Fish trader facing Italian jail sentence named as architect of Tokyo jewel robbery
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
Thursday September 20, 2007
In the fish markets of Peterhead, Dorothy Fasola was well-known as the Fiat-driving seafood exporter who drove a hard bargain. But the widowed businesswoman had a secret life: as the alleged mastermind of an audacious jewellery theft in Tokyo, and as an armed robber and counterfeiter on the run from Italian justice.
Yesterday, after more than a year fighting to remain in Britain, Fasola was told she was being sent back to Italy to serve the rest of a 12-year sentence for stealing jewellery and faking US banknotes. At a short hearing at Edinburgh sheriff court, she was taken down in handcuffs after Sheriff Douglas Allan upheld two European arrest warrants issued by Italian prosecutors.
She now faces nearly five years in a Milanese jail, but in the background lies a more dramatic case. Fasola, 57, has been named by Serbian prosecutors as architect of a conspiracy to steal £20m of jewels from the Le Supre-Diamant Couture De Maki shop in the Ginza district of Tokyo, including a necklace studded with 116 diamonds, known as the Comtesse de Vendôme, alone worth £17m.
None of the jewels has been recovered and Fasola, who evaded photographers outside court yesterday by covering her face with her scarf, denies involvement in the raid. But in Belgrade last Friday, the trial began of three Serbians accused of carrying out the theft on March 5 2004, and named in the court papers was the Italian-speaking businesswoman from Aberdeen.
The special prosecutor for organised crime in Belgrade accused Fasola of organising the robbery and, with her female co-accused Snezana Panajotivic, acting as a lookout from a cafe. Their male accomplices, Djordjije Rasovic and Aleksandar Radulovic, allegedly attacked the shop's staff with pepper spray and, after smashing through reinforced display cases, stole the Comtesse de Vendôme and 20 other pieces, including a diamond ring valued at £1m.
The two men allegedly fled on motorcycles before meeting Fasola and Panajotivic and - travelling as two separate couples - flying on fake Croatian and Czech passports to Paris, where they and the jewels disappeared. In 2005, Japanese police papers alleged Fasola had recruited the gang, after she was caught on CCTV cameras allegedly scouting out jewellery shops in the Japanese capital days before the theft.
"Serbian members of the gang were in charge of the dirty jobs, but the real person behind the whole operation was Fasola," said a Serbian prosecutor's spokesman in 2005. "She was very good at covering her tracks ... It was only thanks to security cameras that Japanese police have been able to trace her and to figure out the identity of the mysterious lady."
Fasola, who comes from a family of publicans, has never been charged. In a police search of her ivy-clad home in the Aberdeen suburb of Bucksburn by Grampian and Japanese detectives in 2004, officers seized a mobile phone and computer, but failed to find convincing evidence against her.
Fasola's lawyers said yesterday she was expected to appeal against deportation. They insist it is "unjust and oppressive" to extradite her, given she was convicted in her absence - a practice illegal in Britain - for "historic" offences dating back nearly 20 years.
After she moved to Italy in 1975 with her new husband, Luigi, who died in 1985, the couple allegedly peddled stolen jewellery on an Italian cable TV shopping channel. Two women claimed rings modelled on air by Fasola had been stolen from them - on one occasion by someone posing as a nun. In December 1983, their home was raided and police seized jewels and antiques. Neither was charged at the time.
In the late 1980s, Fasola was among 10 people arrested for counterfeiting $100 bills. In June 1989, a warehouse in Milan was raided by police as a printing press noisily churned out fake notes. A police source said at the time: "She is a very clever woman and played a key role but was always careful to stay just on the margins." Again, she escaped prosecution.
But in 1991, after she had taken over a jeweller's in Milan, she was arrested again. That March, she co-ordinated a gang which faked a robbery at the New Oroitalia jewellery workshop with the knowledge of the owner, who made a false insurance claim, saying 660kg of gold had been stolen.
One of the gang, Vincenzo Mannino, turned informer and said a "40-year-old Scottish beautiful woman" named Doris organised the theft and fraud. She was prosecuted and sentenced to five years. She appealed and was released early and then - while facing a further trial for allegedly using false credit cards - fled Italy. In her absence, a Milan court sentenced her to 12 years and two months for the armed robberies and counterfeiting - which, under the Italian system of granting amnesties or cutting sentences when a new president takes office, has been cut to four years, seven months.
