Jewish Maastricht

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Speech at the unveiling of the monuments in Venlo on May 23 2017

In the most beautiful room of Parliament, the ‘Handelingenkamer’, is one empty shelf. 

Here should have been stored the minutes of the Meetings between 1940 till 1945. 

A dark chapter in history.

( Ms Khadija Arib, President Lower House May 4, 2017 at National Remembrance Day on the Dam Square in Amsterdam)

It is really clear to me where we are standing now:

  • Are we standing near a monument for the Remembrance of a horrendous period?
  • Or is this a monument for the memento of our once flowering Jewish Community of Venlo before the war?
  • Maybe do we reveal the two monuments to stand still, grown numb by what went wrong after that dark period?
  • Maybe the aim of our gathering a kind of educational project that warns us and reminds with parallels with no wand the nearby future?

Deputy Ger Koopmans

Major Antoin Scholten

Municipal Counsellor Jos Teeuwen

The designers Ton Slits and Pier van Leest

Family members of Mr Philip Cohen (among them granddaughter Mirjam Cohen)

President of the Jewish Community Limburg and en honorary consul of the State of Israel, Mr. Benoit Wesly, Mr Gerrit van der Vorst. Ladies and Gentlemen.

A shifting perspective and a work of art for the commemoration of Philip Cohen.

Our meeting has everything to do indeed with this shifting perspective. Fugitives from Germany who tried to escape from the gas chambers, who did not see a future for themselves, no perspective. And then they manage to cross the border and set foot on land in a free area. The got perspective again, were driven back, got robbed of their perspective to end up in the gas chambers and disappeared into oblivion.

Of course are the killers who stood there completely guilty. But what about the local administrators of Venlo of those days? What about the tremendous diligence to remove the Jewish citizens in the blink of an eye? Eliminated, like in so many other Dutch Communities.

How about the Dutch trains controlled by Dutchmen who were who were convened a few months after the war by the former Minister of transport van Schaik in the Houtrusthallen to be complimented that they kept going on, for the cause of the Dutch economy with their load, Dutch Jews, to deliver them in the hell of the German concentration camps.

Nobody knows them anymore, nobody knows that they existed anyhow. That they lived in Venlo, where they felt at home and where they wanted to live and to die, just passing away, maybe after a heavy sickbed, but still in their Venlo.

Their Venlo that gave them perspective till the day of the occupation and that their Venlo that took away all perspective during those horrible years of occupation when their major, their town councillors and their fellow-citizens had suddenly another perspective. People were thinking of their jobs in the first place, of promotion, of being able to remain. Many of them did meekly what the Germans wanted to do themselves. It looks like Ukraine where Germans did not have to work very hard, because the locals butchered the Jews in one mass grave after the mass grave. That did not happen here, however the discharge of the Jews was executed very eagerly and meticulously.

Ms Arib speaks about an empty shelf that reminds us of all those years that the Governement did not meet in the Hague. In the offices of many local authorities, like here in Venlo, you can speak of an overcrowded shelf, overcrowded with things which did not meet up the values of Dutch democracy.

Two Jewish girls, six and eight years old, taken out of their hiding place after treason and for 8 and half days in a Venlo police cell were deported and then eventually murdered.

One collaborated with the enemy, and after the war? Was then everything over and done with? Did civilization returned again? Each memory had to be polished away, looking into the future, there was a perspective again.

But for Philip Cohen who got a recovery notification for a leakage in the Synagogue, who had to tolerate bailiffs who came to recover hypothetical debts for the Jewish Community of those who were murdered.

Is this the past? Is Philip Cohen an exception? Do I hear this for the first time? Is the history of Venlo exceptional? My own father in Amsterdam and my mother in Steenwijk did not feel very welcome, to formulate an understatement, when they came back after hardly having survived the war.

This impressive work of art exemplifies the tension between good and evil, the friction between hell and paradise. Between the foster and hiding parents of, for instance, Philip Cohen and my own parents, and the regularly defective authorities. People, who took Jews in their houses, while endangering their own lives, because they remained human in a society which distinguished people and Übermenschen. Resistance fighters of whom many paid the toll of death.


But also a society which was able to convince normal and reasonable Dutchmen of the moral justice of the extermination of the Jews, as has been made them believe by the propaganda machine of the Deutsche Reich: The extermination of the Jews is a blessing and a sign of ultimate civilization.

This reminds me of a Syrian whom I received in my house a year ago and who told me that he grew up with the idea that one must exterminate the Jews, while he did know whether Jews were people, animals, or things.

He is not guilty, that is the way he grew up. Now he is a friend of mine! But what does society do to correct his twisted and dangerous education? Is our society in 2017 interested enough? Is society sufficiently aware of the intricate relationship of perspective on the future with education, norms and values? Do we realize that our multicultural society is not only a name and an empty slogan, but also an essential basis for now and for the future. And do we realize, being here together, that many of us trampled the multicultural society and democray by scratching out the Jewish part of the word ‘multi’?

This week is Shavuot, the feast of Weaks. G’d gives the Jewish people via them to the world, the Ten Commandements at Mount Sinai, with amongst them: You shall not kill.

Evident of course, but not always obeyed if the self-interest is coming to the fore.

The Tora, the Bible, is given in a desert where danger is coming from all sides. Devouring animals, and also climatological trials, In this world the bible is given.

Man has the possibility to choose for the wrong, inhumane side. But he can also choose the right thing even in a desert of intolerance, discrimination, continuous threats, just because he is human.

Never before I had the honour to reveal a monument which exemplifies the battle of good and evil within man so strongly. The battle between Yetzer hara and Yetzer tov, between Evil and Good. It is great that the Mayor and Aldermen of Venlo showed the courage to must choose for a Venlo that learned from the past and that calls for making the right choices now and in the future, to choose for a new perspective.

  • This monument is a recovery of what went wrong after the war,
  • But it also shows that even in the darkest period, in a most bleak desolation there were still people who refused to walk in the wrong direction and had the power to remain human.
  • This monument is a remaining educational project to cry out now and the future loudly and impressive: stay human and do realize that our multicultural society demands of us the true significance of the word multi, That we will never accept that there is distinction between people and ‘Übermenschen’.
  • But above all is this monument a tombstone for the citizens who were murdered in the years 1940-1945 and gives back them a small place here in their own Venlo.

Prayer of Commemoration

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