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Holocaust in Holland - Judenrat
David Cohen and Abraham Asscher, chairmen on the Jewish Council
On 13 February 1941 the Nazis appointed a Judenrat - Jewish council for the city of Amsterdam. The majority of Dutch Jews lived in Amsterdam. The council was held accountable for the systematic liquidation of the Juden Viertel - Jewish Quarter. The council was headed by two chairmen, Mr. Abraham Asscher and Prof. dr. David Cohen. In addition to their appointment as chairmen on the council, Asscher and Cohen were accountable to the German authorities for the launching of Het Joodse Weekblad - The Jewish Weekly. This newspaper appeared on a weekly basis with the approval of the German authorities until the Jewish question for the Netherlands was resolved. This , of course, was not realized nor recognized by them until it was too late. The last issue of the Jewish Weekly came on 28 September 1943. After that date there no longer was a need for a Jewish newspaper. Most Dutch Jews and German refugee Jews had been deported. The Jewish Weekly relates in detail the death of the Jewish community in the Netherlands and allows the reader to observe the systematic and consequential method by which the Nazis carried out their heinous crime against the Jewish community in the Netherlands.
The following men completed the initial council: J. Arons, judge N. de Beneditty, A. van den Bergh, judge Alb. B. Gomperts, I. de Haan, A. de Hoop, judge M.L. Kan, judge I. Kisch, A. Krouwer, judge S.J. van Lier, A.J. Mendes da Costa, Prof. dr. J.L. Palacha, judge dr. M.L. Prins, Chief Rabbi L.H. Sarlouis, dr. D.M. Sluys, A Soep Bzn., Is. Voet and dr.LH.J. Vos.
Opinions regarding the validity of and justification for the Judenrat differ. Some are understanding, even sympathetic toward its existence; others outright condemn the involvement of its members. On 11 November 1947, Sam de Wolff, the well known Dutch Marxist and Zionist, after war's end wrote an article in the newspaper De Vlam - The Torch expressing his opinion regarding the two chairmen Asscher and Cohen. He wrote:
"In the Netherlands, after the war years, there were few Jews who publicly spoke more critically of Asscher and Cohen's tactics as I have done. However, to bring both men before the Dutch judicial system branding them as war criminals and have them answer for their actions and behavior during the horror of the Nazi occupation is, as far as I am concerned, an injustice." De Wolff concludes: "No other Jewish organization was allowed by the Nazis during the war years, hence it was out of necessity that the Judenrat, with all its ugly facets, was forced upon the Jewish community. A civil court judge cannot and may not sit in judgment over the question whether or not one can speak of a special Jewish guilt. Only the Jewish people may do so. As reprehensible as the involvement of the members of the Judenrat was, and that of Asscher and Cohen in particular, it is doubtful whether the Jewish community, after all these years, still demands punishment for their involvement. Regardless the failure of the Judenrat to have been of help or even of assistance to the doomed Jews in Holland, willing collaborators they were not."
It must be understood that in the year 1941 the members of the Judenrat completely underestimated the true intent of the enemy. Initially they saw their role solely as offering protection against Nazi anti-Semitism. The basic error committed by them was that they thought to give such protection by complying with all Nazi orders. Even though they offered many objections, orders were executed in minute detail in order not to offend the occupying forces, even when they realized that the Nazi plan included deportation. It was unknown to them what deportation meant. Although, as time went on, it could hardly be ignored. Everyone was told right from the on-set that deportation meant transfer to German labor camps built for the fittest. Then, how could anyone explain why the very young, the very old, and the infirm were included in these transports? That the Judenrat nevertheless continued the work as ordered by the Nazis, obviously meant that they were driven by nothing less than fear, in the hope that with America having entered the war toward the end of 1941 it could not last that much longer. Their failure to rescue, or at best to help fellow Dutch Jews can only be interpreted as an attempt to satisfy, for a while, the hungry predator - the enemy - by offering him the Jewish community by bits and pieces. Perhaps hoping that ultimately some pieces would be saved including the piece to which they belonged. How wrong they were. For Asscher and Cohen, both survived Westerbork and the Holocaust, this must have been an enormous burden to bear.
After the war, both Asscher and Cohen were sentenced by a Jewish honour councel, accused of having collaborated with the Germans. In 1955 Cohen published his memoirs Zwervend en Dolend - Roaming and Wandering, a publication dealing with his involvement and dealings with Jewish fugitives. Cohen died in 1967, a lonely man.
Asscher rejected the sentence imposed on him by the Jewish Honor Council which condemned him for his actions and involvement in the Judenrat. He broke all ties with the Jewish community. Following his death in 1950 he was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery.
Once the Jewish population of Amsterdam and surrounding area had been rounded up and deported via Westerbork to the extermination centers in Poland, the work of the Jewish council came to an end. At last also the council was transferred to Westerbork. They arrived there on 24 September 1943 with the last transport from Amsterdam. Although all responsibilities for the Judenrat had come to an end, privileges connected with having served so effectively, albeit unwittingly, continued. For services rendered Asscher and Cohen were not deported to a Nazi extermination camp. They were transferred to the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt respectively. They left Westerbork in the latter part of 1944. No information is available on the fate of the other council members. It is believed all perished.
Final note: Is. Voet resigned from his position as member of the Judenrat only one week after his appointment citing ill health as the reason. I believe he was the only one brave and strong enough to make a stand even though it may well have cost him his life.