in March 1945 in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, due to unsanitary living conditions and confinement by the Nazis.
- Anne Frank's mother, Edith Frank-Holländer, was starved to death by the Nazis in Auschwitz.
- Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank, survived the war.
- Dutch victims of the Holocaust include Etty Hillesum, Abraham Icek Tuschinski and Edith Stein a.k.a. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
In contrast to many other countries where all aspects of Jewish communities and culture were eradicated during the Shoah, a remarkably large proportion of rabbinic records survived in Amsterdam, making the history of Dutch Jewry unusually well documented.
Saving the Jews
Notwithstanding the high number of Jews from the Netherlands that perished (75%), the Dutch received the relatively largest number of awards from Yad Vashem for saving Jews: in total (2013) the number is over 5,200 and counting. Poles were awarded over 6,100 awards, but the Dutch received 1 for every 1,800 Dutch, against 1 in every 4,300 in the case of the Poles.
Remarkable also is that only the Dutch received three Yad Vashem awards for groups or organisations:for the collective of the about 40-50,000 strikers of the February Strike of 25–26 February 1941 against deportation of Jews from the Netherlands for the village of Nieuwlande in the province of Drenthe, where the whole population took part in hiding Jews for the so-called 'NV' ("Naamloze vennootschap", anonymous partnership or limited company); this organisation from Utrecht specialised in saving and hiding Jewish children, some 600, all of whom survived the war.
She organised the first train transport of 600 Jewish children from Vienna in December 1938, after direct negotiations with Adolf Eichmann in the city, and the ultimate children's transport Kindertransport, on May 14, 1940, from the Netherlands with 74 children on board the last ship leaving the country. Per 2014 her role in the Kindertransporte is slowly gaining recognition in English-speaking countries.1945–1960
The Jewish-Dutch population after the Second World War is marked by certain significant changes: emigration; a low birth rate; and a high intermarriage rate.
After the Second World War and the devastations which were caused by the Holocaust, thousands of surviving Jews made aliyah to Mandate Palestine, later Israel. Aliyah from the Netherlands initially surpassed that of any other Western nation. Israel is still home to some 6,000 Dutch Jews. Others emigrated to the United States. There was a high assimilation and intermarriage rate among those who stayed. As a result, the Jewish birth rate and organized community membership dropped.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, relations with non-Jews were friendly, and the Jewish community received reparations payments.
- In 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War in the Netherlands, the total number of Jews as counted in the population census was just 14,346 (down from a count of 154,887 by the German occupation force in 1941). Later, this number was adjusted by Jewish organisations to some 24,000 Jews living in the Netherlands in 1954 – nevertheless an enormous decrease compared to the number of Jews counted in 1941 – a number which was also disputed as the German occupation force counted Jews on basis of religion.
- The Jewish population in the Netherlands became more internationalized, with an influx of mostly Israeli and Russian Jews during the last decades. Approximately one in three Dutch Jews has a non-Dutch background. The number of Israeli Jews living in the Netherlands (concentrated in Amsterdam) runs in the thousands (estimates run from 5,000 to 7,000 Israeli expatriates in the Netherlands, although some claims go as high as 12,000) although only a relatively small number of these Israeli Jews is connected to one of the religious Jewish institutions in the Netherlands.
Most Dutch Jews live in the major cities in the west of the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht); some 44% of all Dutch Jews live in Amsterdam, which is considered the centre of Jewish life in the Netherlands.
There are currently some 150 synagogues present in the Netherlands, of which some 50 are still used for religious services. Large Jewish communities in the Netherlands are found in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague; smaller ones are found throughout the country.