Dec 01, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

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Justice for Holocaust Victims

(Photo: Daniel Ullrich/ Wiki Commons)

Three years ago, Dutch college student Charlotte Van den Berg made an unsettling discovery.  While working part-time for Amsterdam’s city archives, she and her fellow interns came across documents showing Jewish Holocaust survivors who had returned to their Dutch homes after the war had been charged back taxes and late fines for the time they were in hiding or imprisoned.

Van den Berg felt an injustice had been done, and was unwilling to let the matter go.  Now city officials are not only ready to acknowledge the travesty, they are considering compensating the victims.

“I didn’t expect any of this to happen, though I’m happy it finally did,” Van den Berg told The Associated Press in an interview. “I never dreamed that compensation could be the result.”

During the Nazi occupation of 1940-1945, the Netherlands deported an exceptionally high proportion of its Jewish population, due largely to the efficiency of the local government.  Adolf Eichmann was quoted as saying, “The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see.”  110,000 Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust, but 30,000 survived.

Those who returned to the Netherlands were shocked to find they were being charged back taxes and late fees for unpaid debts during the time their property had been seized by Nazis or occupied by their collaborators.  Hundreds wrote letter to complain, but were told: “The base fees and the fines for late payment must be satisfied, regardless of whether a third party, legally empowered or not, has for some time held the title to the building.”

Van den Berg was flabbergasted, but none of her colleagues, nor her superiors, had the time or interest to pursue the matter.   “My feeling was, they [the letters] were too important to just let them lie there,” she said. “This was an injustice that was done, not something you could just put aside and forget about.”  Her research uncovered archived records of postwar tax charges, some 342 cases in all.

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City officials assured Van den Berg the matter would be investigated, but her periodic checks showed nothing was being done.  At one point, she discovered, the original records themselves were “one signature away” from being destroyed.  She was told it didn’t matter to her cause, because they had been digitized, but she felt differently.  She wanted to preserve the physical evidence, in the hopes it would one day go on display.

Van den Berg took the story to a local newspaper, causing a public outcry.  At that point, city officials commissioned the Netherlands’ Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) to investigate the matter.  The results of the review are yet unpublished, but they have been leaked to two Dutch newspapers.

According to the papers, the report found the city’s top lawyer advised politicians against charging the returning victims back taxes and other unpaid bills, but his advice went unheeded.

“The city made a conscious decision to reject this advice, which cannot be described otherwise than as a totally needless callousness toward (Jews) who had their property taken during the war,” De Telegraaf quoted the report as saying.

The city’s official ruling, issued Sept. 12, 1947 in a public document viewed by the AP, was that “the city has the right to full payment of fees and fines” and that most excuses — including that property had been seized by the Nazis — were invalid.  Politicians were concerned one exception would lead to more claims and lost revenues.

The NIOD report recommends that the government return some 4.9 million euros ($6.7 million) to the victims or their families: 400,000 euros for the fines and 4.5 million euros for the back tax payments on homes they were unable to use while in hiding or incarcerated at German camps.

However, this only covers one type of tax that was levied.  Other unfair charges include retroactive gas bills, charged to returning survivors for use during the time their homes were occupied by others.  Records for these charges may be too sparse to consider.  And it has not yet been determined whether Jews who paid but did not file complaints would be reimbursed.

Ronny Nafthaniel, a leader in the Netherlands’ Jewish community, praised Van den Berg.  “She is absolutely a hero,” he said. “She pushed her bosses and all the civil servants around her to open up these files, even when they told her not to bother.”