Finding his poll numbers slipping and the anti-Muslim zeal of the last decade fading, Geert Wilders and his anti-immigration party, the Party For Freedom, the third largest political party here in the Netherlands, took to the internet. They created an e-form on their website where any Dutch person could register a complaint about Polish immigrants, who have been pouring in legally under newly enacted EU open-border policies; sleeping eight to a room, polluting with old, unregistered vehicles, driving while intoxicated, etc. Riding the wave of resentment toward current austerity measures, Wilders tweeted, “Thousands of Polish immigrants are receiving Dutch welfare due to the toxic laws forced upon us by the EU. This is a bomb under our social system!” The provocative politician then ran an ad in one of the largest liberal newspapers, the Volkskrant, touting that close to 50,000 complaints had been posted within just two weeks. The Volkskrant had to defend its advertising policies, the Dutch prime minister had to answer to the EU president, and Wilders’ polling numbers skyrocketed.
Fifty thousand complaints is a small portion of the 16 million who make up the population of this tiny country, but it is, nonetheless, startling. What is, however, most surprising for me, an American with a Polish last name living in Holland, is that this is all taking place in a country that prides itself on tolerance and regularly chastises the United States for unethical domestic policy. Cognitive dissonance is hardly a Dutch phenomenon, but it is more than shocking to see that a highly educated populace, so proud of their history can, at the same time, be so blind to history. As the German ambassador to the Netherlands, Otto von der Gablentz, once commented, “Germany has not forgotten the lessons from its past. The Netherlands, by contrast, seems blinded by the myth of its own innocence.”
Wilders and other politicians…have, in the past, requested that detailed information about the neighborhoods, the family situation, and the racial make-up of criminal offenders be used for social, immigration, and welfare reform.
The bestseller list here has always been topped with at least one or two novels dealing with World War II atrocities (at the time this article was written, there were three in the top 10, two by Dutch authors, one American—the oldest, almost twice the age of the other two, being a mere eight-years old when the war ended). In any given week there is at least one Holocaust documentary on the National channels. The most expensive Dutch movie ever made, Paul Verhoeven’ s Black Book, and the slightly smaller yet equally touted Boy In the Striped Pajamas, both based on novels and both dealing with the Holocaust, have saturated theaters and televisions over the past few years. Black Book drummed up some controversy because Paul Verhoeven had dared to suggest that, during the occupation, some Dutch were self-serving while others were even sympathetic to the Germans. Yet, it did do very well financially, finding a place in the public’ s present popular consciousness.
At the same time however, the Center for Information and Documentation Israel recently demanded that an artist’ s collective cease building a Buchenwald-style fence near the seaside town of Zandfoort. The fence, which was to be replete with smoking chimneys, barbed wire fence, and the motto “To each his own” was, as the artists claimed, “an invitation to dialogue” against the rising levels of intolerance in the Netherlands. The Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (before having his throat cut by a Muslim extremist) was chased out of the Dutch Film Fund for such ruthless jibes as calling the endless dramas about concentration and work camps “the Holocaust industry.”
Yann Martel, whose most recent novel Beatrice and Virgil is set during the Holocaust, has been castigated for suggesting that artists (Semites and Aryans alike) have a fundamental role in interpreting one of the worst tragedies in modern history and his suggestion that limiting stories of the Holocaust to historians and eye-witness accounts relegates the human lessons to be learned to time, place, and certain perpetrators, has been deeply controversial.
It has been well documented here, through books and films and magazines, that the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Netherlands, were deported with such efficiency, by such a small group of German military officers, because of the highly organized Dutch system of registration and accounting. Even today, a bureaucrat at any government agency can open my digital register, or that of one of my two young sons, and immediately know the status of my visa, health issues, domestic problems, parking tickets, income, etc. For example, when my wife and I separated and I registered at a new address, everyone from my bank, doctor, pharmacy, accountant, car and health insurer, immigration department, etc., was immediately notified, leading to a month of sad nods and quick explanations whenever I filled a prescription or made a deposit. Wilders and other politicians, like the justice minister, have, in the past, requested that detailed information about the neighborhoods, the family situation, and the racial make-up of criminal offenders be used for social, immigration, and welfare reform. Who is to say that if Wilders could connect the complaints on his website form to the government database, a quieter form of racial profiling and ethnic purging couldn’t be somehow set into motion. Geert Mak, one of Holland’ s most famous and popular historians says it like this:
“The constant challenging of the presence of minorities, as is happening in the Netherlands right now, is often the precursor to discrimination and even violence. The process is strengthened when such racist ideas are given the stamp of normality, for instance when the mainstream media present them as a “normal” political current. Or worse, when established political parties or the trade unions are open to forming coalitions with these extremist movements, as if they were part of the “normal” democratic order.”
So the questions are: Who are these 50,000 people registering complaints with a quasi-Fascist political party, based solely on the alleged offenders’ ethnicity? Are they completely oblivious to the parallels between their behavior now and the Nazi, or Dutch sympathizers, sentiments of World War II? Looking toward my own profession, I wonder if writers themselves (for there are very few left who actually remember the war) have failed to inform the public about the steps leading up to the abuses of Nationalism. Or is it more simple, that artists themselves have been stifled into silence by the guardians of the Holocaust—guardians who claim that any deviation from actual fact is a sullying of the truth? Or is it that the Holocaust has simply become an artistic trope, with clear antagonists and protagonists, tackled by authors and filmmakers looking for a shortcut to serious recognition, and where ratting out one’ s ethically different neighbor is more associated with eating popcorn than the groundwork for genocide?