AMSTERDAM — Not long after the end of World War II, a Dutch artist named Jaap Kaas was asked by leaders of the country’s surviving Jews to design a monument.
Three-quarters of the Netherlands’ Jewish population had been murdered in Nazi death camps, and Kaas — a Jew himself — believed the edifice should memorialize by name each of the 100,000 Dutch Jews who did not come back.
Unfortunately for the sculptor and graphic artist Kaas, his “names” concept was rejected by the committee for being “provocative instead of grateful.”
Back them, the situation of Dutch Jewish survivors was precarious. Some of them had already fled a Netherlands that was largely indifferent to their post-war plight, and those who remained were unable to revive the communal institutions necessary for Jewish life.
Seventy years after the Jewish monument committee rejected Kaas’s proposal, his idea will be implemented in the middle of Amsterdam’s former Jewish quarter. There, the structure will replace the so-called Monument of Jewish Gratitude put up by the Jewish community in 1950.
If all goes according to plan, the Daniel Libeskind-designed Holocaust Namenmonument, or Names Monument, will open to the public during the summer of 2021. On a plot of land comparable to the size of a basketball court, the structure will be one of the largest names-based Holocaust memorials in Europe.
For nearly a decade, the Dutch Auschwitz Committee struggled to find a home for its monument. When nearby Wertheim Park was determined to be an appropriate location, neighbors lobbied intensively to prevent the plan. There have been dozens of legal hearings, petitions, commissions, and other hurdles along the way.
The site currently being cleared for construction is along a major road — Weesperstraat — in front of the Hermitage, precisely where Jews were most densely clustered before the war. Around the corner is the stately Portuguese Synagogue, in front of which hundreds of Jewish men were arrested and sent to their deaths in 1941 after the Nazis’ first raids on the community.
Viewed from above, the coming monument’s 102,000 bricks — each with the name of a victim — will form giant Hebrew letters for the word, “Remember.” Visitors will wander through a sloping, maze-like sprawl that will be dramatically lit at night.
As ground has been broken in recent weeks, the decaying Monument of Jewish Gratitude continues to rest precariously in the middle of the construction site. Soon, it will be removed and placed down the street where it was first installed in 1950, before it was moved to make way for a subway.
According to Fedde Schouten, spokesperson for the Dutch Auschwitz Committee, a steel sheet pile will soon be installed on-site after cables and pipes for gas and electricity are removed. This is in preparation to flatten the terrain, which should be accomplished by March, he told The Times of Israel.
‘It is not a modest monument’
Upon their return to the Netherlands after the war, Dutch Jewish survivors were often met with suspicion and hostility. For example, many parents were unable to retrieve children they had placed in hiding, and there was discrimination when it came to obtaining homes and jobs.
This was the context in which Jewish communal leaders created their edifice to glorify the Dutch. It was a time when everyone in the country was struggling to put food on the table and repair damage done during half a decade of German occupation. Decidedly, the Jews were not a special case among victims.
For its main text, the white limestone Gratitude monument praised the Dutch people for “protecting Jews with their lives,” adding that Dutch Jews have been “encouraged by your resistance.” No mention was made of the 100,000 murdered victims — the largest proportion of a Jewish population killed from any country in Western Europe.
It is not difficult to contrast the Monument of Jewish Gratitude with the Dutch Auschwitz Committee’s coming Holocaust Namenmonument, according to the Dutch Auschwitz Committee’s Schouten.
“There’s a big difference between the two monuments,” said Schouten. “The Gratitude Monument’s approach was widely seen as an embellishment of what actually took place [in terms of Dutch resistance during the Holocaust],” said the spokesperson.
“The Gratitude Monument now only has a historical value and is an example of how people in those days thought of what happened. It was a period in time where you were not allowed to criticize things in a way we are doing now,” said Schouten, whose group must still raise 1.7 million euros ($1.87 USD) for the project.
“The Names Monument,” said Schouten, “will serve as a reminder to current and future generations of the dangers of racism and discrimination. And, in some sense, it is not a modest monument. It is a firm, strong statement.”
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