Historian Bart van der Boom wins with his book 'We knew nothing about their fate. Ordinary Dutch and the Holocaust' the Libris History Prize. “This is a difficult and sensitive topic. Yet Van der Boom is nowhere pushy. He takes the reader along like a guide and does so very convincingly', according to the jury. The prize is accompanied by a cash prize of 20,000 euros.
This book reads like a protest. A protest against the current tendency in historiography in which the ordinary Dutchman as an indifferent bystander was not much better than the murderous SS man.
The historians who wrote about the persecution of the Jews in the 1950s and 1960s agreed that ordinary Dutch people did not know what awaited their fellow Jewish citizens in the East. As the years went on, this view became less and less believed. This resulted in the guilty and anti-Semitic bystander as the other extreme in 2006. Bart van de Boom's research aims to show that the earliest writers on the Holocaust were right. He used 164 diaries of Jews and non-Jews, both literate and illiterate, as a source for this.
The Dutch, Jew or not, thought as long as the war lasted that the Jews would go to work in Poland. This would be tough, but the chances of survival were considered higher than those in hiding. Then being arrested meant the end, the Germans threatened. This line of thought explains the small number of people in hiding, the rejection of hiding places and the large number of Jews who reported for transport. Cooperating was safer and more sensible in the long run than protest, for Jews and non-Jews. And that war would not last that long, everyone thought when the deportations started in the summer of 1942.
The Germans needed workers so the idea that all Jews would be killed immediately upon arrival didn't even cross the minds of the people. And when news of the murder of Jews reached the illegal press, the Dutch didn't know what to think. Many diary readers complained about the lack of reliable news. Mass murder factories were unprecedented in history and the few whistleblowers who spoke of them were not believed. Not even by the Allies, who received the most 'rumours'.
In addition, Jews and non-Jews thought that the discriminatory measures would apply to all Dutch people. The Jews were only next in line because the Germans hated them, which the Dutch thought was terrible and barbaric. First Jews had to hand in their radio and bicycle and then the Dutchman. First the Jews had to go to work in Poland and then the Dutch men because of the institution of the Labor Deployment. Nobody assumed that the goals of the last two types of 'deportations' were completely different. The secrecy of the Holocaust, maintained by the Germans to counter resistance, worked.
The book comes to life through the many diary fragments. The content of this supports Van der Boom's argument. The ordinary Dutchman did not know that his Jewish compatriot, whom he certainly sympathized with, was facing inevitable death in the gas chamber. Van der Boom delves into wartime instead of looking back and judging it later. The book just does not explain why other European countries regretted a lot less Jewish victims after the war.