General Introduction Part II - The Persecution and Deportation of the Jews in France, Belgium and the Netherlands

Regarding the percentage of Jewish victims and survivors of the Shoah, France and the Netherlands are on opposite ends of the scale: While about a quarter of the 320,000 Jews in France did not survive Nazi persecution, up to 75 % of the 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands perished during the German occupation. Belgium, where some 40 % of the 66,000 Jews did not survive, is in between. These striking differences need to be explained. Since the late 1970s, historical research on the Shoah, particularly in Western Europe, has focused increasingly on national characteristics in order to account for different outcomes of Nazi persecution. However, until recently there were only very few explicitly comparative studies, while most works offered only short comparative remarks. The following chapter aims at comparing the examples of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, based on a number of key archival documents.

The Netherlands, Belgium and France are well suited for such purposes, because they found themselves in similar situations when the occupation began in May/June 1940. In Western Europe, German occupation policy aimed at preserving public order and integrating the national economies into the war effort. This was partly due to the fact that Germany did not have enough personnel nor adequate financial resources to administer all the territories directly. Therefore, the occupiers used a domination concept in all three countries: They established supervisory administrations (Aufsichtsverwaltungen), leaving day-to-day matters, whenever possible, to native authorities and local civil servants. In Eastern Europe the German occupiers relied on a terror concept, especially in Poland: They brushed Polish authorities aside and waged war on the subjected civilian population. Here, economic exploitation amounted to downright plunder. This was a result of the Nazis’ contempt for the Slavs as racially inferior peoples and of their ultimate objective to secure ‘Living space’ (Lebensraum) for the Germans in Eastern Europe. The Jews and part of the Polish population were to be eliminated.

Similarities and differences, May/June 1940

While Germany became a dictatorship in 1933, France, Belgium and the Netherlands were longstanding parliamentary democracies of the liberal variety. They all had, to be sure, their own history of anti-Semitism, but also one of almost 150 years of emancipation and integration. As a result, there was no legislation discriminating against Jewish citizens in those countries when the Second World War began. The percentage of Jews was very low and did not differ much: In France and Belgium, the Jews did not exceed 0.75 % of the population; in the Netherlands, they made up around 1.5 %.

In all three countries the Germans left the native bureaucracies intact. The case of France differed from the Netherlands and Belgium, since a large part of the country remained unoccupied even after the armistice of June 1940, and France continued to exist as a state. The North and West of the country, including Paris, were occupied by German troops. The French government, led by Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856–1951), moved to the town of Vichy in the so-called Free Zone, about 300 kilometers south of Paris. Rivaling for power, the German army, the Nazi Party and the SS- and police-apparatus vied for maximum influence in the occupation regimes. Since Belgium and occupied France were supposed to serve as a springboard for the planned invasion of Britain, these territories were put under military administration. In Belgium the highest authority was held by general Alexander von Falkenhausen (1878–1966) and his chief of military administration, general Eggert Reeder (1894–1959). In France, general Otto von Stülpnagel (1878–1948) led the military administration.

The Netherlands, on the other hand, were put under a Reichskommissariat, a civilian occupation administration in May 1940, much like Norway a month before. This SS- and Party-dominated civilian administration was headed by the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart (1892–1946), who had played a crucial role in the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938. He answered directly to Hitler. The Nazis regarded the Dutch as a ‘Germanic’ brother people, destined for ‘self-Nazification’. As a consequence, in addition to Reich-Commissioner Seyss-Inquart, four commissioners-general, all with a strong ideological background, were appointed to supervise the Dutch top civil servants. One of the commissioners-general, the Austrian Hanns Rauter (1895–1949), was also appointed Higher SS and Police Leader (Höherer SS- und Polizei-Führer, HSSPF). He received direct orders from the highest chief of the German Police and SS, Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945).

Whereas the French government remained in the country, the Dutch and Belgian cabinets went into exile in London in May 1940. The top civil servants of the ministries, the so-called Secretaries-general, had received orders from their government to stay in office and co-operate with the occupying force. Since the commercial ties of both countries to their overseas markets had been severed, they now depended on Germany to keep their economies running. Another reason for the local authorities to stay in office was to prevent the native fascist parties, such as the National-Socialistische Beweging in the Netherlands, and the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond and Rex in Belgium, from seizing power.

