Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

Jewish coping strategies and hiding in the Netherlands in a West European context, 1940–1945

Dr. Pim Griffioen


How were Jewish reactions to exclusion and disintegration shaped by the conditions and possibilities in the context of the German occupation, local society and the background of the Jewish population in the Netherlands? How were Jewish hiding and escape attempts organized and financed, as compared with Belgium and France? In contrast with the scholarly literature on Jewish responses to persecution in the latter two countries, a monograph on Jewish coping strategies and hiding patterns in the Netherlands is still lacking. Sources include Jewish testimonies, letters, diaries and memoirs in the Netherlands, as well as unpublished archival material and biographies of non-Jewish rescuers.

This project is about an extreme case of disintegration based on both administratively repressive and openly violent persecution. One basic dilemma, that can be generalized, is that people under the pressure of exclusion and persecution try to escape and that they may do so through hiding and thus necessarily isolating themselves from society while at the same have to remain in touch with that same society for the sake of support and some sort of resource mobilization. Accordingly, coping not only means to develop hiding strategies as such – escaping from persecution – but also to develop action patterns that are appropriately adapted to the aforementioned dilemma.

On the one hand, the separation from society has to be effective, on the other hand it must not result in total isolation. Finding the right balance was probably key to survival – provided that there remained “pockets” of a somehow friendly environment that made this possible. The existence and the width of those “pockets” depended for a significant part on the structure and the reaction of the societal and political environment of the persecuted Jews.

That environment was formed by the Jewish community organization, by the society at large, and by the reaction of the remaining national administration or governmental institution. The organizational strength or weakness of the Jewish community organizations in the Netherlands relative to the situation in Belgium and France, plus the fact that the highest Dutch authorities under the German occupation – the Secretaries-General of the government ministries –, in March 1942, conceded to the Germans not to treat the Jews as Dutch nationals anymore, formed a particularly ‘permissive environment’ for the further execution of the persecution measures since the latter, unlike the situation in Eastern Europe, consisted mainly of administrative measures.

Comparing the Netherlands in these respects with the situation in Belgium and France and to focus on the question of if and how these factors were shaping individual coping and hiding strategies is also innovative in comparison to the valuable studies of Insa Meinen and Ahlrich Meyer (2009, 2013) on Belgium and Semelin (2013) on France.

Whereas there are several scholarly books and numerous articles on Jewish responses to persecution in Germany, France and Belgium, after decades of research and publications a monograph on the various Jewish responses and on Jewish hiding in the Netherlands is still lacking. The project distinguishes between organizational and individual Jewish reactions during the first stage of anti-Jewish policies (1940–1942), and reactions during the second stage of systematic deportations (1942–1944).

During the first stage Jews tried to cope with the persecution in various ways: materially and spiritually, legally and also increasingly ‘illegally’. These responses cannot be termed solely as ‘strategies of survival’ as this would reduce their behavior too much to the later stage of the systematic deportations to the death camps.

Regarding this second stage, the project presents a typology of forms of going into hiding, hiding experiences and efforts to escape abroad. It focuses on places, analyzing coping strategies in hiding in the Netherlands, compared with France and Belgium. When and to what extent did Jewish hiding take place either primarily on an individual basis through personal contacts between Jews and non-Jews, or instead mainly through collective efforts and rescue organizations? To what extent and when were there friendly “pockets” in the societal and political environment that could offer help?

With regard to the Jewish population as a whole it is also relevant whether there were any significant national differences in the degree of economic persecution and implementation of spoliation by the summer of 1942 and – if so – how these differences affected practical opportunities for (individual) initiatives of Jews to hide or escape when the deportations began? How were hiding and escape organized and financed? Sources include Jewish diaries, letters, testimonies and memoirs – both published and unpublished –, biographical data of non-Jews who helped Jews with hiding and/or escape, and German archival documentation regarding Jewish hiding and escape attempts in the Netherlands.