The present seeped into the past, and vice versa. Half of the Netherlands was still recovering from Tuesday’s shock, with the news that 23 percent of Dutch young people do not know what the Holocaust was, and if they do know, doubt or dispute the events. Facts such as: six million murdered Jews, that there were also persecutions of the Jews in the Netherlands, that Anne Frank not only lived temporarily in the Secret Annex, but eventually died in a concentration camp.

    The research itself has been criticized in various ways. The numbers don’t match the methodology is rattling, reported de Volkskrant. There were also objections to the ‘fantasy’ with which the news was brought by the sponsor, the American organization Claims Conference, which defends the rights of Holocaust survivors. I’m not talking about statistical research, sampling or respondents, and I’m sure the last word has not been written on this. All I can think is: even if it’s a quarter true, it’s bad.

    Then I looked at the documentary differently Reckonings (EO) – about the German ‘wiedergutmachung’ for Holocaust survivors. It is not surprising that this documentary was broadcast on Thursday evening, on Friday it will be 78 years since the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp was liberated and there is an international day of remembrance. The Dutch Auschwitz Memorial is always on the last Sunday of the month.

    Just – very briefly – the history. Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of post-war West Germany, gave a speech in 1951 in which he said his government was ready to discuss reparation for the Jews who had survived the genocide but lost everything. That willingness was not quite right, his finance minister Schäffer was very against it, and parliament largely too.

    The German population did not like it either. At the time, the Allies commissioned a survey among the West German population. Question: Who are the main victims of the war? Answer: the Germans. At the bottom of the list of victims: the Jews. Next question: should Germany pay compensation to Jewish victims? 11 percent supported that idea. A German man, a former government official, appears in the picture. He attended grammar school in the 1950s. At our school, he says, the Holocaust was never discussed. Do you already see similarities with the present?

    Collective debt

    The population of Weimar was, incidentally, confronted with their history. Local residents, anyone who claimed never to have known about the murders, torture and crimes that were being committed nearby, were forced to visit the camps in 1945. Everyone, including children, can be seen shuffling past the newly liberated barracks and past rows, piles of bodies and skeletons. They had to face their collective guilt, literally.

    Chancellor Adenauer pressed his wish to talk about wiedergutmachung. Negotiations began in 1952. On neutral ground. Castle Oud-Wassenaar, Netherlands. The Israeli government wanted to sit down at the table, the state just existed (since 1948) and was broke. How was the country of 600,000 to “absorb” 700,000 new Jewish immigrants? Only, who should negotiate on behalf of the Jewish victims? Almost none of the European Jewish institutions were left. The ‘Conference on Jewish Material Claim against Germany’ was then quickly established on behalf of 23 countries. In short: Claim Conference, which commissioned the survey about ‘our’ poor Holocaust knowledge. As if to warn that the past is not over.