The Jewish populations varied considerably in size, nationality and organization. There were numerous economic, social, cultural and religious differences and internal conflicts. The long-established Jewish communities were integrated in society and partly assimilated, especially in the Netherlands and France. In the Netherlands, some 85 % of the Jews had been fully integrated citizens for generations. In Belgium, however, more than 90 % of the Jews were Eastern European immigrants, mainly from Poland, and refugees from Germany. In France there was a large group of integrated, partly assimilated citizens, though there was also a similarly sized group of refugees and immigrants without French citizenship.

Anti-Jewish policies, 1940–1942

Within only a few months after the beginning of the occupation, German civilian and military authorities issued the first decrees against Jews in all three countries, flanked, in the case of France, by the Vichy government. This anti-Jewish policy was mainly administrative in character and aimed at the gradual exclusion of the Jews, both socially and economically. Jewish civil servants were dismissed, Jews and Jewish enterprises registered. However, there were no violent actions against the Jews, nor massive arrests. In occupied France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the German regime turned the local civil service into accomplices in the preparation and implementation of anti-Jewish decrees. In the Netherlands and Belgium the secretaries-general of the ministerial departments voiced objections at first, hinting at both the Constitution and the International Convention on War (The Hague, 1907). While the law did not allow any discrimination based on race or religion, the top civil servants began to co-operate under German pressure.

In France, the Vichy-government initiated its own anti-Jewish policy, enforced in both the occupied and the “Free Zone”. Marshal Pétain, appointed prime-minister shortly before the armistice of June 1940, soon abolished the democratic system with the consent of a parliamentary majority. He became head of state and received sweeping powers to rule the country. His conservative authoritarian regime was bent on maximum autonomy for France in a German-dominated Europe and opted for a policy of collaboration with Nazi Germany. Pétain’s government launched the Révolution Nationale, basically a nationalistic, corporatist and xenophobic domestic program: Family values, patriotism and traditional Catholic principles were to be reinforced by legislation, education, the civil service, church authorities, and the local notables. French society would no longer have room for Freemasons, Communists, other political dissidents, foreigners and Jews. The anti-Semitism of the French state was mainly of a legal nature and aimed at the almost complete abolition of the emancipation of 1791. In this respect, no distinction was made between French-born and foreign Jews. The anti-Jewish laws passed in early October 1940 and early June 1941 (Statuts des Juifs) made this evident. In addition, French policy was especially directed against Jewish foreigners; thus continuing and expanding the refugee policy of the late 1930s. Foreigners were interned in camps under very poor conditions, awaiting emigration, deportation or ‘repatriation’.

Unlike the French and Belgians, the Dutch protested publicly against the first anti-Jewish decrees of autumn 1940 and early 1941. Churches and university professors objected against the banning of the Jews from the civil service and other public offices; students went on strike. The Germans mostly ignored them, but closed down the universities Leiden and Delft. In the first months of 1941, riots, provoked by Dutch National-Socialists in Amsterdam, led to German intervention: the German SS and Police chief in Holland, Rauter, after consulting with Seyss-Inquart and Himmler, ordered a reprisal roundup of more than 400 young Jewish men. German police carried out this action brutally, and in full view of the public, with many non-Jewish witnesses. This provoked a general protest strike in Amsterdam and surrounding towns, organized by the underground Communist Party (February 25-26, 1941). While it took the German authorities by surprise, it was put down by German police troops, again with brute force and under the supervision of Rauter. The rounded up Jews were deported to concentration camps, mostly to Mauthausen. With one exception, none of them survived.

Belgium was shocked by a first public, violent roundup of Jews much later, in August 1942, when the systematic deportations began. In France, Jews were rounded up in the streets for the first time in August 1941. This action, however, was carried out by French police in Paris, not the Germans, and the 4,232 victims were mainly refugees and immigrants without French citizenship. They were detained in internment camps controlled by French authorities. The responses to the persecution of the Jews in 1940 and 1941 among the populations in France and Belgium, were mainly characterized by passivity and indifference. Though the social segregation and economic spoliation were put into effect step by step in all three countries in 1941 and early 1942, in France and Belgium the persecution actually became visible for the non-Jewish population only with the introduction of the yellow star (Jewish badge) in early June 1942.

In the Netherlands and Belgium the economic persecution was implemented by agencies of the German occupation regime. In Belgium, the military administration prevented the security police from conducting an independent policy against the Jews; general Reeder maintained his control over the anti-Jewish policy. In France, from the end of 1940 onward, the economic persecution (‘Aryanization’) became increasingly a matter of rivalry between German and French agencies, especially since the French authorities were anxious to keep the proceeds of expropriations of Jewish enterprises in French hands. The latter interest was one of the main priorities of the Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives (CGQJ), a French government agency set up in March 1941, and headed by the ardent anti-Semite and arch-nationalist Xavier Vallat (1891–1972).

