Dutch Holocaust survivors’ unexpected taxes

A few years ago a Dutch university student unearthed something pretty shocking. Charlotte van den Berg was working part-time in Amsterdam’s city archives and discovered letters from Holocaust survivors stating that Amsterdam authorities were asking them to pay taxes and late-payment fines on property that had been confiscated from them because they were deported to concentration camps.

One official response to complaints about these charges was that “the base fees and the fines for late payment must be satisfied, regardless of whether a third party, legally empowered or not, has for some time held the title to the building.”

Amsterdam. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Van Den Berg took up a fight by trying to raise awareness for this practice, but not much progress was made until the facts were leaked to various newspapers, stirring much controversy.

The Netherlands’ Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) reviewed the files and found 217 such cases. At one point, according to the Dutch paper De Telegraaf, which gained accessed to unpublished parts of the NIOD report, a top attorney had advised city officials not to ask the survivors for the fees. The city rejected this, allegedly to avoid a barrage of claims that they would then have to satisfy.

"The city made a conscious decision to reject this advice, which cannot be described otherwise than as a totally needless callousness toward (Jews) who had their property taken during the war," De Telegraaf quoted the report as saying.

Now Amsterdam officials are considering compensating those Holocaust survivors for the taxes they had to pay on the homes that were occupied by Nazis or Nazi-sympathizers while they had been deported. 

About 110,000 Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust and 75 percent of Dutch Jews were deported. According to an article by the Times of Israel, the NIOD report recommends that Amsterdam compensate the Jewish survivors and their families with 4.9 million euros ($6.7 million): 400,000 euros for the fines and 4.5 million euros for the back tax payments on the homes they were forced to abandon during that period.

"I didn't expect any of this to happen, though I'm happy it finally did…I never dreamed that compensation could be the result," Van den Berg told the Associated Press.

In the years after the Holocaust, there were also cases "that Jews got back from Auschwitz—and then got an invoice for the gas that had been used in their homes" by Dutch Nazi collaborators who did not pay the bills while occupying the homes, said Ronny Nafthaniel, a Dutch Jewish community leader and a member of the vetting panel for the NIOD report. 

A chain of letters from that time also showed Amsterdam city officials complaining that they were losing money due to fewer "dog tax" payments. They demanded compensation from German authorities with no mention of the reason for the decline in revenue, that the animals' Jewish owners had been deported.

Van Den Berg "is absolutely a hero. She pushed her bosses and all the civil servants around her to open up these files, even when they told her not to bother," Nafthaniel said.

“It’s something I think we should be ashamed of. And it was an episode in history we thought we had closed, but apparently that is not the case,” the leader of the Dutch D66 party Jan Paternotte said, according to Euronews.

Posted on April 25, 2014 .