Edited by: Fern Sidman
The Dutch government is planning to throw open information about 300,000 people investigated for their collaboration with the Nazis, in a move that could accelerate a reckoning with the Netherlands’ Holocaust record, the JTA recently reported.
In February of this year, Reuters reported that , project War in Court (Oorlog voor de Rechter), a Dutch consortium devoted to preserving history, said the largest war archive in the Netherlands will become digitally accessible in 2025. This announcement, according to Reuters, worried descendants of World War II Nazi collaborators who fear the reopening of old wounds.
JTA reported that for the past seven decades, only researchers and relatives of those accused of collaborating with the Nazis could access the information held by the Dutch archives. A Dutch law, making the archive only accessible conditionally and on request, will expire January 2025, as was reported by Reuters. And while the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation privacy law protects personal data, it doesn’t apply to people who have died – the majority of the people involved.
The archive, consisting of 32 million pages, includes 300,000 mostly Dutch people who The Netherlands investigated for collaboration with German occupiers, as was reported by Reuters. Only a fifth appeared before a court, while most concerned light cases such as being a member of the nationalist socialist movement.
The New York Times reported last week that among those who were subject to investigation were men who volunteered for the German army to those accused of betraying resisters and Jews. The report indicated that they were often arrested or sent to their deaths.
At least 15 people from War in Court will be working to digitalize the archive. Jeroen Saris, chairman of the Recognition Working Group Foundation, a Dutch interest group, told Reuters in February that, “There is a fear, particularly among first generation descendants, that it will lead to new suspicions and accusations in communities that were torn apart in the past.”
The effort drew additional attention this week when the NYT article explored concerns held by people in the Netherlands who have an idea of what lies within the sweeping repository, the JTA reported. “It’s a sensitive archive,” Edwin Klijn, project leader of The War in Court, told the Times.
“For years, the whole theme of collaboration has been a kind of taboo,” he added. “We don’t talk about collaboration that much but we’re now 80 years further and it’s time for us to face this dark part of the war, “ he told the NYT.
The Netherlands has the world’s second-highest number of documented saviors of Jews, but it also had many collaborators who, aided by the topography and Holland’s proximity to Germany, helped the Nazis achieve the highest death rate there among Jews anywhere in Nazi-occupied Western Europe, according to the JTA report. Of 140,000 Dutch Jews, more than 100,000 were murdered. Among those was teenaged diarist Anne Frank, whose family were given up by their neighbors and acquaintances. The famed writer perished in a concentration camp but her father, Otto, survived and published his daughter’s diaries that she penned while hiding in an attic in Amsterdam.
The NYT reported that among those investigated, more than 65,000 accused collaborators ended up standing trial in a special court system that stripped some of certain civil rights, sent some to prison and condemned others to death.
Most of the cases were resolved by 1950 and the filings of the special court — including police reports, witness depositions, material evidence and photos were packed off to an archive with restricted access for a period of 75 years., as was reported by the NYT.
Tom de Smet, its director of Archives, Services and Innovation at the National Archives in the Netherlands said that some archivists and historians expect that as greater access is given to the files, public interest will grow as well, the NYT reported. Already, with limits on the permitted visitors, the archive receives 5,000 to 6,000 information requests a year, making it the most popular trove within the National Archives.
Most of those who are named in the files as Nazi perpetrators or accused collaborators are dead, but their children are often still alive, as are their grandchildren, some of whom may have had no clue about a relative’s wartime past, the NYT reported. Similarly, descendants of victims may seek clarity on who betrayed them and how.
Because the files are being digitized, Klijn said, “You will be able to type in the name of a victim and discover who was accused of betraying them.”
The effort will be second major digitization of a Holocaust document trove in the Netherlands, where an efficient collaboration machine made for detailed records, the JTA reported. In 2021, the Red Cross transferred ownership of its Index Card Archive, a repository of nearly 160,000 cards with personal information of Dutch Jews maintained by the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, a body set up by the Nazis to govern the community ahead of its extermination, to the National Holocaust Museum in the Netherlands. The JTA reported said that the museum will reopen to visitors next year but has made the cards accessible online already.
Paul Shapiro, director of the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. told the NYT that the Dutch archive is not the first to be made public.
The Vatican opened up archives of 2,700 files relating to its Holocaust history in 2020, the NYT reported. They shed new light on Pope Pius XII’s relationship with Nazi Germany, following years of debate about appropriate rules for public disclosure.
In 2015, France opened a large archive of documents related to the prosecution of war criminals that came before military and maritime tribunals, as was reported by the NYT.
“Genocidal crimes leave a very long legacy behind them,” Shapiro said. “For better or worse, the only way to resolve some of those issues is to have your eyes wide open and look at the past openly and accept what the history really was. One way to look at that is through the paper trail in the archives.”