During the months following the 1941 February Strike in the Netherlands, decision-making and preparation of new anti-Jewish decrees and measures became more and more an exclusively German matter, increasingly directed on a local level, with a growing role for the German police. Most of the top Dutch civil servants, who had to deal directly with the occupier, resigned or were dismissed – albeit not explicitly over the persecution of the Jews – and were replaced by pro-German figures appointed by Seyss-Inquart. Ultimately, one of the last prewar Dutch secretaries-general, Karel Frederiks (1881–1962), of the Ministry of the Interior, was simply told by Rauter in March 1942, that the Dutch Jews no longer came under the authority of the Dutch civil service and that interventions from Dutch authorities in Jewish matters would no longer be tolerated. Frederiks protested in private, but he stayed in office and resigned himself to the fact that the Jews had been removed from his control  [Document 1] . This situation was more or less the same in Belgium, where more than 90 % of all the Jews were not Belgian citizens. But in both countries the lower echelons of the civil service remained involved in the implementation, for example in sending Jewish unemployed to labor camps in the spring of 1942.

On the eve of the massive deportations in July 1942, the position of the Jews in the three countries varied. This had to do with the nature of the central organizations that had been imposed upon them in 1941, like the Amsterdam Jewish Council (Joodsche Raad) in February that year. This council lacked any formal status, was directly subjected to German civilian and police authorities in Amsterdam solely on the local level, which remained so even after the council’s authority spread nation-wide in the autumn of 1941. It was used in the implementation of all sorts of measures. In Belgium and France, where central organizations were imposed by decree or law upon the Jewish populations in that same autumn, the German police did not attain full control over these organizations. In Belgium, the German police had to share its grip on the imposed Association des Juifs en Belgique (AJB) with various subdivisions of the military administration on the national level. In France, a similar organization, the Union Générale des Israélites de France (UGIF), was formally subordinate to French authorities (CGQJ) alone, not to the German occupier.

Deportations, 1942–1944

In January 1942, the organization of the deportations of the European Jews to concentration and extermination camps in occupied Poland was discussed during a meeting of German state secretaries and top civil servants in Wannsee near Berlin. Adolf Eichmann (1906–1962), head of the anti-Jewish department within the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), received full powers to carry out the deportations. He looked at France, Belgium and the Netherlands as a whole when it came to ordering German trains for the transport of Jews to Poland. Late in June 1942, he planned for 40,000 Jews in France, 10,000 in Belgium, and 40,000 in the Netherlands to be deported. German trains were readily available.

Another important factor was the availability of the police apparatus in the three countries. In France, the total German police force was about 7,400 men. This was a relatively small number for such a vast country, especially since it was also needed to fight the French resistance movement. Therefore, German police co-operated closely with French police since the beginning of the occupation, especially in the fight against their common enemy: the underground Communist Party. The Vichy government strove for maximum autonomy in the occupied part and tried to avoid direct German interventions as much as possible. In May 1942, a Higher SS and Police Leader was appointed in occupied France: Karl Oberg (1897–1965). From now on, both in France and in the Netherlands there was an HSSPF who fully controlled German police matters, including the deportations of Jews. In this respect, the military administration in France no longer played any significant role. In negotiations with the French in early July, Oberg made the condition that more autonomy for the French police in the occupied zone would only be possible when they co-operated in deporting the Jews. The French government, Pétain and minister Pierre Laval (1883–1945), and the new head of the French police, René Bousquet (1909–1993), were willing to go along – even in the unoccupied zone – but only in the case of foreign and stateless Jews. The French cabinet meeting of July 3, 1942, confirmed this  [Document 2] :il faut distinguer entre Juifs français et déchets expédiés par les Allemands eux-mêmes.” (“We must distinguish between French Jews and the rubbish sent here by the Germans themselves.”) The Germans agreed, since they could at least start with the mass deportations. About 100,000 French policemen (30,000 of which were in the Paris region) were available for roundups and deportations of Jews [Document 3].

In Belgium, there were some 1,800 German policemen. Most of them were military police, directly subordinate to the military administration, and not to the SS commanders as was the case in the Netherlands and France. General Reeder was willing to use the military police in roundups of Jews for deportation, but he also needed it for other tasks, such as fighting Belgian resistance. Moreover, he wanted to avoid protests and unrest among the Belgian authorities and population. Therefore, during a meeting between Reeder and Himmler in Berlin in July 1942, it was decided that the about 4,000 Belgian Jews would not be deported until further notice [Document 4].

