To the few remaining Dutch survivors of the Holocaust and to the descendants of the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II, this upcoming Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) could be a particularly poignant one.
You see, het Nationaal Archief (The Netherlands' National Archive) announced a couple of weeks ago that it has compiled, from previously sealed archives on war collaborators, extensive information about the arrests and deportations to Nazi concentration camps of some 9,000 Dutch Jews.
The information includes, according to the National Archive, the names of those who arrested the Dutch Jews and other facts about their arrests and their deportations to the Nazi death camps during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Some of the dossiers used to compile the information also contain the names of the informants who betrayed the Jews, descriptions of the arrests and interrogations and sometimes even the "letters of betrayal."
This potentially distressing information has become available as the result of diligent research and investigation by Jan Kompagnie from the National Archive, journalist Ad van Liempt and others. Last September, they were given special permission to review the judicial dossiers of 250 "Jodenjagers" (Jew hunters) as part of what the National Archive calls a further "opening-up" of an extensive archive containing 500,000 dossiers on at least 310,000 people suspected of collaboration with the Nazis and of other war crimes.
Up to now, 66 years after the Holocaust, most of the surviving relatives of the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews who were hauled off to concentration camps still don't know who arrested their relatives, who informed the Nazis, who divulged the hiding places of so many "onderduikers" -- Dutch Jews who had gone into hiding. Many are haunted by the possibility that their loved ones may have been betrayed by friends or acquaintances.
Loekie de Wind, a Dutch cousin whose Jewish father was suddenly arrested in the summer of 1944 during a razzia (raid) and later shipped on what would be the last train to Auschwitz out a of the Nazi transit camp of Westerbork, has suspicions that someone betrayed her father, but she told me, "I don't know and I shall never know."
If the name of Loekie's father, Louis de Wind, is on the list of 9,000 Dutch Jews compiled by the National Archives, Loekie might be able to find out more about the circumstances surrounding her father's arrest and deportation -- if she wants to.
That is because the National Archive is making such inquiries and research possible. For example, the Archive is planning to indicate at the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands by the names of Holocaust victims whether information exists in the archives on the victims' arrest and deportation.
(The "Digital Monument" is a unique Internet monument "dedicated to preserving the memory of all the men, women and children who were persecuted as Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and did not survive the Shoah.")
The Archive is also gearing up for an expected increase in inquiries by relatives of Holocaust victims. Access to files may be granted to next of kin subject to existing laws, privacy rules and other restrictions. The Archive plans to publish the results of the investigation in a book in the fall.
Whether such information -- especially when informants were involved in the arrest of Dutch Jews -- will bring much needed closure to some, or just open up old wounds and further add to the torment of the surviving relatives, is of course an open question. The Archive warns that the investigation has unearthed much about the evil methods, double-crossings and brute force used by the "Jew hunters" and police to find their "prey."
I don't know if my cousin, Loekie, will attempt to find answers to the many questions she still has over her father's arrest and deportation, or whether she'll decide to just continue to treasure the letter her father wrote in September 1944.
A letter that was hastily written inside a dark, cramped cattle wagon -- part of a train that was taking him and a thousand other doomed Dutch Jews to the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps.
A letter that Louis managed to throw out of the lumbering train and that miraculously found its way to Loekie's mother.
A letter in which Louis asks his wife to give Loekie, who had just turned six, a big hug, and ends with "1000 X gekust," a thousand kisses.
A letter that, up to now, has been Loekie's only link to her father.
The theme designated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the 2011 National Days of Remembrance is "Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?"
Present and future releases of information by the Netherlands National Archive on "Jew hunters," and other black-hearted informants and collaborators who so callously contributed to the Holocaust will go a long way towards such "justice and accountability," even with the understandable caveats and restrictions.
Image: Courtesy The U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum