Your excellency, Dear Minister Von der Leyen,
With all due respect we would like to address you in a very sensitive matter that also touches on the relationship between your country and the Netherlands.
‘We’ are the Dutch anti-fascist and former resistance fighter association (AFVN-BvA; AFVN.nl), and most of our members have some family connection to the horrors of war, in this case of the war the Nazi’s brought to our country and to our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers and other relatives, friends and countrymen and -women.
This letter concerns the activities of the Bundeswehr on the Nazi military cemetery of Ysselsteyn in the town of Venray. The circumstances for our address to you is that two months ago, you have published new guidelines for the behaviour and activities of the Bundeswehr (BW) in connection to Nazi history. We are very happy that you have clarified many issues and have reacted promptly last year to suppress any form of adherence among BW-military to the Nazi-ideology.
We are addressing you as you have the power to solve a painful situation in which the Bundeswehr regrettably plays a leading role and that has reoccurred over the last decade (we are not exactly sure in which year it started, but 2010 is our best guess, if you’ll excuse our inaccuracy in this point).
It is important to clearly state at this point, that in no way we hate Germans – our organisation is in ongoing contact with a number of your fellow countrymen and -women; being of socialist stock, we of course abhor the activities of the extreme right in Germany, the neo-Nazis, the neofascists, Pegida, and the AfD.
Please allow us to give you some short facts and figures about Holland in the war to put our letter in perspective:
⦁ The Dutch lost 275,000 dead in Europe during WW-II, and over 4 million (yes, four) in the Dutch East Indies; of these in Holland, 106,000 ‘Jews’ were killed in the Holocaust (‘Jews’ of course according to the gruesome Nazi-definitions; many of these people did not regard themselves as ‘Jews’)
⦁ about 500,000 Dutchmen were forced labourers, i.e. slaves in Nazi-Germany; of them, some 50,000 of them perished in Nazi-Germany
⦁ some 350,000 Dutch hid (‘dives’) from the occupying Nazis, to avoid being enslaved, deported or arrested, aided by some 700,000 clandestine helpers, messengers, landlords, forgers of administrative documents and transporters
⦁ only in Holland, five strikes broke out against the Nazi’s and their the persecution of groups, the first being in the Delft technical university in November 1940, followed by Leyden university a few days later; followed by a general strike against persecution of ‘Jews’ on 25 and 26 February 1941 in which some 300.000 people in Amsterdam and surroundings took part of all ranks, creeds and beliefs; in April 1943 another large strike broke out and in September 1944 a general railway strike (most Germans are totally unaware of these facts, something that former president Gauck publicly confirmed when he gave the Liberation Lecture in Breda, Holland on our Liberation Day May 5th, 2012)
⦁ May we also point to the fact that in the Netherlands, as we speak 1.1 million citizens were born before May 1945, that is one in seventeen, or 6%, which means ‘the war’ still plays a continuing role in the lives of many of us.
⦁ May we also inform you, that per capita the Dutch have received the highest number of awards from Yad Vashem in the world for saving Jews, namely 1 award for every 1500 citizens. Record holder is Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meyer, who saved some 10,000 Jewish children, the first 600 even through direct negociations with Eichmann in Vienna. That is the same number as Raoul Wallenberg – who is known the world over. Many of these so-called ‘Kindertransporte’ children still live. Mrs Wijsmuller is a distant aunt by marriage to one of our members. In no other country, three groups also received the Yad Vashem honours – only in France and Denmark one each ever. In no other country, there were five strikes against the persecution of Jews. We state this here, as it is our experience with our German friends, that their knowledge of this important aspect of the largest tragedy in the whole of Dutch history, is unknown. Forgive us if you already knew.
⦁ The outward apparition of this cemetery, the largest in its kind near Germany – with its uniform crosses for the 17-year old relatively innocent soldiers as well as the most gruesome SD-torturers – is that here lie the ‘fallen’, the ‘courageous’, ‘gallant’ and ‘obeying’ soldiers, especially if you choose to concentrate on the some 1,500 underaged ones among them. If one chooses to limit one’s view to the see only the saddening element of war, such as that many naïve youths were manipulated to fight politicians’ conflicts, in which they not really have a stake or an interest.