Backstory: A career in fakery, fraud - and fish
Born in 1949 in Aberdeenshire, Dorothy May was the eldest daughter of a publican, Alexander Shirreffs, and his wife, Dorothy. She had two younger sisters, Sandie and Deborah, and a brother, Alex.
She left Aberdeen in 1970, aged 21, to work as a travel guide in Spain where she met a visiting Italian, Luigi Fasola. In 1975, the couple married and moved to Milan, where she was accused of involvement in jewellery robberies, an insurance fraud and of faking $100 banknotes. In 1998, she was sentenced to four years for robbery and was convicted twice, in 1995 and 2001, of counterfeiting currency.
Widowed in 1985, she arrived in Scotland with her daughter, Elena, in 2001 to set up a seafood export business in Peterhead, shipping salmon and shellfish to Italy and Serbia. Prosecutors in Milan allege she fled to avoid jail. In April 2006, after allegations about her alleged role in a £20m jewellery theft in Tokyo in 2004, Milan prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant linked to her conviction in absentia for setting up a fake gold bullion robbery. Further warrants were issued in November 2006 for the alleged counterfeiting.
She appeared in Edinburgh sheriff court to face extradition proceedings in June 2006. She is expected to appeal against extradition.
Jewish art dealers' heirs claim 227 paintings from the Netherlands
The legal heirs of the late Jewish art dealer Nathan Katz have filed a claim against Dutch museums for the return of 227 paintings which the Dutch State has permanently loaned to national museums.
On Friday, the Dutch Art Collections Institute (ICN) confirmed it had sent a confidential letter about the claim to the museums involved.
ICN controls all paintings that came into the possession of the Dutch state after World War II.
Among the paintings currently being claimed are seven works now on display in the Museum De Lakenhal and five from the Frans Hals Musuem in Haarlem.
It concerns prestigious works of art by painters Gerrit Dou, Nicolaes Berchem and Jacob Ruysdael amongst others.
On Friday, Education, Media and Culture Minister, Ronald Plasterk, requested advice about the Katz claim from the Dutch Restitution Committee.
This committee deals with works of art stolen during or immediately after World War II. The investigation will probably last several months.
The collection came into the possession of the Netherlands after the Dutch state took the paintings from Germany in 1945.
The paintings had been taken to Germany in 1940 when art dealer Nathan Katz was forced to sell a large collection of paintings to Alois Miedl, who was responsible for building an art collection for Adolf Hitler's Fuehrer Museum.
In 1945, the Dutch Art Collection Foundation, SNK, was asked to look after the paintings and if possible return them to their legal heirs.
Katz, who had fled to Switzerland in 1941 and survived the war, also filed a claim for the return of his paintings. But SNK rejected the claim, saying it was unfounded.
It is the second time the heirs of a Jewish art dealer have filed a claim to the Dutch state concerning such a collection of art.
In 2006, the Netherlands returned 202 paintings repossessed by the Dutch state after the Nazis took them from the late Jewish art dealer Nathan Goudstikker.
The decision to return the paintings came after several years of legal proceedings against the Dutch state by the Goudstikker heirs, during which both sides lost and appealed their cases.
The decision to return a substantial amount of the total number of paintings claimed by the Goudstikker heirs was ultimately a political one.
In what was clearly an attempt to prevent others from making new claims on works of art unilaterally taken by the Dutch in 1945, the Dutch government stressed in 2006 that the Goudstikker heirs did not have any legal right to the paintings.
The decision to return the paintings was made on moral grounds only, government officials added.
Macau Casino Mogul Buys Stolen Relic,
Way To Go, Stanley Ho !!
A Bronze Horse Head made for the zodiac fountain of the Summer Palace during the Qing dynasty is displayed during a press preview in Hong Kong in this Sept. 5, 2007 file photo. Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho has paid US$8.9 million for a bronze horse head stolen by French troops 147 years ago from China's imperial palace, auction house Sotheby's announced. The horse head was originally scheduled for auction Oct. 9 by its previous Taiwanese owner, but Ho pre-empted the sale with his offer, Sotheby's said in a statement seen Friday, Sept. 21, 2007. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
By MIN LEE – 17 hours ago
HONG KONG (AP) — Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho has paid $8.9 million for a bronze horse head stolen by French troops 147 years ago from China's imperial palace and plans to donate it to a Chinese museum, Sotheby's auction house and a spokeswoman for Ho's company said.
