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The Jewish Guards

Title:The Jewish Guards - Supervision in the Dutch Gateway to Hell
Writer:Riet, Frank van
Published:Nedvision Publishing
Published in:2022

This book is an English translation of the study De bewakers van Westerbork, which Frank van Riet published in 2016. It is highly commendable that this interesting and important work is now available to a non-Dutch readership, especially considering the fact that the field of Holocaust studies has a strong international character. While the design and implementation of the persecution of Jews in the Netherlands differed in some respects from what occurred elsewhere (particularly in the German-occupied Eastern European territories), the Westerbork transit camp in the province of Drenthe was also an integral part of Hitler's extermination machine, which claimed the lives of millions of innocent people. It is painfully aware that the seemingly "clean" and orderly deportations from the Netherlands proved to be highly efficient and deadly: in a span of about two years, over one hundred thousand Jews were deported, primarily to Auschwitz and Sobibor. Only a small fraction of around five thousand deportees would return, according to estimates by the historian Lou De Jong.

Frank van Riet is not only a historian but also works in the police force. This affinity with the world of law enforcement also proved useful in his study of corrupt police officers in the city of Dordrecht, titled De Dordtse Affaire, which was published last year. His new English-language book, ‘’The Jewish Guards’’, somewhat contrary to its title and the cover photo, not only focuses on the Jewish prisoners of Westerbork who were enlisted by the Germans in theOrdediens (OD). The book also examines the role played by Dutch police officers in and around Camp Westerbork, while Van Riet also devotes attention to the actions of several SS officers in this camp, such as camp commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker.

It goes without saying that these three groups of guards operated from fundamentally different starting positions. Gemmeker and his German SS officials were part of the racist Nazi regime out of conviction, whereas Dutch police officers and military police personnel were temporarily assigned to Westerbork as part and extension of their regular duties, although it should be noted that there were also "collaborator" Dutch police officers who were willing to do the dirty work for the German occupation authorities (known as the Schalkhaarders).

The Jewish auxiliary agents of the Ordedienst were primarily victims themselves, despite their role as prisoners. Through their assistance within the camp and in organizing train transports, they may have hoped to be able to remain in Westerbork or believed they could help their fellow Jewish citizens in a more humane way than the German or Dutch Nazis would have done in their place. The OD has been derogatorily referred to as the "Jewish SS" by former Jewish prisoners. Today, eighty years after the war, it is prudent to exercise great restraint in passing judgment on the actions of such Jewish guards. Frank van Riet's interesting book provides much food for thought.

Rating: Excellent


Article by:
Jan-Jaap van den Berg
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