Tag Archives: Persecution of Dutch Jews

The US KKK and the WA in Amsterdam

The tattooed woman lifted her wineglass across from me and said something I would never have expected to hear from someone her age.  “My family spent a couple of years in the mountains of Virginia when I was little,” she said.  Her black dress was cut so the incised roses showed on her ample upper arm.  “We used to go to the village restaurant until, one night, there was a KKK meeting in the back room.  The guys were back there with their white hoods and everything.  When I pointed them out to my mom, she took us right out of there and we never went back.  This was in the eighties.”

If that date seems far away, consider this.  Just a few weeks ago, at the end of October, two women of color in my community of Burlington, Vermont found threatening KKK flyers in their mailboxes.  I won’t give whoever targeted them the satisfaction of reproducing the graphics here. Nor was the KKK unknown in Vermont in the past, as this photograph of a 1927 rally shows:

KKK_rally_Montpelier_1927

At least in 2015 more than 100 people took to the streets to show how unwelcome the KKK is in our community.  I wish I’d been there; I didn’t get the notice until too late.  How many Amsterdammers might have said the same if they didn’t participate in the February strike?

Reminders of how even the most extreme racism is alive and well makes me think of the early days of the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam.  Long-time Nazi sympathizers came out of the woodwork, targeting individuals and spreading fear just like the KKK.  The NSB (the Dutch Nazi party) had about 36,000 members in May 1940 at the time of the Nazi invasion, which grew to about 100,000 members at its peak.

NSB FlagIn a country of almost nine million, this represents approximately 11%.  Given the pressures to collaborate, it is a modest figure. Ironically, the NSB was founded in 1931 on the Hitler platform minus the anti-Semitic portions because it was expected that most Dutch would find them too extreme.  Jews were still members of the party until fall 1940.  The founder and leader, Anton Mussert, was not considered radical enough by the Germans, who never gave him a position of power.

Jews not wanted photoWhile most Dutch were anti-German in general and often anti-Nazi in particular, a vicious minority dedicated themselves to making the lives of Jewish people hell, one at a time.  Before the Germans legalized persecution and ultimately extermination, the WA (the NSB’s paramilitary branch) began individual harassment and attacks on homes and businesses.  They forced restaurants and hotels to display “Jews not wanted” signs.  As we all know now, it was one of the first steps.

When I consider those men in hoods in the back of a restaurant, and a flyer slipping through the mail slot of a Vermont woman, I can’t help thinking the NSB isn’t so long ago and far away.  And that’s before I examine my own conscience about how I’m contributing to the environment where the person who made that flyer thought he could get away with it.  Next time, I hope I’ll be spreading the word about the protest, instead of being someone who didn’t find out about it in time to participate.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra — Free!

After standing in “the cold line” outside the Concertgebouw for an hour, we were rewarded by a half-hour concert by one of the world’s great orchestras in a hall with acoustics which are close to perfect.  (Read about the logistics of the Concertgebouw’s Wednesday free concerts here.)

Musicians of All Ages  What felt so different that day was seeing the members of the Orchestra come in wearing ordinary clothes, as if each of them hadn’t been picked out of thousands of musicians after years of giving their lives to their instruments. A pregnant woman wearing a plain black sweater, her golden hair clipped behind her ears. A sporty young man in jeans and a crew sweater, as if on his way to the café for a beer with his friends. The more predictable people in their forties and fifties – but there were plenty of thirties, reflecting the fact that studying classical music is still cool for lots of young people.

The pianist (a man, not Maria Jao Pires whom we expected) arrived, wearing a brown sweater with elbow patches, and played scales. At 12:30 precisely by the clock on the back wall, the first violin raised his bow, and tuning was accomplished swiftly. Even conductor Herbert Blomstedt wore a sweater without a tie. Everything was in place to remind us that these were ordinary mortals. An announcer told us that the pianist was Martin Helmchen, whom we later learned was playing there for the first time, a remarkable chance for a younger person to break in.

Flawless and Complete Performance, Not a Rehearsal  Then, with the lift of the conductor’s baton, everything changed, and those singular individuals with their barrettes and trousers and boots became one. Mozart lived again, and whatever disappointment the audience may have felt at not hearing Pires lifted immediately. Unlike some other free concerts, which have been recitals for the evening’s performance, this one proceeded through the whole piece one perfect note at a time with no hesitation or interruption for correction. Helmchen, who also received strong reviews that evening, seemed utterly at home, not a note of music before him, utterly absorbed in the music and yet also attending to the conductor and the orchestra. At the end, we applauded and applauded, and the orchestra dissolved away as if it had been a dream.

Pictures aren’t allowed during the performances, but I did manage to catch one cellist before he left.

A cellist who couldn't stop playing

A cellist who couldn’t stop playing

As you enjoy the beauty, don’t forget that the Concertgebouw was forced to fire its Jewish musicians and play music by non-Jewish composers, and it was the site of an early Nazi speech that warned non-Jews to abandon their fellow citizens.  Read about it here.