Regrettably, the many hundreds of heavy criminals among them do not lie in a special section, do not have black headstones or up-side-down turned crosses. In our opinion, many of these criminals do not warrant a grave, such as Jew hunter and Nazi-police commissioner of Nijmegen, Antonie van Dijk, who was not only responsible for the deportation and so the murder of the 500 Jews in his town, but also was personally instrumental in the hunt – he went along, and even came back to their empty houses the following day, to have the first choice in robbing their valuables, as his underlings also happily did after him as a matter of course. Naturally, Van Dijk disregarded the childrens’ toys, the baby cots, the remains of these shattered lives that never can be replaced. But this letter is not the place, nor is this the time, to plead for removal of his grave. It would be late justice, though.
Buried in Ysselsteyn are almost 26,000 Nazi-soldiers and an estimated 6,000 SS-men and some 150 others, in total almost 32,000 dead. Among these are of course not only German nationals, but also those from many other countries, such as Holland, Austria, Belgium, Poland, the Sowjet Union, and others. Nevertheless, the town of Venray chooses to put up signs stating ‘German war cemetery’ (‘Duits Oorlogskerkhof’). We can imagine living Germans would – should – object to this.
Regrettably, also buried there are some people totally innocent of Nazism, such as German non-Nazi- WW-I-soldiers, some Dutch prisoners suspected of, but not condemned for collaboration, even women among them, and some of their children, even babies. In a way, it is a relief to see these innocent graves, because the visitor of these graves can let down his or her guard, and simply feel for these small and absolutely innocent dead.
With all the other graves one can only allow oneself suspicion: is this a serious war criminal, a murderer, torturer, an executer or just a collaborator, a victim of circumstance, a child soldier? But what if someone’s father, brother, sister, daughter was killed of deported by this child soldier? As we all know well, even a child of 6 knows that he cannot steal candy from a store, in other words: people, even minors, understand good and evil, and that you must not do to others what you yourself do not wish to suffer. And as every adult also knows: sometimes children are better aware what to do when evil catches up with them and challenges them…
But also some significant (former) Dutch traitors have received a grave there. We will name a few of the Dutch and Nazi-German culprits for you:
⦁ Czernik, Gerhard 1913-1941
Major, Luftwaffe who had participated in the Spanish Civil War serving in the infamous Condor Legion.
⦁ Dijk, Antonius J.M. van 1905-1943 (murdered)
Fascist police commissioner of Nijmegen during the war, major in the police, member of the SS, who himself took part in hunting down some 500 Jews; it is also well documented that he robbed their belongings. In fact, we do not deem him worthy of a grave. His grave can only attract neofascists, who come to ‘celebrate’ on Ysselsteyn
⦁ Anne Jannes Elsinga 1908-1943 (murdered)
collaborator, head of special investigations in the police in Groningen; torturer, Jew-hunter; killed by the resistance (has a cross in Ysselsteyn naming him erroneously as ‘Anne James Elsinga’)
⦁ Heubel, Willem 1910-1945
the first Dutchman to voluntarily join the SS; his younger sister was married to the most dangerous Dutch Nazi, Rost van Tonningen (on their wedding, Himmler himself was present; after the war, she continued to promote fascism and was widely known and despised as ‘The black Widow’). Heubel rose through the ranks and fought in the Sowjet Union, where he most probably committed war crimes that were part and parcel of the SS in that country. He was an SS-officer.
⦁ Keijer, Jannes Luitje 1895-1944 collaborator, Jew-hunter, torturer, first lieutenant of police, successor to Elsinga in Groningen
How many collaborators, traitors, oppressors, SS-men, terrorists, torturers, war-criminals, killers must there be, for us to convince anyone never to place flowers or lay wreaths here, let alone salute?
⦁ Kindel, Jozef 1912-1948
SS-Unterscharführer, SD interrogator in Groningen, used to set his Alsatian shepherd on victims, a cruel torturer who has also executed prisoners
⦁ Dr. Ernst Knorr 1899 – 1945 (executed)
SS-Untersturmführer, first in The Hague, later the SD in Groningen, department Referat IVA (Bekämpfung Kommunismus), and was notorious for his extremely cruel torturing of Dutch prisoners during interrogations.