The piece is one of 12 animal heads from the Chinese zodiac that formed part of an elaborate water clock fountain designed by Jesuit missionaries. The 12 heads marked time by spouting water.
The horse head was originally scheduled for auction Oct. 9 by its previous Taiwanese owner, but Ho pre-empted the sale with his offer, Sotheby's said in a statement issued Thursday.
"With this move, I hope to encourage more people to take part in preserving Chinese artifacts and to promote patriotism and nationalism," Ho was quoted as saying in the statement.
The Chinese government says the 12 heads were looted by British and French troops during the second Opium War in 1860 from Beijing's Yuan Ming Yuan, also known as the Old Summer Palace.
French soldiers took the horse head back to France where it was sold in the early 1860s. The piece resurfaced in 1989 when the Taiwanese collector bought it.
Ho is best known for his casino monopoly in the southern Chinese gambling enclave Macau. The Macau government ended his monopoly in 2002 and he now faces competition from Las Vegas casino operators.
Sotheby's said Ho will display the horse head at a Sotheby's auction preview in Hong Kong Oct. 4-8, then move it to his Grand Lisboa casino in Macau on Oct. 9. Janet Wong, a spokeswoman for Ho's company, Shun Tak Holdings, said Friday that Ho plans to eventually donate the bronze head to a Chinese museum but hasn't decided which one.
The $8.9 million price tag was in line with Sotheby's sale estimate. The unidentified Taiwanese collector originally paid $400,000 for the bronze relic in 1989 at a Sotheby's auction in London, Sotheby's said.
China's State Administration of Cultural Relics said it "highly praises and sincerely thanks Mr. Ho's patriotic move," the statement said.
Only seven of the 12 animal heads from the fountain have been located.
The Poly Art Museum in Beijing houses the tiger, monkey, ox and boar heads, while the rabbit and rat are part of a private European collection. The Chinese government has previously spent more than $4 million to buy back three of the heads — the tiger, ox and monkey — at auctions.
Art Hostage comments:
She was only the Fishmongers daughter, but she knew how to Fillet !!
Stanley Ho, you are a gentleman and a man of honour, ironic it is a Horses Head, not found in the bed !!
Art Hostage finds commenting on this disgusting story of profit before humanity revolting so will let others comment on Dutch culpability.
Give back the Nathan Katz art collection forthwith, you will be forced to in the future, so to save time, money and exposure of Dutch culpability, do it now, it is the decent, moral thing.
Still not convinced?
Read on to help clarify the Dutch position.
THE DUTCH, THE GERMANS, & THE JEWS.(Dutch-Nazi collaboration)
Jan Herman Brinks examines the Dutch myth of resistance and finds collaboration with the Nazis went right to the top.
Careful readers of the compelling diary of Anne Frank might notice that her hiding place was betrayed to the Nazis by Dutch neighbours, without drawing wider conclusions about the behaviour of Dutch people during the occupation by the Third Reich.
In the light of recent revelations of Dutch complicity in the acquisition of Jewish money, artworks and other treasure by the Nazis, contemporary Dutch historians are engaged in a wholesale revision of the ... for the rest of this essay see below:
WARTIME AND POSTWAR DUTCH ATTITUDES TOWARD THE JEWS: MYTH AND TRUTH
Why Were So Many Dutch Jews Killed? / Eichmann's Pleasure / Feeding the Myth: The Anne Frank Story / Coldness and Abuse of Power / A New Museum of Dutch War Failures? / The Postwar Issue Revived / The Commissions of Inquiry / The Scholten Commission's Abuse of Confidence / Twelve Billion Dollars Not Returned? / Dutch Co-responsibility for the Jewish Fate? / Obtaining a Seal of Approval from the Jews / Paying as Little as Possible / An Israeli Aspect
The myth that the great majority of the Dutch people had a highly positive attitude toward the Jews during World War II, identified with their suffering, and took risks to help them has gradually been unmasked in The Netherlands itself over the past decades. The historian Nanda van der Zee summed this up in 1997: "The vain national self-image of the most tolerant people on earth, which had assisted its Jewish fellow-citizens so 'charitably,' was corroded in the 1960s when another generation born after the war started to ask questions."
Israeli historian Joel Fishman has also refuted a follow-up myth. He has referred to the treatment of the Dutch Jews in the postwar years by the country's democratically chosen government. The internationally known Dutch political scientist Arent Lijphart wrote that Holland "has no minorities that are disfranchised, deprived of their civil liberties, or subject to systematic discrimination." Fishman has retorted that Lijphart's statement could only be true if "the Jews in The Netherlands counted for absolutely nothing, and their history was of no consequence."