In the Netherlands, Rauter had about 4,700 German policemen. He could also call upon the Dutch police, which he had, in 1941/1942, reorganized and centralized in such a way that is was, in fact, subordinate to him alone. So, both the Dutch police and the Dutch Jews had been wrested from the Dutch authorities’ control. When the deportations began, these authorities raised no protest. [Document 5].

The first roundups and large-scale deportations in France started in mid-July 1942 with carefully prepared mass roundups in the Paris region (rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver). French regular police arrested almost 13,000 Jews, including children with French citizenship, using lists with names and addresses taken from French files. Jews had been registered by French authorities in 1940-1941. In August roundups also took place in the unoccupied part of France: more than 10,000 foreign and stateless Jews, including women, children and old people, were delivered to the Nazis. Drancy, at the northeastern outskirts of Paris, served as the transit-camp. The deportations caused a lot of protests in France, especially among church leaders in the unoccupied South, and the United States exerted political pressure on the Vichy government. Fearing for what was left of their political support, Pétain and Laval decided in early September 1942 to temporarily cease large-scale arrests of Jews. [Document 6].

In Belgium and the Netherlands large-scale deportations of Jews also started in July 1942 and continued throughout the following three months. Unlike in France, church protests in the Netherlands did not in any way hamper the deportations. In both Belgium and the Netherlands, the German police used at first individually addressed, written call-up orders, which were ignored by about half the Jews in both countries. In Amsterdam, the German police reacted with a number of small-scale roundups that were designed to intimidate: the Jews taken prisoner were held hostage to force those who had received call-up orders to report. The hostages and all Jews who failed to report or went into hiding were threatened with deportation to the Mauthausen camp. By then it was already well known among the Jewish population that this destination meant certain death. Compared to this, Westerbork transit camp and the so-called “work in the East” seemed to many the lesser of two evils. By early September, Dutch regular police were enlisted in carrying out house-to-house arrests of Jews during the evening curfew. But after a few weeks, because of growing reluctance and aversion, the Dutch regular police was replaced by special units made up of Dutch National-Socialists who received their instructions directly from the German security police. In Belgium, from mid-August 1942, German military police carried out roundups and street arrests in Antwerp and Brussels, where about 90 % of all Belgian Jews lived. In Antwerp, the German security police forced the city police to assist. The transit-camp for Jews was in an army barracks in the town of Malines.

The percentage of Jews deported from the Netherlands during the first phase of deportations (July to mid-November 1942) was high by comparison to France and Belgium. The difference can largely be explained by the evacuation of the Jewish labor camps in the North and East of the country, where Jewish men had been sent since the beginning of 1942. On orders of Rauter  [Document 7] , in early October of that year all men and their families outside the camps – more than 12,000 people – were rounded up and almost all of them were deported via Westerbork to Auschwitz that same month. 12 % of the total of deported Jews was thus taken away at once. In contrast, in France and Belgium the German police could not accomplish similar large-scale deportations. Especially in France the German police chiefs – Oberg and the commander of the security police, Helmut Knochen (1910–2003) – had to take into account public order, the struggle against French resistance, and the very significant economic contribution of France to the German war effort. Therefore, after Laval refused to continue arresting Jews in early September 1942, the German police chiefs restrained their anti-Jewish experts who could not utilize any of the thirty German trains that had already been made available to France for October 1942  [Document 8] . Despite the efforts of Eichmann in Berlin and his representative in Paris, the German police chiefs in France were backed in their policy by the highest SS-chief Himmler  [Document 9] . The peak of the deportations from the evacuated labor camps in the Netherlands in October 1942 and the simultaneous stagnation in France explain the 10 %difference between the deportation rates of these two countries before the middle of November 1942.

In Belgium, the roundups of August and September 1942 proved counter-productive to German plans very soon: The remaining Jews refused to wear the yellow star any longer; they sold their furniture, tried to obtain false identity papers, go into hiding, or escape abroad  [Document 10] . As a result, there was a permanent drop in the deportations by the end of October 1942. Only after this stagnation had started, deportations of Jews from Belgium were slowed down by a shortage of trains that was due to German military needs on the Eastern Front, most notably during the winter months of 1942-1943. But in January 1943, when more and more Jews were seized by individual arrests, trains were again made available for Belgium. From October 1942 until the end of the occupation, the German persecutors were mostly reduced to tracking down Jews in hiding. The German police had clearly lost their grip on most of the remaining Jews in Belgium [ Document 11 ].

