Never again: a reality check

The historiography of the Holocaust is important. The way how I learned about it in school was a sort of cartoonish evil done by one-dimensional Nazis, but then everything went back to some idyllic past as soon as the concentration camps were liberated.

That last point in particular is often used to criticize the very founding of modern Israel: why didn’t European Jews remain in that paradise that was Europe after the War? While the assumptions underlying the question itself are somewhat absurd given that the majority of today’s Israelis are descended from Jewish refugees expelled from Muslim countries, it’s still worth answering. The answer though, is a dark spot on European history and challenges much of our post-war mythology.

First off, European Jews that survived the Holocaust often had no home or property to go home to:

The vast majority of property stolen from Europe’s Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators has never been returned, according to a new study.

Property that is now worth between $115bn (£58.2bn) and $175bn is still missing, Mr Zabludoff says, despite numerous clear and explicit international agreements and country promises made during world war two and immediately thereafter”.

All around Amsterdam Oost there are plagues in front of houses mentioning that entire families of Jews had lived there and had been killed. It would seem unlikely surviving relatives ever had a chance to reclaim that property.

In fact, the Dutch government considered Jews who had the gall not to die to be extremists:

Dutch Jews who survived the death camps and returned to the Netherlands were for years monitored by the Dutch secret service because they were considered to be extremists and a danger to democracy, the Parool reported on Saturday.

Many Holocaust survivors were spied on until the 1980s, with the BVD reporting on memorial services and taking notes on who was in attendance, the paper said.

The Nederlands Auschwitz Comité, founded in 1956 by survivors, was also considered to be an extremist organisation and monitored, the paper said. The BVD even had a mole within the organisation who reported back on everything that happened.

The Netherlands is still struggling to come to terms with the way it treated Jews who returned home in 1945 and whose property and possessions were stolen or lost.

Many councils were all but welcoming to Jewish citizens who returned to claim their homes after the war, even requiring them to pay tax over the periods they had been in hiding or in a camp.

Some 25 municipalities were involved in buying the real estate from the Germans themselves, and obstructed later attempts by owners to get their property back.

The Dutch ability to downplay their own questionable past with euphemisms is legendary. But I digress.

The Amsterdam Jewish History Museum brings out some of this sordid history, with exhibits explaining how many Dutch Jews that survived deportation and camps were simply unable to return to the Netherlands after the war due to bureaucratic hurdles. One didn’t tend to leave a concentration camp with documents proving identity and citizenship.

From what I can tell, some version of this story unfolded in pretty much every European country after the Holocaust. The Kielce Pogrom is one of most well documented examples.

The United States wasn’t nearly as accepting of Jewish refugees as common lore would have you believe. The reality:

For three full years, the U.S. Congress ignored the plight of the Last Million [European refugees from the War]. Only in June of 1948 did Congress pass a bill authorizing the admission of 200,000 DPs, but barring the immigration of the 90% of Jewish survivors who, having spent the war years in the Soviet Union and/or the first months of the postwar period in Poland, were accused of being Communist sympathizers or operatives.

Contrary to the tidy narratives we learn in school, the Holocaust didn’t end the moment the camps were liberated. The Europeans who stole Jewish property had no intention of allowing Jews to return. And today, the children of those who perpetrated the Holocaust are marching in the streets of Europe, having a singular obsession with criticizing just one country on the planet. I wonder why.