Committee for Jewish Refugees in Amsterdam

Jewish youths doing the Horrah dance in Amsterdam in 1945

The Wiener Library holds remarkable documents written in Dutch which vividly reveal experiences of Dutch Jews and of Jews from Germany and elsewhere who came to the Netherlands to escape persecution and deportation.

Papers in the files of the Comité voor Joodsche Vluchtelingen (Committee for Jewish Refugees) in Amsterdam from the 1930s tell the stories of hundreds of refugees and how the Comité’s small staff were trying to assist these Jews. Some were seeking help to find work or schooling in the Netherlands; several needed documents or money to enable them to reach contacts in France, Switzerland and elsewhere. Some planned a fresh start in Israel, America, Canada or South America.

Raphael Henri Eitje was the lynchpin of the Comité’s efforts. He had already been active in the Jewish community and continued during the occupation. Letters between him and Dutch and foreign government departments, police and local authorities try to secure work permits, passports or visas. He wrote to shipping companies and agents for timetables and to book passages. He sought temporary accommodation for refugees, introduced them to potential employers, arranged small financial payments, using a crucial network of contacts in the Netherlands and abroad, and links that the Comité had built with Dutch and foreign rescue and relief organisations. Eitje was deported with his wife and son to Bergen Belsen where they all perished in the winter of 1944-5.

Three more documents in the Archive demonstrate the precarious existence that Dutch Jews endured during the occupation. One is a diary by a couple charting the constant risk of betrayal and discovery they experienced in hiding in 1943-45. Another was written in the 1950s by a businessman who worked in, and critically observed, the Joodsche Raad (Jewish Council) in Amsterdam before going into hiding in late 1943. Lastly, ‘Research into the chances of surviving in German concentration camps. An interim report’, was written around 1980 by the sociologist and writer Gerhard Durlacher (1928-1996). He had come to the Netherlands from Germany as a child refugee with his family; they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942; he alone returned.

This story was submitted by Dr Ruth Levitt, Research Fellow at The Wiener Library. Dr Levitt is working on translating and annotating documents from the Comité voor Joodsche Vluchtelingen. Once translated, these important materials will enable more people to learn about and understand what Jews experienced in the Netherlands before, during and after the Holocaust.

Dr Levitt discussed her research at The Wiener Library during a lunchtime lecture on Friday 19 October 2012. For a copy of the lecture, contact the Library.

Advertisements