Beginning in September/October 1942, men in France and Belgium were drafted to work in factories on Reich territory. This general labour draft provoked a sharp increase of organized resistance and hiding and escape networks in both countries. To a certain extent, Jews were able to profit from these opportunities as well. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, similar more extensive organized hiding opportunities would emerge much later: after the great protest strikes of late April/early May 1943, when compulsory labour in Germany was also severely stepped up in the Netherlands.

During the second phase of deportations (mid-November 1942 to July 1943),the situation in France changed considerably when Germany occupied the Free Zone after the Allied landings in North-Africa in early November 1942 and tried to get the French government to strip Jewish immigrants of the French citizenship they had received. The forced denaturalization aimed at creating the formal prerequisites for the deportation of these immigrants  [Document 12] . However, negotiations over this issue dragged on for months, and in August 1943, Pétain ultimately refused to go along. Thus the ambitious deportation plans of the anti-Jewish section of the German police in France for March to June 1943, for which trains were available, came to nothing. In the Netherlands the second phase was characterized by large-scale deportations from Jewish hospitals, homes for the elderly and orphanages, as well as the creation of a second transit-camp for Jews in Vught in January 1943, which was deceptively presented as a labour camp. Along with the Jewish labour camp inmates and their direct relatives in October 1942, more than 20,000 Jews were thus deported from places of isolation and concentration where they had been an easy target for the German police. This accounts for 20 % of the total deportation figure in the Netherlands. Unlike in the Netherlands, in Belgium during the first months of 1943 deportations from Jewish orphanages, hospitals and homes for the elderly, administered by the AJB, were postponed by the military administration. Another method which kept the deportations moving in the Netherlands were the temporary exemptions introduced already in September 1942, in which the Amsterdam Jewish Council was involved. The exemptions reached a maximum of 46,000 in December 1942. From then on, most exemptions were gradually withdrawn, and the Jews, who had stayed at their legal addresses, were rounded up during the evening curfew. There were also ongoing evacuations to Amsterdam, concentration in three city districts and big roundups there from May to September 1943. All this contributed decisively to the deportation of more than 34,000 Jews to the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland between early March and late July 1943; only 18 of them would survive. The German security police in the Netherlands, commanded by Wilhelm Harster (1904–1991) from the summer of 1940 to September 1943, was thus fully able use their freedom of action and employ various devious, coherent methods of intimidation, deception and deceit in the organization and implementation of the deportations.

During the third and last phase of the deportations (July 1943 to September 1944), after the Sobibor transports of July 1943, the deportation rate in the Netherlands decreased to a level that did not differ much from France’s. The last roundups in Amsterdam took place at the end of September 1943, after which the Jewish Council and any legally organized Jewish community life ceased to exist in the Netherlands. In France, after Vichy’s rejection of the denaturalization proposals, the German police, backed by SS chief Himmler in Germany, put an end to the German-French collaboration policy regarding the deportation of Jews. From now on, German police, especially Eichmann’s special representative Alois Brunner (1912–2003?) and his team of experienced SS officers, organized roundups and individual arrests of Jews – both immigrants and French nationals – independently of the French authorities. Special squads were formed, that included members of small, radical French fascist parties and other pro-Nazi elements.

Despite the newly acquired freedom of action, the German police failed to accomplish really large-scale deportations. First, the number of available German police remained limited; now this lack of manpower became manifest. Second, in the formerly unoccupied zone the yellow star had never been introduced. Third, by September 1943, French resistance and organized networks for hiding and escape had grown to a large extent. Fourth, there was an extended network of Jewish self-help organizations, both French and immigrant, legal and clandestine, that co-operated with the French resistance, the clergy, and legally operating French and foreign humanitarian organizations. This last factor also played a considerable role in Belgium, where Jewish immigrants – both Communists and Zionists – had set up a joint underground network already in September 1942, in co-operation with the Belgian resistance organization Independence Front.

Of the about 320,000 Jews in France, about 80,000 did not survive the persecutions. Approximately 24,500 of them were French citizens, all others were immigrants and refugees. This can be explained by the German-French police agreement of early July 1942. Also in Belgium the great majority of 25,000 victims were immigrants and refugees, which was a consequence of the fact that less than 10 % of all Jews – only about 4,000 – had Belgian citizenship. They were exempted from deportation by the military administration until early September 1943. By then, many of them had gone into hiding. In the Netherlands the distinction between native and foreign Jews in chances of survival has not been of similar significance, since Jews with Dutch citizenship were deported from the outset.