Just one quote from the Dutch Wikipedia (we do not recommend you to translate this, but we want to include this for the record): “Het was de bedoeling om van Holstege, die een maand lang was blijven zwijgen, de namen van zijn contactpersonen bij de communistische partijleiding in Amsterdam te vernemen. Knorr penetreerde met een gummiknuppel de anus van Holstege, waarna de ingewanden aangestampt werden. (…) Hij vermoordde Esmée van Eeghen, door haar lichaam met dertien kogel te doorzeven.” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
⦁ Thomsen, Arthur 1900-1945 possibly suicide
SS-Hauptsturmführer, head of the SD in Arnhem, and later in Groningen, murderer, executioner, torturer; extremely cruel, known as ‘the henchman of the Veluwe-border’
⦁ Wehner, Ernst 1903-1945
SS-Stabsscharführer, SD leader as Kriminal-Oberassistent in Amsterdam region, torturer, murderer, executioner; arrested the most famous Dutch resistance fighter, Johannes Post (who, although armed, never killed anyone).
Then here we present to you a short list of Nazi-soldiers that are not directly associated with war crimes, but are rather figureheads attracting those who want to admire Nazi-soldiers, obviously for the wrong reasons.
⦁ Alpers, Friedrich, 1901-1944
SS Obergruppenführer, Kommandeur Fallschirmjäger Regiment 9
⦁ Geiger, August
Flyer ‘ace ‘Hauptmann, Captain of the 7th Squadron,
⦁ Gildner, Paul, 1920-1943
Oberleutnant of 3./NJG1,
⦁ Hagen, Oskar von der , 1886-1940
Generalmajor der Infanterie, Kommandeur der 376. Infanterieregiment,
⦁ Lippe Weissenfeld, Egmond Prinz zur, (Austrian), 1918-1944
Major, Kommandeur III./N.J.G. 1, flyer ‘ace’
⦁ Sayn Wittgenstein, Heinrich Prinz zur, 1916-1944
Major, Kommandeur I./N.J.G. 100, flyer ‘ace’ ,
⦁ Schmidt, Kurt, 1891-KIA 1945
Generalleutnant der Infanterie. Kommandeur der 526. Reserve-Division. By nature of his position, he was a war criminal, and would have been tried in Nuremberg, had he lived. He can also be held co-responsible for many of the specifically gruesome deeds committed by the Nazi’s in the Netherlands. Also, in view of his position, he was directly responsible for rounding up Jews for deportation, and was of course co-responsible for their deportation and for general acts of terror and war crimes committed against the Dutch population as a whole.
⦁ Woltersdorf, Helmut, 1915-1942
Oberleutnant, Flieger, 24 victories
⦁ Willius, Karl-Heinz 1919-1944
Oberleutnant, in the 26th JG, Air Fighter Squadron .
Many of them were awarded high Nazi decorations such as iron Crosses with sword and oak leveas, which are pure Nazi symbols and attract Neo-Nazi interest. Also, humouring these men, seemingly purely active in the military theatre, disregards unjustly that they were heavily supporting the Nazi regime, that at the exact same time with implementing the murderous Holocaust.
Our general principle is: all participants in the Nazi-attack on the Netherlands of May 10th, 1940 and following occupation are basically wrong, as they forcefully and aggressively invaded a country and participated in or aided and abetted directly or indirectly the deportations or the Holocaust. Our country was also not a belligerent and regarding its size, and the size and poor state of its armed forces and its neutrality, could never be a threat to Nazi-Germany
It follows therefore in our view, that all the interred in Ysselsteyn who were in any way or form part of the Nazi-armed forces should be clearly considered culprits because an attack on a neutral and non-belligerent country is an unprovoked act of war. Such acts, as you will be aware, are condemned by international law.
The question arises: how shall the living handle these offensive dead? Our immediate answer would be: not at all, stay away. Bury them well and good, according to all conventions, and then put a large earthen wall around this purgatory and never visit this place any more forever. Nature will gladly perform all necessary activities to ensure that