Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Frank about Anne Frank Print

Written by Adrienne Smith

Dec. 24, 2014: The Anne Frank House is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands, surpassed only by the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The house where she, her family, and others hid for two years was visited by more than 1.2 million tourists in 2013. Anne's story, The Diary of a Young Girl, has been published in 70 different languages.

But the story of the Netherlands and its Jews during World War II is a far more complicated, perhaps less inspiring, story than Anne's experience would suggest.

When the Nazis invaded Holland in May of 1941, they were greeted with a political vacuum since Queen Wilhelmina and high-up government officials had already decamped to London before their arrival. What was left was a highly organized but leaderless bureaucracy.

The Germans, and Hitler himself, looked with favor on the Dutch people, seeing them as "superior" and as potential future citizens in an expanded Reich. As a result, instead of installing their own military government, the Nazis left the Dutch one in place, which was tasked with taking orders from their invaders.

At first, the Dutch people hoped for the best. Life continued somewhat normally. But for Dutch Jews, who had lived in practical separation from their Christian brethren before the war, worrisome mandates began to seriously impact their world. They were prohibited from working in the civil service, compelled to wear yellow Star-of-David badges, given identification papers stamped with large black Js, and required to register their businesses and themselves as Jews.

It was almost impossible for Jewish denizens to avoid these strictures, as the Dutch had kept careful records of all its citizens, making it easy for the Nazis to identify the 1.2% of the country's, and almost 9.5% of Amsterdam's, Jewish population.

As fear mounted in the Jewish community, the Nazis ordered prominent Jewish leaders to form an organization, the Jewish Council, to maintain order among their people. These leaders hoped that the effort would ensure their safety.

In July of 1942, the Nazis ordered all Jews between the ages of 16 and 35 to report to their local train stations for transport to "work" camps. The council selected the order in which these recruits were to report. Adolf Eichmann commented, "The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see."

As was later discovered, many sent away were murdered on arrival at their destinations, and the council itself was later harshly criticized for the elitist manner in which it selected the deportees.

What was a Jewish resident of the Netherlands to do? The choices were holding the line, emigration, or going into hiding. Holding the line, as the council attempted, was not working. Emigration was almost impossible, given that the countries bordering the Netherlands were controlled by the Nazis and the North Sea was heavily patrolled. Hiding was the only real choice for many. And so, an estimated 40,000 Dutch Jews went into hiding for an average of 2-1/2 years.

Dutch citizens who secreted their Jewish compatriots took enormous risks, including possible deportation to death camps and destruction or confiscation of their homes and properties. Children of families hiding Jews had to be trusted to keep the terrifying secret and could not bring friends into their homes. Bounty hunters lurked, turning Jews and their protectors in for as little as $20 a head. Anne Frank's own luck ran out in 1944. To this day, no one knows who betrayed her.

After December of 1943, the Nazis declared Holland Judenrein, or free of Jews. And, by the end of the war, of the Netherlands' original 140,000 Jews, only 30,000 remained alive. Only Poland's Jews suffered a greater percentage death rate.

The Netherlands is doing some hard thinking about this. Commissions have been created to investigate the illegal appropriation of Jewish possessions, finding, inter alia, that the Dutch ambassador to Israel had a confiscated piece of art hanging in his office. A list maintained by the government's euphemistically entitled Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration of a staggering 310,000 Dutch collaborators has been opened for viewing, but only by family members of, or actual, victims.

The tiny Museum of the Resistance, a stone's throw from where my Amsterdam houseboat was moored, reviews the possibilities for the country's citizens during the war: resistance, adaption, or cooperation. It then asks visitors what they would do in similar circumstances. Not an easy question but a necessary one.

Pictured here: The cover of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.

Photo by Adrienne Smith