When considering the role of the native, regular police in the roundups and deportations, it appears that at least 61 % of the 80,000 Jews who did not survive in France came into German hands through the French regular police, or died because of the very bad conditions in internment camps, administered by French authorities. Significantly more Jews could be deported from France because of Vichy preparations and the active role of the French regular police, than would have been the case if the Germans had had to do it all alone. As for the more than 25,000 Jews from Belgium who were deported to the Nazi death camps, the Belgian authorities and regular police were directly involved in the deportation of about 4,300 Jews, or 17 %, mostly from Antwerp. All others were seized by German military or security police, other German agencies and/or with the help of Belgian individual informers and pro-German collaborators. Of the approximately 107,000 Jews deported from the Netherlands, about 26,000, or 24 %, were arrested exclusively or mainly by Dutch regular police. More than 80,000 Jews were seized by other forces or in another way, i.e. by written call-up orders, the German order police, German security police, newly trained pro-German units under German command, and other small pro-Nazi groups and individuals who often received financial rewards for tracing hidden Jews. Looking at the role of the native regular police in the Netherlands and Belgium in arresting Jews for deportation as a percentage of the entire Jewish population: of the 66,000 Jews living in Belgium 7 % fell into German hands because they were assisted in one way or the other by Belgian regular police. In the Netherlands of the 140,000 Jews almost 19 % were arrested mainly or exclusively by Dutch regular police. The high victimization rate of 75 % in the Netherlands, as against 40 % in Belgium, can thus for one-third be explained by the role of the Dutch police.


The main causes of the divergence in victimization rate between France and the Netherlands were partly different from the causes of the divergence between Belgium and the Netherlands. Most striking in the case of France is the role of the Vichy government: its close collaboration with the occupying force and the German police decisively facilitated the extensive deportations in the summer of 1942. The government was also responsible for interrupting the deportations in the autumn of that year and from March to June 1943, when the anti-Jewish section of the German security police was restricted by its own SS superiors. In the Netherlands, by contrast, the German security police could make full use of its freedom of action and employed various tactics of its own design. The difference between France and Belgium can also mainly be explained by the role of the Vichy government on the one hand, and the relatively larger freedom of action for the German security police and its helpers in Belgium on the other, with the active support of the military administration.

The difference between Belgium and the Netherlands has various causes. In the summer of 1942, the German occupiers in Belgium resorted to violent roundups and arrests, carried out in full view of the public, as the only way to accomplish the deportation of the Jews. This caused the remaining Jews – almost all of which were Eastern European immigrants with a high degree of organization – to go underground when persecution was still in its early stages. In the Netherlands, the German police enjoyed more and earlier freedom of action than in Belgium. They could organize the deportations more methodically, employing a range of various tactics from deception to intimidation, but considerably less public violence. This was partly the result of the 1941 February Strike. It had taught the occupiers that the public use of brute force against Jewish Dutchmen could cause serious unrest, not to mention economic damage, and was better to be avoided. The difference in deportation rates between the Netherlands and Belgium can, as mentioned above, be explained for almost one-third by a relatively and absolutely larger share of the Dutch regular police as against the Belgian regular police. It should be taken into account, however, that the Dutch regular police had been reorganized, centralized and removed from the Dutch authorities’ control at this point, and was now in fact subordinate to the German occupiers.

This was not the case in France or Belgium. After the early and more radical introduction of compulsory labour in Germany for Belgians in general (October 1942), organized hiding and escape opportunities materialized eight months earlier than in the Netherlands. This period of time proved to be an advantage of crucial importance for many of the persecuted Jews! Finally, the high number and percentage of victims in the Netherlands was also determined by the way in which the German occupier, especially the security police, continued to use and manipulate the Amsterdam Jewish Council during the deportations, and the responses among the Jewish population generated by the occupier’s methods. These responses were determined by three factors: a) the nature of the German methods, a combination of intimidation and various forms of deception; b) the weak, informal position of the Jewish Council who had no room to negotiate whatsoever; and c) the largely though not completely assimilated background of the Jewish population in the Netherlands. Because of all this, many people were inclined to cling to legal options of deferment for a long time. These options were, however, part of the deportation system and – in contrast to France and Belgium – counter-acted illegality, such as early massive attempts to go into hiding or to escape abroad.

Pim Griffioen, Ron Zeller