Internationally, the benign Dutch war image has held on for over fifty years. In its introduction to The Netherlands, the 1999 Jewish Chronicle Travel Guide still writes: "the Germans transported 100,000 [Jews] to death camps in Poland, but the local population tended to behave sympathetically towards their Jewish neighbors, hiding many."
Israel, where at least the authorities should know better, is no exception. One former Israeli ambassador to The Netherlands told this author that he regularly corrected draft speeches of visiting high-ranking Israeli politicians, to prevent them from thanking theDutch for their "extraordinary efforts" for the Jews during World War II without mentioning the substantial collaboration with the Nazis.
There were no extermination camps in The Netherlands, and the Dutch did not actively participate in the killing of Jews. The mass atrocities, for which Germany and so many other European nations supplied willing executors, did not take place on Dutch soil. Few people, however, would consider this itself a sign of great humanity.
Why Were So Many Dutch Jews Killed?
The percentage of Jews from The Netherlands murdered by the Germans and their associates in World War II was higher than in any other Western European country. There were approximately 140,000 Jews in The Netherlands at the outbreak of the war, representing 1.6 percent of the Dutch population, though in Amsterdam they comprised as much as 9.5 percent of the city's population. Some 107,000 Jews were deported from The Netherlands, of whom 102,000 were murdered. Most of the remainder went into hiding, were married to non-Jews and thus freed from deportation, or fled abroad.
Several explanations have been given for this high percentage of Dutch Jews killed. Before The Netherlands capitulated five days after the German invasion in May 1940, Queen Wilhelmina and most members of the Dutch government fled to England. The Germans had initially intended to install a military government, but in the legal vacuum resulting from the flight, Hitler saw the opportunity to insert a civil Nazi government almost immediately.
The head of the Reich's civil government for The Netherlands, the Austrian Nazi leader Dr. A. Seyss-Inquart, reported directly to Hitler. Seyss-Inquart brought with him several other Austrians who later were to show their efficiency, inter alia, in administering the looting and deportation of the Jews. The historian Jozeph Michman, former chairman of the Jerusalem-based Center for Research on Dutch Jewry, suggests that another reason for the high impact of the Holocaust in The Netherlands is that Hitler had special designs on the country and wanted to make it part of the Reich after the war.
Since The Netherlands was well-administered and well-documented, it was relatively easy to round up the Jews. Orders were given by the occupiers and executed by the Dutch authorities. Yet another reason sometimes given for the high Jewish death-toll is that The Netherlands is a small and flat country in which it is more difficult to hide than in Belgium or France. This is a weak argument since, in the later war years, many hiding places were found for Dutch workers who had been called up for labor service in Germany.
After the flight of the Queen and the government, the highest remaining authorities in The Netherlands were the secretaries-general of the ministries, the senior ranking civil servants. These officials--in an inferior position vis-a-vis the German occupiers--were out of their depth, and helped to put the Dutch bureaucratic and institutional apparatus at the disposal of the occupiers. This greatly facilitated the deportation of the Dutch Jews after their property had been systematically looted.
In their preparations for the extermination of the Jews living in The Netherlands, the Germans could count on the assistance of the greater part of the Dutch administrative infrastructure. The occupiers had to employ only a relatively limited number of their own. Dutch policemen rounded up the families to be sent to their deaths in Eastern Europe. Trains of the Dutch railways staffed by Dutch employees transported the Jews to camps in The Netherlands which were transit points to Auschwitz, Sobibor, and other death camps. Van der Zee writes that with respect to Dutch collaboration, Eichmann later said "The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see."
Well before the deportations, the systematic looting of Jewish properties had begun. For instance, on German orders, the Dutch banks sent out forms to Jewish clients enabling the transfer of their deposits to LIRO, the "looting bank" instituted by the Germans to expropriate money from the Jews. Many Amsterdam stock market traders made good profits on the sale of shares and bonds taken from the Jews.
Other respectable Dutch citizens just "accommodated" themselves. Jacques Presser, a Jewish historian who wrote the official history of the persecution of Dutch Jewry during World War II, was interviewed shortly before his death in 1970 by filmmaker Philo Bregstein. Presser said that when he was dismissed as a high school teacher during the war, what affected him even more than the dismissal was the name of the person who had signed the dismissal letter: "That was a man who then and years after the war--I believe even justifiably so--had a reputation of total rectitude. I could only relate it to my general situation as a Jew, and was aware that, within the context of the interests at play, I was a dispensable piece of small change."
