Netherlands apologizes for government role during Holocaust

In a speech at the National Holocaust Remembrance in Amsterdam on Sunday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on behalf of the government for the Dutch government's actions during the Second World War. According to Rutte, the Dutch government failed as "guardian of justice and security" in the war. The Jewish community was surprised, but pleased by the apology.

An estimated 6 million Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma people, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses and other persecuted people were killed under the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. In 1940, there were 160 thousand Jews in the Netherlands, according to NOS. 107 thousand of them were deported to extermination camps. 102 thousand were killed. 

In his speech, Rutte praised te officials who dared to stand up against the occupier, but added that "too many" simply did as they were told during the war. "And yet, it was too little all in all. Too little protection. Too little help. Too little recognition", he said.

"When a group of fellow citizens were set aside, excluded and dehumanized under a murderous regime, we failed. When authority became a threat, our government agencies failed as guardians of law and security," Rutte said. "Now that the last survivors are still among us, I apologize today on behalf of the government for the government's actions then. I do this in the knowledge that no word can contain something as big and horrific as the Holocaust."

The Prime Minister spoke his words at the Spiegel monument in Wertheimpark in Amsterdam. Monday is the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz being liberated by the Russian army. At least 1.1 million people died at the concentration- and extermination camp. It has become a universal symbol of the mass destruction caused by the Nazis. Today Rutte, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will attend the Auschwitz commemoration in Poland.

The apologies came too late for many, but are nevertheless very welcome, said Eddo Verdoner, the chairman of the central Jewish consultation CJO, which represents the interests of the Jewish community in the Netherlands. "This came as a surprise for us. It is good that it has now been clearly stated what went wrong. It is a historic moment. A milestone," he said to Trouw. 

Jacques Grishaver, chairman of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee​, called the apologies "truly fantastic". He was at the commemoration service and heard them in person. He embraced Rutte afterwards, he said to the newspaper. "We had to wait 75 years for it. The Prime Minister has written history. He is our hero. It could've been sooner, but be glad it happened now."

Jewish foundation CIDI called the apologies an "historic step", according to AD. 

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