Dutch government apologizes over diplomat punished for saving Jews in WWII
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Dutch government apologizes over diplomat punished for saving Jews in WWII

King of Netherlands, minister speak to family of Jan Zwartendijk, who was reprimanded after issuing unauthorized visas to more than 2,000 Jews

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite (2nd-R), King of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander (C), Rob Zwartendijk (5th-R) and his wife Edith (4th-R) and the Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijosaitis (R) attend a ceremony to unveil an installation to honor Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk, credited with saving over 2,000 Jews from the Holocaust during WWII, on June 15, 2018, in Kaunas, Lithuania. (AFP Photo/Petras Malukas)
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite (2nd-R), King of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander (C), Rob Zwartendijk (5th-R) and his wife Edith (4th-R) and the Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijosaitis (R) attend a ceremony to unveil an installation to honor Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk, credited with saving over 2,000 Jews from the Holocaust during WWII, on June 15, 2018, in Kaunas, Lithuania. (AFP Photo/Petras Malukas)

The Dutch Foreign Ministry has apologized to the family of a diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, but was punished after the Second World War for his actions because they involved issuing unauthorized visas.

In a written response to parliament, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said efforts had been made to make amends for the treatment of Jan Zwartendijk, who was honorary consul of the Netherlands, in what today is Lithuania, during the war years, the Nederlandse Omroep Stichting TV channel reported Thursday.

After the war the Dutch Foreign Ministry reprimanded the diplomat for overstepping his authority to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, and deprived him of royal honors, new research has shown.

“If that happened,” Blok wrote, “that was completely inappropriate. Jan Zwartendijk earned recognition and tribute for his brave behavior, unfortunately posthumously, from the 1990s onwards.”

Blok said he and King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands had spoken with Zwartendijk’s son and daughter.

“In doing so, there was great admiration for the actions of their father in 1940,” he wrote.

Jan Zwartendijk (Wikimedia)

The research into the treatment of Zwartendijk is part of a Dutch-language book published this month on his actions, titled “The Righteous” by biographer Jan Brokken.

Zwartendijk served in Kaunas as consul at the same time that Chiune Sugihara was there to represent Imperial Japan.

Largely eclipsed by Sugihara, Zwartendijk was the initiator and chief facilitator of the rescue of more than 2,000 Jews by the two diplomats. Sugihara gave the refugees, who were fleeing German occupation, transit visas that enabled them to enter the Soviet Union. But they would have been unusable had Zwartendijk not given them destination visas to Curacao, then a Caribbean island colony of the Netherlands. Some of those rescued by Zwartendijk nicknamed him “the angel of Curacao.”

Both men acted without approval from their superiors. Unlike Sugihara, Zwartendijk risked his own life, as well as those of his wife and their three small children, who were all living under Nazi occupation.

Yet Zwartendijk, who died in 1976, was “given a dressing down” after his actions became known by a top Foreign Ministry official, Joseph Luns, who later became the head of NATO, the book revealed, based on interviews with people who were told about it by Zwartendijk and other materials. Zwartendijk’s children said their father was deeply offended by the treatment he had received.

The endorsements of Chiune Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk, the Japanese and Dutch consuls, respectively, in Kovno, Lithuania, appear on the Leidimas, or travel document, that allowed Isaac Lewin and his family to escape Lithuania in 1940. (Courtesy of Alyza D. Lewin)

Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, a Dutch lawmaker, said previously in a statement that the Foreign Ministry should apologize for how it had treated Zwartendijk, whom Israel in 1997 recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations – a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews from the Holocaust.

“Jan Zwartendijk deserved a statue, not a reprimand,” the ANP news agency quoted Sjoerdsma as saying early this month. “High time for an exoneration and apology to his descendants. I hope Foreign Minister Stef Blok does it.”

The book also suggested that an unnamed ministry official had intervened with the Dutch royal house to prevent Zwartendijk from being knighted for reasons unrelated to the war — he was a senior executive at the Dutch Philips electronics firm — for his stepping out of line during World War II.

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