Feeding the Myth: The Anne Frank Story
The myth of the exceptionally benign Dutch attitude feeds on several motifs. One is the February 1941 solidarity strike in Amsterdam and a few other cities; the other is the Anne Frank story. Her diary is widely read throughout the world. The house in Amsterdam where she was hidden occupies a respectable place among Europe's most visited museums. The way in which she is remembered focuses on the courage of those who took risks to hide her. Her diary statement that she believed in the good of man is widely quoted. Society prefers to remember noble individuals rather than traitors.
The one-sided Dutch "resistance image" was heavily propagated in the postwar period. It conveniently ignored the fact that the vast majority of the nation accommodated itself to circumstances. The traumatized and impoverished remnants of Dutch Jewry were in no political or personal position to fight this distortion of history. They had to start from scratch to build up a new existence and, to keep their sanity, they had to look to the future. Some of the survivors were ill. After the Holocaust, many did not want to identify with the community. Furthermore, those who had been hidden during the war had mainly seen the better side of the Dutch. The majority, who had experienced a more representative truth, were no longer alive.
Nor was the Dutch Jewish community in those and later years an equal partner in negotiations with the Dutch government. The country's bureaucracy did not facilitate the fight of this community and its individuals to regain their property. Immoral application of Dutch inheritance tax laws enabled the state to appropriate a substantial part of the assets of those who did not return.
Coldness and Abuse of Power
The immediate postwar attitude of the Dutch government reflected a coldness and abuse of power against this vulnerable community in many other areas. The remnants also had to fight an uphill battle to return Jewish war orphans to family members or Jewish institutions. The government commission appointed to decide on these cases was stacked not only with Christians, who had their own agenda, but also with baptized and assimilated Jews. In another example of Dutch insensitivity, for several months after the war a number of stateless Jews of German origin were locked up in the same camps as Nazis and their collaborators.
Michman told this author two stories which he had heard first-hand from those involved, and which illustrate that Dutch postwar authorities were well aware of discrimination against the Jews. Joop Voet, later Dutch honorary consul in Tel Aviv, worked at the Beheersinstituut, the government body which acted as custodian of the property of enemies as well as of missing persons, nearly all of them Jews. Voet was often told there that "legal restitution to the Jews would be in conflict with the postwar economic reconstruction of The Netherlands."
The other story concerns a visit to postwar Dutch Prime Minister Schermerhorn, a member of the Dutch Labor party, by one of his former school colleagues who lived in Mandatory Palestine. Also present was Karel Hartog, then secretary of the executive of the NZB, the Dutch Zionist organization. Hartog later reported on the visit to his organization's executive, of which Michman was a member. The prime minister had told them that they could not expect him as a socialist to help restore money to Jewish capitalists.
A New Museum of Dutch War Failures?
The time has come to provide a more balanced view of Dutch behavior during World War II. One could imagine the construction of a "Museum of Dutch War Failures" next to the Anne Frank house, to be visited with the same ticket. One major exhibit could be about Anne Frank's belief in man's goodness, in contrast to her latter experiences when one or more Dutch betrayed her and she died in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.
Other exhibits could show pictures of individual Dutch collaborators who betrayed Jews and sent them to their deaths in exchange for a reward which, even if inflation-corrected, comes to less than twenty dollars in today's terms. Yet another exhibit could include pictures of the majority of the members of the Dutch High Court of Justice who, in the early days of the occupation, did not consider the German-imposed removal of non-Aryans, i.e., Jews, from Dutch official life to contradict the country's constitution. With this decision, they supported the removal from office of Court President L.E. Visser, who was Jewish.
The number of Dutch Nazi collaborators during World War II exceeded the number of those active in the resistance, even if one does not include in the first category the unknown number of those who stole Jewish property. Many cases are known of Jews who hid their possessions during the war with non-Jewish acquaintances and neighbors, who then denied any knowledge of this when the Jews returned after the war.
It is also not widely known that--relative to its population--The Netherlands had the highest number of Waffen SS volunteers in Western Europe. Giving these facts as much attention as the hiding of Anne Frank would help to balance the international perception of Dutch attitudes during World War II.
