Interview'Europe will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz'

European Jewry will disappear by 2050, predicts bestselling Dutch-Jewish writer

Leon de Winter, a novelist whose pro-Israeli advocacy contrasts with his milieu, says he is staying home to avoid antisemitic harassment over Gaza

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Leon de Winter and Jessica Durlacher stand outside the Amsterdam theater that is being built as a venue for their play on March 12, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)
Leon de Winter and Jessica Durlacher stand outside the Amsterdam theater that is being built as a venue for their play on March 12, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

A leg injury is keeping Leon de Winter, one of the Netherlands’ best-known authors, confined to his home near Amsterdam.

“It’s probably for the best,” said de Winter, a self-described “pessimistic realist.” The owner of a dark sense of humor, his oeuvre of over 15 novels, including multiple bestsellers, also reveals his appreciation for silver linings around realities whose bleak aspects he is rarely shy about pointing out.

De Winter, who is Jewish and whose wife, writer Jessica Durlacher, is also Jewish, reckons that he’s now likelier than ever to encounter hostility if he shows himself in public — especially as an unapologetic advocate of Israel and critic of antisemitism in the Netherlands.

It’s a reasonable assumption: Antisemitic incidents are surging in the Netherlands, as they are elsewhere in Western Europe, in connection with Israel’s war with Hamas that began on October 7. (Elsewhere in Western Europe, other Jewish intellectuals and famous people have for years been minimizing their street presence.)

But de Winter, whose parents survived the Holocaust in hiding, is making his voice heard through his keyboard, in newspaper columns and posts read by hundreds of thousands of people on social media. (On Friday, he praised Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza, adding just one small suggestion to make it happen: That 240 European mayors volunteer to trade places with the hostages from Israel being held by Hamas.)

France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Mark Rutte (R) are welcomed by Mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema as they disembark from a boat after a meeting in Amsterdam on April 12, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

In an interview with The Times of Israel, de Winter, 69, explained why he believes that European Jewry will essentially disappear by 2050, and how it feels to belong to a cultural elite that cherishes some core values that he himself does not share.

Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrate at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 16, 2021. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

The Times of Israel: Leon, how are you doing?

Leon de Winter: Not great. Besides being immobile because of my leg, it’s very difficult to be here and not there [in Israel], knowing what’s going on there and not being able to help, even if just preparing sandwiches or packing supplies. It’s tough not to be a part of a defensive action, and that’s also what I’m hearing around me.

What does the current conflict tell you about Dutch Jewry and the Netherlands, where hundreds of thousands have demonstrated for Gaza?

I think Jewish life will be a thing of the past by 2050 in Europe. There is no future for them here and their hopeless love for the old, cherished continent will die. This is inevitable. But even I, a pessimistic realist, didn’t foresee that it would get out of hand so fast in so many cities.

Illustrative: Broken glass and a stone lie on the pavement as an Israeli flag sticks out of the window of HaCarmel kosher restaurant in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday, May 8, 2020, after a man smashed the window. The owner David Bar-On said his restaurant was vandalized for the sixth time in what appeared to be another antisemitic attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

You mean how quickly mass protests began in Paris, London, Amsterdam?

It’s the speed but also the mass and the crystallization of new coalitions comprising very different movements that manage to unite around a single cause: Their hostility to the Jewish state. I didn’t expect that. It’s happening very fast.

Police officers remove pro-Palestinian protesters that took part in a sit-in demonstration at Waterloo Station calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, in London, November 18, 2023. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

But there’s also a counter-movement. The Netherlands’ parliament was the first in the world to denounce in a resolution the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as a call for ethnic cleansing.

True, there’s growing recognition in parts of the political elites of the grave realities of the Middle East. The resolution was great, but slowly we’ll now see politicians distancing themselves from Israel. There are elections this month: It’s a divisive issue in the alliance between the Labour Party and Green Left, and [Labour leader] Frans Timmermans will not let the alliance fall over this.

Members of the Dutch parliament commemorate on February 24, 2015, in the Hague, the Netherlands two people who were murdered outside a synagogue in Copenhagen (AFP/ANP/Martijn Beekman)

There’s a tendency in the Dutch media, which we haven’t seen on Ukraine, to treat Palestinian and Israeli casualties on equal footing despite the different circumstances that led to their deaths. Why is that?

It comes out of a need to reclaim from Jews and deny them the special status of a victimized group that they’ve received following the Holocaust. Europe will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.

Rabbi Israel Goldwasser stands on the tracks leading to the main gate of Auschwitz-Birkenau. (Courtesy of Triumph of the Spirit)

Isn’t what you’re describing an antisemitic sentiment?

I don’t know how you could otherwise characterize it. If you only care about what Israel’s doing and don’t speak in the same way against other violent situations – and the Dutch media and “enlightened circles” don’t – then you have an issue with Jews.

So, is that why, for example, the Concertgebouw [royal concert venue] recently declined to host a benefit concert for Israel unless proceeds also went to Palestinians?

Actually, I think that had more to do with fear of demonstrations, vandalism. Fear of the street’s wrath.

The Royal Concert Hall of Amsterdam is one of the world’s most prestigious music venues, the Netherlands, May 30, 2016. (Wikimedia Commons/Diego Deslo/ via JTA)

Both of your children live in the Netherlands. How are they doing?

They’re doing fine. But on the condition that they’re not recognizably Jewish. They both wear Star of David pendants and I tell them to make sure it’s out of sight if they’re on the street. Tucked in under their shirt or coat. That’s the procedure. I’m not sure they are following my advice, they are proud Jews.

Isn’t being seen with their dad on the street more dangerous than with a Star of David?

[Laughs] Yes, well, I try to show my face as little as possible on the street.

Wait, really?

I’m laughing but yeah, I try to keep myself out of sight a little bit, yes.

You’re being serious right now?

Yes, I’m being serious. And then there’s the accident I had with my leg. It happened in Tel Aviv, by the way, on September 26 at 7 a.m., right after Yom Kippur. [De Winter returned to the Netherlands before the Hamas onslaught that started the war on October 7, in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people and triggered an Israeli incursion into Gaza in which thousands have died.]

Members of the tactical unit of the Yamas patrol in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, southern Israel, on October 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Feel better. But good timing for being confined to quarters, aye?

Yes, thank you. Symbolically, the pain peaked on the morning of October 7, before I’d even learned what happened, it was as if I was hurting over what was to come. The past few weeks have been an ongoing nightmare.

Well, you could go out and take your mind off it at, say, a benefit concert at the Concertgebouw for Israelis and Gazans.

Right! Wishing you strength over there in Israel.

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