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Holocaust: Religious Life During the Occupation of Holland

(July 21, 1945)

Holland has never had the kind of central, countrywide chief rabbinate that its neighbors, Belgium and France, have had. However, since the beginning of the twentieth century, the provincial chief rabbis held occasional joint consultations in a body known as the Committee of Chief Rabbis. Although this agency had no official status and its decisions lacked binding force, it represented the views and policies of Orthodox Jewry. The Committee met only a few times more after the German occupation began, and its last meeting evidently took place in July 1941. The following excerts from the minutes of this meeting show how life and its problems continued. What stand out are the expectations (which proved accurate) of the expulsion of Jewish children from the education system, the struggle against Liberal (Reform) Judaism, difficulties in provision of tefillin and mezuzot, and the phenomenon of bogus conversions during this time.

Report of meeting of the Committee of Chief Rabbis, Iyar 16, 5701, May 13, 1941, 11:00 A.M.

1. The chairman began the meeting by welcoming the participants. Our thoughts, he said, are with those who have become victims of the circumstances of the time. 2. He is grateful that all of us can be present here, and he wishes us the ability in the future, too, to continue devoting our efforts to our work.

1. Report on religious affairs at the Coordination Committee . Mr. Dasberg expressed his regret that our committee meets so infrequently. It does not sit on the Coordination Committee as the representative of the ORV [the Committee of Chief Rabbis] but would be useful for the voice of a member of our committee to be heard there. The new secretary, Mr. Edersheim, recently promised him, as if stating something self-evident, that they would continue to take the religious commandments [godsdienstcodex] into account. This becomes important, for example, when a Jewish orchestra is established, with respect to performances on the Sabbath. The activities of the Coordination Committee are focusing social, economic, and political matters in the main, with little [involvement] in religious [affairs].

The R.E.O.R. [Ritual Food for Travelers] is gathering the addresses of cafes that are open to Jews and is drawing up separate lists of kosher and non-kosher businesses. The Coordination Committee also dealt in coordinating the activities of various organizations.

The chairman, who always adds to Mr. Dasbergs report with his own findings, remarks (inter alia) that there is a strong likelihood that many Jewish businesses will undergo Aryanization. In response to Mr. Davids's question about whether this will affect ORT businesses [those under rabbinical supervision], Mr. Dasberg replied that the possibility cannot be ruled out. [...]

3. Shortage of tsitsit, tefillin, and mezuzot [ritual fringes, phylacteries, and doorpost parchments]:

The chairman says that these religious implements are in very short supply. People who do not own a tallit [prayer shawl] are being buried in Amsterdam without one. There is also a shortage of gidin [thread for the sewing of tefillin], tefillin, and mezuzot. [The ritual scribe], Bramson, makes tefillin and mezuzot by himself. Apart from this, little can be done because everything has become too expensive.

Mr. Levisson is very dissatisfied with Bramsons work. Mr. Davids says we cannot rectify the situation. The THEO [Central Organization for the Ritual Improvement of Dutch Jews] or some other agency must impose a sales tax. A comprehensive inventory should be taken concerning what is available and maximum prices should be set.

Mr. Sarlovis thinks this is impossible.

Mr. Davids disagrees. We can issue orders to write tefillin and mezuzot, set their prices, and impose a tax on behalf of the needy. The Chavarot [religious societies] are prepared to give the matter financial support.

The chairman suggests that the secretary be asked to conduct a survey among scribes and merchants as to the quantities in their possession. Afterwards, the scribes may be asked if they are willing to write tefillin and mezuzot and what their price would be.

The chairman advises that perhaps the Helt Company can make tsitsit [...].

5. Applications for conversion

The chairman advises that many applications have been coming in. There is also pressure for this in other provinces.

Mr. van Gelder opposes the acceptance [of converts].

Mr. Levisson believes it is wrong to accept full Aryans, also in connection with German law. What does this law say about accepting a person who has two Jewish grandfathers?

The chairman says the matter should be looked into. The general inclination is to accept few converts.

6. Status of the Jewish Council

Mr. Dasberg says that, true, the Jewish Council did not accept the duty of functioning in lieu of the kehillah [community administration], but many kehillah functions will come into its purview. People who are not members of the kehillah take part in this work. Thus far, the kehillah has been an organization of the Jews. Now they will leave it and Jewishness [Jodenheid] will be secularized [geseculariseerd] [he mentions the Association of Ashkenazi Communities].

It is typical that the chairman [of the Committee of Rabbis] and Dr. Selvis are the only representatives of the Orthodox and that Attorney van Lier [an assimilated Jew and the offspring of a mixed marriage] holds a senior position.

The chairman says that they will not concern themselves with religious affairs. The Jewish Council has nothing to do with religion. Attorney van Lier participates as a Dutchman on behalf of Dutch Jews who face discrimination; there is no opposition to this [...]. Mr. Duenner warns the chairman that he has not sized up the plans of the Jewish Council accurately, especially those of Professor Cohen. Other members should be brought into the council. [...]

Deaths in Buchenwald

The chairman advises that he has been informed that a non-Jewish matron who was told that her husband had died there received two parcels of ashes in response to two letters. This does not speak in favor of the death notices. A Jews who was there claims that the death notices are reliable. The speaker asks the gentlemen to give the matter some thought.

Mr. Frank believes it desirable to explore the advisability, after all, of issuing a conditional writ of divorce in new cases. In the concluding round, Mr. Dasberg asks for reports of the Inspectorate of Education this year, too. Mr. Levisson suggests that Jewish doctors should be asked not to have office hours on the Sabbath.

The chairman adjourned the meeting.

Source: Protocols of a meeting of the Committee of Chief Rabbis, July 21, 1941, Collection P122, Papers of Chief Rabbi A.B.N. Davids of Rotterdam, Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem.


Sources: Yad Vashem