The Postwar Issue Revived
In postwar Netherlands, considerable attention has been given to documenting the war's history. After the war a special institute was established for this purpose and continues to carry out research, known today as NIOD, The Netherlands Institute of War Documentation. However, the attention paid to the immediate postwar period was very limited. Throughout the decades, only a few writers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have mentioned that, overall, the returning Jews were less than welcome in many places in The Netherlands, that Jews had been discriminated against in postwar restitution cases, and that there were expressions of anti-Semitism both by the Dutch government and in Dutch society.
Yet a change is now taking place. In recent years, there has been an intensified international debate on the fate of Jewish property during and after the war. This debate has also touched The Netherlands, where some new facts have been discovered that have helped bring this issue into the limelight. One involves Dutch government employees in charge of the restitution of looted Jewish property who, in 1968, auctioned off some remnants of it among themselves at ridiculously low prices. Another involves the accidental discovery of part of the LIRO archive in an Amsterdam building which once belonged to the Ministry of Finance.
The previous Dutch government realized that major damage to the country's image could occur if fragments of negative information on Dutch behavior during and after the war kept being exposed in the international media. The excessively positive image of the Dutch during World War II could rapidly switch to a negative one. The recent Swiss experience has shown how individual pieces of bad news can rekindle a publicity storm time after time.
In one ironic twist of fate, until recently, a painting from a "contested" prewar Jewish collection was found to have been hanging, until recently, in the Dutch ambassador's residence in Israel. After the Dutch authorities had already ordered it to be removed, the story was published in Israeli newspapers. The more the investigations continue, the more negative information will be revealed.
Books and newspaper articles continue to report additional stories which further erode the myth of Dutch behavior during the war. In the recently published book Dienaren van het Gezag (Servants of Authority), historian Guus Meershoek analyzes the attitude of the Amsterdam police during the war. Among many examples of misbehavior, he mentions how on one occasion Dutch policemen entered a Jewish cafe, searched the people there, took away the jewels they found which the Jews--according to German orders--should have handed over to LIRO, noted them in the police records as found objects, and then distributed them among themselves.
The Commissions of Inquiry
The Dutch government thus decided that it should become pro-active on this issue. In 1997 it instituted four commissions of inquiry to investigate the looting of Jewish property during the war and restitution afterwards. Furthermore, a body called SOTO, headed by historian Conny Kristel, a NIOD employee, was established to assess the postwar treatment of returnees. Although SOTO does not deal exclusively with Jews, they are its main concern.
Some commission reports have already been published. The Kordes Commission, which dealt with the LIRO bank, demonstrated in its final report an understanding of how cold the treatment of the remaining Jews by Dutch postwar governments had been, and recommended that payments now be made to the Jews for several wrongs. One of these involved the fact that the Dutch government did not return most of the taxes taken, without the knowledge of the owners, from looted Jewish accounts during World War II by Dutch tax authorities, including for years after the account owners had been gassed.
One major objection to the Kordes Commission's conclusions concerns their opinion that it was correct to apply the Dutch inheritance tax laws to the fortunes of the murdered Jews. This subject could become an academic case study. It is a paradigm of how a normal law in a democratic country can become a perverse tool if applied in an extreme situation, particularly against a politically weak community. The Dutch government instituted its inheritance tax laws for a normal society in which the vast majority of people die a natural death. It then used these laws to appropriate money from the estates of a community which it had been unable to protect, 75 percent of whom were murdered over a two- to three-year period.
The Scholten Commission's Abuse of Confidence
Another government commission of inquiry, the Scholten Commission, has come under major criticism. Most of the commission members are former board members of banks or insurance companies; thus they can hardly be considered impartial and fit to supervise an independent inquiry into institutions from which they have received money in the past.
The report of this government-appointed commission was paid for by the institutions it investigated, which undermines its value. Only a minority of the institutions approached agreed to cooperate with the commission's researchers. Thus, the first report from the Scholten Commission was methodologically flawed, as has been pointed out in reactions to it.
Detailed critical comments on this report were also made by the CJO, the central Jewish consultation body which encompasses the main organizations of the Dutch Jewish community. It charged the Scholten Commission with "abuse of their confidence," a particularly radical statement for the very prudent representatives of Dutch Jewry.
The historian Isaac Lipschits, one of the first authors to draw attention, decades ago, to postwar discrimination against Dutch Jews, told this author of yet another shortcoming of the commission's researchers. He visited one of the banks that was willing to cooperate, where he was very well received by its archivist and given a detailed file on the safe-deposit boxes of Jews which had been broken open--on German orders--during the war. The archivist told Lipschits that the researchers of the Scholten Commission had been told about these files but had shown no interest in them.
