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Protest Following the Dismissal of a Jewish Professor of Law

Protest by Prof. R.P. Cleveringa following the dismissal of Prof. E.M. Meijers from law school in Holland.

The “Aryanism statement” and its aftermath — the dismissal of Jews from the governmental and public bureaucracies — sent a shock wave through Dutch public affairs and elicited various responses. Some of the responses quickly ebbed but others created a point of departure, from which many people began to consider various actions in resistance to the occupier. One of the most prominent protests was that of R.P. Cleveringa, a professor of law at the University of Leyden, who delivered a lecture to a class, that his Jewish colleague, Meijers, had taught until he was fired. At the end of the protest lecture, he laid a printed copy of his remarks on the lectern, so that the students could take and disseminate it. Cleveringa's lecture, in which he condemned the authorities explicitly, made a tremendous impression on the students. They declared a strike that very day and ferment erupted in other universities. The Germans responded by shutting down several universities and arresting several professors and students. Cleveringa himself spent eight months in detention and was released afterwards.

I stand here before you today at an hour at which you are used to seeing another person before you; your teacher and mine, Mr. Meijers. The reason for this is a letter, received by him this morning directly from the Department of Education, Arts and Sciences, and containing the following:

“Following an order from the State Commissariat for the Occupied Netherlands concerning non-Aryan government personnel and positions of similar status, I inform you that you are relieved of your function as Professor in the State University of Leyden as from today. The State Commissariat has agreed that those concerned will continue to draw their salaries, allowances, etc., for the time being.” I offer you this information in all its barren nakedness and shall not attempt to qualify it further. I fear that the words that I should be able to find, however I chose them, would do little justice to the painful and bitter feelings that it has aroused in my colleagues and myself; and I am convinced also in you and numerous others within, and where they will learn of it, without our frontiers. I therefore believe that an attempt to express our feelings is to be abandoned, also because I feel as if our mutual thoughts and moods hover above us all at this moment, soundless but wholly and precisely recognizable. It is not to express these feelings that I ask your permission to continue; if I had no other purpose than to accentuate our mood I should, I think, know no better method than that of stopping here and leaving you to the icy grip of the terrible silence that would immediately envelop us.

Neither shall I attempt to lead your thoughts toward those responsible for the correspondence whose contents I have reported to you. Their deed characterizes itself conclusively.

The only thing that I desire at the moment is to leave them out of sight and beneath us, and to direct your attention to the height, the shining example offered by the figure of he for whom we are here gathered. [...]

It is this Dutchman, this noble and true son of our folk, this man, this father to students, this scholar, that the foreigner who now dominates us "relieves of his function"! I told you that I would not speak of my feelings: I will keep my word even though they threaten to burst like boiling lava through all the cracks which I feel at moments could open under the pressure in my head and heart. But within the Faculty, that according to its principles is dedicated to the practice of justice, this comment may nevertheless not be omitted. In agreement with the traditions of the Netherlands the written constitution declares that every Dutchman is eligible for appointment to every office and to every dignity and every function and places him independent of his religion in the enjoyment of the same civic and civil rights. According to Article 43 of the Rules of Land Warfare the occupying force is obliged to honor the laws of the country "sauf empechement absolu." We cannot otherwise see than that not the slightest hindrance exists for the occupying force to leave Meijers where he was. This implies that the thrusting of him from his position in the manner of which I have informed you, and similar measures affecting others (among them the first who comes to mind is our friend and colleague David) can only be felt by us as injustice.

Source: Joods Historisch Museum Amsterdam, Documents on the Persecution of Dutch Jewry 1940-1943, Amsterdam, 1969, pp. 149-151.

Source: Yad Vashem