(JTA) — The Dutch government is planning to throw open information about 300,000 people investigated for their collaboration with the Nazis, in a move that could accelerate a reckoning with the Netherlands’ Holocaust record.
For the past seven decades, only researchers and relatives of those accused of collaborating with the Nazis could access the information held by the Dutch archives. But a law guarding the data is set to expire in 2025.
In February, The War in Court, a Dutch consortium devoted to preserving history, announced that it would make the records available online when the privacy law expires. The effort drew additional attention this week when a New York Times article explored concerns the hopes and concerns held by people in the Netherlands who have an idea of what lies within the sweeping repository.
“It’s a sensitive archive,” Edwin Klijn, project leader of The War in Cort, told the Times.
“For years, the whole theme of collaboration has been a kind of taboo,” he added. “We don’t talk about collaboration that much but we’re now 80 years further and it’s time for us to face this dark part of the war.”
The Netherlands has world’s second-highest number of documented saviors of Jews, but it also had many collaborators who, aided by the topography and Holland’s proximity to Germany, helped the Nazis achieve the highest death rate there among Jews anywhere in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Of 140,000 Dutch Jews, more than 100,000 were murdered. As is presumed to have happened with the most famous victim of the Nazis in the Netherlands, the teenaged diarist Anne Frank, many were given up by their neighbors and acquaintances.
The Dutch government investigated 300,000 people for collaborating with the Nazis and more than 65,000 of them stood trial in a special court system in the years after World War II. But it was only in 2020 that the Dutch government apologized for failing to protect Jews during the Holocaust, long after other European leaders and after local Jews had requested an apology; a town square was named for a mayor who handed Jews to the Nazis until last year.
The archive due to open in 2025 will offer widespread access to the files from the postwar investigations, which researchers who have used the files say are detailed — and also could contain false accusations made at a tumultuous time.
The 32 million documents contained in the archive stretch to nearly two and a half miles and include witness reports, Dutch National Socialist Movement membership cards, diaries, and petitions for pardons and photos. Currently, the archive receives between 5,000 and 6,000 requests a year and cannot accommodate more.
The documents will be digitized to allow searches by key words or names. “You will be able to type in the name of a victim and discover who was accused of betraying them,” Klijn said.
The effort will be second major digitization of a Holocaust document trove in the Netherlands, where an efficient collaboration machine made for detailed records. In 2021, the Red Cross transferred ownership of its Index Card Archive, a repository of nearly 160,000 cards with personal information of Dutch Jews maintained by the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, a body set up by the Nazis to govern the community ahead of its extermination, to the National Holocaust Museum in the Netherlands. The museum will reopen to visitors next year but has made the cards accessible online already.
Paul Shapiro, director of the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., told The New York Times that the new Dutch database is unusual — and important — because of the planned ease of access.
“Genocidal crimes leave a very long legacy behind them,” Shapiro said. “For better or worse, the only way to resolve some of those issues is to have your eyes wide open and look at the past openly and accept what the history really was. One way to look at that is through the paper trail in the archives.”
In 2020, the Vatican unsealed its archives from World War II, sharing 2,700 files that revealed details about Pope Pius XII’s relationship with Nazi Germany. Those records showed that the Vatican fought efforts to reunite Jewish orphans with their relatives and also urged the Pope not to protest the deportation of Italian Jews.