Twelve Billion Dollars Not Returned?
It remains unclear how much was looted from Dutch Jews during the war and what percentage was restored afterwards. The Van Kemenade inquiry commission is expected to publish an estimate at the end of 1999. The local branch of the international KPMG auditing firm was hired to develop these figures.
In Spring 1999, the historian Gerard Aalders, a NIOD employee, published the book Roof (Looting), on the expropriation of Dutch Jewish property during World War II. The numbers he suggests remain the subject of debate. Lipschits believes Aalders' estimates are far too low, and that the amount may be close to 2.5 billion guilders at that time, of which less than 50 percent was returned after the war.
Based on Lipschits' rough estimates, and multiplying what was not returned by a factor of at least 20, to compensate for inflation and interest over 50 years, one reaches a figure of about 25 billion guilders, or twelve billion dollars at 1999 values.
The Dutch government is obviously responsible for what happened with regard to the restitution of Jewish property after World War II. Aalders, who gave a lecture at an international symposium organized by the Center for Research on Dutch Jewry in November 1998 in Jerusalem, was heavily criticized by the public for focusing on the question of whether the postwar restitution laws were correctly applied, rather than emphasizing their morally doubtful character.
Aalders published an article quite similar to his lecture in the main Netherlands daily NRC Handelsblad in which he described what had occurred after World War II: "For the robbed Jews who had been harder hit than any other group, no extra provisions were made. A public discussion as to whether that was desirable or not has never been held."
Dutch Co-responsibility for the Jewish Fate?
A more complex matter is the extent of Dutch government responsibility for what happened to the Dutch Jews during the war. One aspect of this concerns the flight of the government and the Queen to London and its constitutional impact. Another is the quality of the contingency plans left behind. Nor did the government in exile give clear instructions as to how the Dutch civil servants should behave when the Jews were isolated, looted, and transported to their death, while they did so on the occasion of other deportations. Queen Wilhelmina mentioned the suffering of her Jewish subjects only three times in her radio speeches to the Dutch people during five years of exile.
The issue is not that the Dutch officials under the occupation served the Germans and few of them were heroes. The issue is much more that the present Dutch government cannot claim that its wartime predecessors in exile did their utmost to provide clear instructions to the Dutch authorities under occupation as to how to behave on matters of discrimination against the Jews, making possible the accusation of their co-responsibility for the fate of the Dutch Jews in the war. For example, the Dutch police was a body meant to arrest criminals. However, it also systematically arrested innocent Jewish citizens on German orders. Can later Dutch governments be exempt from legal responsibility for those actions?
In 1998, Avraham Roet, an Israeli businessman of Dutch origin, founded the Israel Institute for Research on Dutch Jewish Assets Lost during the Holocaust, which has become a source of information for those seeking documentation in this field. Roet recently made public a letter sent to him by a well-known Amsterdam law firm in which one of the senior partners writes: "certainly morally, and arguably legally, the Kingdom is responsible for what happened to its subjects that it could not protect during the Nazi occupation."
Today, the Dutch government has a difficult task before it: it must manage a politically hot issue with both financial and image risks. One of its goals must be to avoid trouble with the world Jewish community. It has seen how the Swiss state and its institutions have experienced worldwide criticism from the media, boycotts by some American institutions, and problems with the American justice system.
The Dutch government is well aware that similar actions could be taken against major Dutch banking interests in the United States. For instance, the financial damage that class action suits could cause might far exceed the amounts the Dutch government intends to pay the Jewish community.
The Dutch government is clearly aware of the dangers. According to the Volkskrant daily, in a highly unusual step, the Dutch government has paid over $100,000 to Hill & Knowlton, a leading American public relations firm, to deal with issues concerning its restitution policies in the American media. The Dutch government justified its decision by stating that there had been reports in the media that the Dutch had not been diligent enough after the war in returning looted art, brought back from Germany, to its rightful owners.
Obtaining a Seal of Approval from the Jews
One of the Dutch government's major political goals, in its quest for damage-control, is to obtain recognition that, while its predecessors may have failed, it is now acting reasonably under the circumstances. The only people who can give this seal of approval--we might call it "a kashrut stamp"--are the Jews. From the Dutch government's point of view, it is unfortunate that there are so many potential Jewish counterparts. From the Jewish side, this may be an advantage. If the results of the negotiations are not satisfactory, there will be so much criticism of the negotiators from other Dutch Jewish interests that any such approval would become ineffectual.
