After the publication of my book Individuals and Small Groups in Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust – A Case Study of a Young Couple and Their Friends (2022) I have been asked several times: How much Jewish resistance was there; how many people were involved? The answer is that we don’t know exactly.
An example: Jewish resistance members smuggled children out of a nursery in an Amsterdam deportation centre and took them to hiding places, but we’re unsure about precise figures.
However, since 1961 we have an idea. In that year the historian Jacques Presser published his thesis, stating that Jewish resistance in the Netherlands was as much overestimated by the German occupiers of the country as it was underrated by the Dutch population and that resistance by Jews in the Netherlands had relatively exceeded resistance by non-Jews. He based his thesis on the Roll of Honour, a list of fallen soldiers and resistance members. Presser had identified a large number of names on this list as Jewish. He also found hundreds of names of Jewish resistance members in the documents he examined in the course of the research for his work Ondergang (1965), a figure which he compared to what was known at the time about numbers of general resistance members. Presser didn’t mention exact figures, but on the basis of his thesis the following calculation can be made.
During the last pre-war census, which took place in 1930, over one hundred and eleven thousand Jews were in the Netherlands. They formed 1.41% of the total Dutch population of 7.83 million. In 1941 about one hundred and forty thousand Jews were registered in the Netherlands according to Nazi yardsticks (that represented 1.56% of the total population which had grown to 8.92 million).
According to the historian Loe de Jong, in his work Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog (vol. VII, 1976), in total an estimated forty-five thousand illegal workers were active in the Netherlands during the entire period of German occupation between 1940 and 1945. This corresponds with a half percent of the total population. De Jong defined an illegal worker as somebody who was active clandestinely as an individual or member of organised collectives in their resistance to the German occupiers.
In 1990, I mentioned almost a thousand names of Jewish illegal workers in my book Zelfs als wij zullen verliezen. That’s more than two-thirds of a percentage of the Jewish population in the registration of 1941, which confirms the second part of Presser’s thesis.
A low estimate
The figure of a thousand illegal Jewish workers I mentioned in 1990 is a low estimate. Since then, more research has been conducted, which has brought to light the resistance activity of numerous, but until then unknown Jewish resistance members.
In the above example of the people who smuggled children out of the deportation nursery, we knew that Walter Süskind, Henriëtte Pimentel and Virginnie Cohen were involved, but recently more information has come to light about the role of the last two women and another child carer, namely Betty Oudkerk, who with others all helped to save perhaps hundreds of children.
However, it’s presently impossible to give an exact number of Jews involved in resistance. Does that matter? I don’t think so. Figures are important, but to gain a greater knowledge about Jewish life during the Holocaust and get a deeper understanding of Jewish resistance we can also look at personal circumstances and characteristics of Jewish resistance members and the formation of small Jewish resistance groups. And that’s what I’ve done in the 2022 case study.
My book, Individuals and Small Groups in Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust. A Case Study of a Young Couple and their Friends, is published by Anthem Press.