During World War II, the Nazis killed between 75 to 80 percent of the Netherlands’ Jews—a staggering proportion that represents the largest number of Jewish victims in Western Europe. In memory of those who lost their lives to Nazi persecution, Germany has now pledged €4 million (around $4.5 million) toward the revamping of Amsterdam’s National Holocaust Museum, putting the project within sight of its €27 million goal.
As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, the National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands opened its temporary headquarters in a teachers’ college across the street from the Hollandsche Schouwburg in 2017. During the war, deportees were sent from the building, a former theater converted into a detention center for Jews slated for deportation, to one of two transit camps, then onward to Nazi death camps. Small children were separated from their parents and held in a nursery; with the help of the Dutch Resistance, however, hundreds of these children were smuggled into the college next door, saving them from near certain death.
“[C]hildren were surreptitiously handed over a hedge between the nursery and the college and hidden in a classroom until they could be smuggled to the countryside by Dutch Resistance groups,” wrote Richard Sandomir of the New York Times in a 2018 obituary commemorating Johan van Hulst, who served as the college’s principal and is credited with rescuing as many as 600 children.
Plans for the new museum involve expanding the institution to include the Hollandsche Schouwburg and installing “state-of-the-art” displays, according to the JTA. So far, the museum has raised €21 million (around $23 million) for the renovation, including contributions from the Dutch government, private donors, and, most recently, Germany.
“We dare say this with this contribution: The National Holocaust Museum is coming,” Emile Schrijver, director of Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter, told the local Het Parool newspaper, as quoted by the Guardian’s Daniel Boffey.
Organizers were not expecting such a large donation from the German government.
“We thought there might be of a donation of half a million to one million euros,” Schrijver said. “A few weeks ago we received a message from Germany informing us that we would get €4 million.”
Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, installing a civil administration under the authority of the SS shortly thereafter. Persecution of the roughly 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands followed a pattern seen in many other nations under Nazi occupation: Jews were required to register with the authorities and wear a yellow star; banned from the civil service; restricted to certain areas; and, ultimately, deported to concentration camps, primarily Auschwitz and Sobibor.
Anne Frank famously went into hiding in Amsterdam before falling victim to Nazi atrocities. She was one of many. By the time of the last deportation in September 1944, 107,000 Jews in the Netherlands had been sent to concentration camps. Only 5,000 of them returned.
In February, the National Holocaust Museum will close for renovations, with the new institution expected to open in 2022. The project is still €6 million shy of its fundraising target, and organizers are working to secure additional donations. But the contribution from Germany is laden with a particular significance.
“Germany feels responsible for the history,” said Schrijver, according to Boffey. “With this contribution [to the National Holocaust Museum] they take their responsibility and want to warn people. We are naturally delighted with this large amount, but the symbolism behind it is even more important than the money itself.”