Ideally, the present Dutch government would like to receive testimony of good conduct from the representatives of all Dutch Jews around the world. This is impossible. The government will thus, at best, have to make do with certification by the leading bodies of Dutch Jewry and Jews in Israel of Dutch origin.
In The Netherlands, the main Jewish body involved in these matters is the CJO, though its claim to exclusive representation is contested by some smaller organizations. In Israel the various organizations of Jews of Dutch origin have created an umbrella body, "Platform Israel." However, the thousands of Dutch Jews who emigrated to North America after World War II are not organized.
Another aim of the Dutch government must be to reach a generally accepted historical truth about the systematic looting of Dutch Jewry during World War II and the question of restitution thereafter. From the government's point of view, the best solution would be if the Dutch Jewish community would accept the validity of the conclusions reached by the government inquiry commissions.
After what has been published so far by the Kordes and particularly the Scholten Commissions, however, this would be a major historical and political mistake. The Jewish representatives should focus on the financial side of the negotiations, and leave the political and historical aspects to be judged by future generations. At least some of the Dutch Jewish leaders are aware of this. One said to this author, "We have to avoid falsifying history in exchange for money."
Paying as Little as Possible
There are indications that the Dutch government has at least one more aim: to pay as little money as possible to the Dutch Jewish community. The negotiations potentially could become very one-sided. The government is very powerful with a huge infrastructure and almost unlimited means. The CJO and Platform Israel represent small communities with limited organizational structures and few human resources.
On the other hand, the Jewish representatives have a few cards to play. The Dutch government must wish to avoid the involvement in the negotiations of international Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress. These organizations are not dependent on the Dutch government, their financial claims will exceed those of the Dutch Jewish community, and they may even desire some additional international media exposure. These are excellent reasons for the Dutch government to try to keep world Jewry out of the negotiations.
Against this background, statements appear in the Dutch media which remind one of anti-Semitic stereotypes, for example, that Jews are money hungry. Some Dutch officials claim that the Jewish community should primarily aim "for recognition and not for money."
This led Hans Vuijsje, director of JMW, the Dutch Organization for Jewish Social Work, to write to one of these officials: "The statement that we should not talk about money but about 'recognition' is seen in our circles as chutzpah, cheek. It is the opposite of the facts. It is not the Jews talking all the time about money, but Dutch society. The question about 'recognition' is: for what? Not recognition as war victims, that has already been given [but]...recognition that the possessions of the Jews have been handled in a careless way."
An Israeli Aspect
One specifically Israeli aspect of the debate is that The Netherlands has heavily criticized Israeli policies on many occasions over the past decades, mainly within the framework of the European Union. These one-sided criticisms have often been dressed in the cloak of morality. It is obvious that they have been highly politically motivated, because there has been much less European criticism of murderous Arab dictatorships.
The studies of the Dutch government's own commissions of inquiry strengthen what was known before, that democratically elected Dutch governments and several major institutions behaved immorally toward the Dutch Jews when this was profitable. The further research of the inquiry commissions will demonstrate consistent moral failures of a series of Dutch governments.
These can be used as a powerful argument against the Dutch government when the European Union tries to put pressure on Israel in the forthcoming peace negotiations. A nation that has frequently exercised discrimination against a weak minority should concentrate, in the future, on its own shortcomings before criticizing other nations.
The debate on this issue will undoubtedly heat up in the near future when further commission reports are published and negotiations begin with the Dutch government on what will be returned to the Jews. At present it seems quite probable that the work of the commissions of inquiry and SOTO will not accomplish what the Dutch government wants. They will not mark the end of the investigations of how the Dutch government and society treated the Jews in the postwar years, but rather may well signify their beginning.
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Manfred Gerstenfeld is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is an international consultant specializing in business and environmental strategy to the senior ranks of multinational corporations. His books include Israel's New Future: Interviews (JCPA and Rubin Mass, 1994), and Judaism, Environmentalism and the Environment (Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and Rubin Mass, 1998). An abbreviated version of this Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints was presented at a symposium on Dutch Jewish War Claims organized by Platform Israel in July 1999 in Tel Aviv.
Anyone still believe that this claim for the return of the Nathan Katz art collection is invalid ?