On 15 May 2016 we embarked on the first phase of what will become – in its second phase – the country’s definitive National Holocaust Museum. This initial phase consists of a number of temporary and semi-‐permanent exhibitions designed to find artistic and museum-‐ oriented ways of conveying and depicting the persecution and murder of 104,000 of the Jewish population of the Netherlands.
A number of locations around the Netherlands commemorate the events that took place there during the Second World War: Westerbork, for example, as well as Vught and Amersfoort – and indeed the Anne Frank House. Until now, however, no one has felt called upon – or competent, if you will – to take responsibility for the transfer of knowledge, in a museum, of the mass murder that took place of Dutch citizens: religious and secular Jews, men, women, and children. Today we feel, in the Jewish Cultural Quarter, that we can and must assume the necessary competence to achieve this transfer of knowledge, and to do so in a way that does justice to the complexity, reality and continuity of the events. Our predecessors at the Jewish Historical Museum took the view that over four centuries of Jewish presence in the Netherlands should not be reduced to five years of misery. They accordingly decided to be restrained in their presentation of the Holocaust: a decision that was right at the time. But the world in which we live is constantly changing, new social divisions have arisen, and the information society means that a wealth of information is at everyone’s fingertips: not only accurate information but also misinformation. Meanwhile, anti-‐Semitism has returned to our streets. These developments call for well-‐informed, carefully-‐conceived explanations. We believe that for such explanations, the Holocaust in particular – the most frequently discussed and researched genocide in the modern history of the world, but also the genocide that is most frequently invoked in distorted ways – is of indisputable importance.
Today, over seventy years later, many of those who were born during the war have grandchildren. Many of the adult witnesses who felt – and still feel – a duty to tell their stories have passed away. At the Jewish Cultural Quarter and the National Holocaust Museum we want to take this task upon ourselves, but we are committed to doing so in a way that does justice to the continuity of Jewish life since the war. We believe that this will distinguish our future museum from the dozens of other Holocaust museums around the world. We shall naturally explain how the foundations were laid for the Holocaust in the 1930s, describe the political and social developments that contributed to it, and show how the genocide took place. However, we shall place equal, if not more, emphasis on the consequences of the Holocaust: not just for the Jewish community and Jewish identity after the war, but also – and for us this is just as important – for Dutch society as a whole.
In the museum’s permanent exhibition as well as in other temporary shows alongside a varied range of lectures, debates and other events and carefully-‐selected educational programmes, we shall show that the Holocaust still affects everyone – the entire population of the Netherlands, and indeed of humanity as a whole.
Let us take the metaphor of a large stone – the Holocaust – that was thrown into the water of time. We know the stone itself, but the ripples it caused in the water of Dutch society continue to make themselves felt to this day. And we shall show those ripples in the National Holocaust Museum. It goes without saying that we shall emphasise the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s world, just as we shall seek to foster cohesion, tolerance, and mutual understanding.
The building that once housed the Reformed teachers’ training college, along with the Hollandsche Schouwburg, together tell the remarkable story of the rescue of six hundred Jewish children, over the hedge that once surrounded the plot of land. A wall stands there today. The children were spirited away from the nursery where they had been placed in captivity, and smuggled out through the teachers’ training college run by Johan van Hulst, to the greater safety – only relatively speaking, of course – of places in hiding. In the meantime, the children’s parents, imprisoned in the Hollandsche Schouwburg on the other side of the street – which had been transformed into a so-‐called Umschlagplatz or ‘assembly point’ – awaited a fate of which they as yet had no knowledge, dressed in their best clothes, trying against all the odds to preserve their human dignity.
We consider it a privilege, at the Jewish Cultural Quarter, to be in a position to tell the storyof the Dutch Jews in the very buildings in which these events took place. The Hollandsche Schouwburg and the one-‐time Reformed teachers’ training college resonate with that history. In the Hollandsche Schouwburg on Plantage Middenlaan, Dutch people who happened to be Jewish – neighbours, colleagues, classmates – were isolated, humiliated and at length transported out of the country. But at the teachers’ training college there was room for hope, and for rescue. We have in our possession more than a thousand stories, objects, documents and testimonies relating to those 104,000 individual experiences. We shall pass them on and reflect on them from every conceivable angle. And we shall do so with the full realisation that these events took place over seventy years ago and that each successive generation calls for new ways of transmitting this knowledge.
We cannot do without your support. To achieve the second phase of our project we will need a great deal of money: to be precise, we need 19 million euros. To raise these funds, we will need money from public authorities, numerous Jewish and non-‐Jewish funds and foundations of every size, as well as from our public, Jewish and non-‐Jewish, in the Netherlands and around the world. We are counting on this support and hope that many will follow the splendid example of the National Fund for Peace, Freedom and Care for Veterans, the Maror Foundation, and numerous other donors. But this is not just about money. What matters to us just as much is adding to our stock of stories, testimonies, documents, significant objects. In addition, we very much welcome creative input: interesting ideas, artistic ideas, theoretical, scholarly and educational ideas. In short: please help us in whatever way you can. Let us join forces to create the National Holocaust Museum and to make it a success.
25 May 2016