September 29, 2005

Dutch railway firm apologizes for deporting Jews

By Anna Mudeva

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Sixty years after the end of World
War II, the Dutch national railway company apologized on
Thursday for its role in deporting thousands of Jews to Nazi
concentration camps.

Aad Veenman, chief executive of Nederlandse Spoorwegen
(NS), acknowledged for the first time that his firm had
collaborated with Nazi occupiers by deporting 107,000 Dutch
Jews -- 70 percent of the country's Jewish community -- to
death camps in Germany and Poland.

"On behalf of the company and from the bottom of my heart,
I sincerely apologize for what happened during the war,"
Veenman said at a ceremony that launched an anti-racism poster
campaign across 66 Dutch railway stations.

The apology, which comes at a time of increasing religious
and racial tension in the Netherlands, was made at Muiderpoort
station in Amsterdam, from where 11,000 Jews were deported.

One poster read: "Previously, the train to Auschwitz left
from here. When will the world become wiser?"

Another said: "In 1940-45, the Jews had to go. Who is
next... Isn't the hatred reviving?"

Last year's murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh, known
for his outspoken criticism of Islam, sparked a wave of attacks
on mosques, religious schools and churches in a country once
renowned for its tolerance.

The NS decided to apologize and acknowledge its role in the
Holocaust -- a difficult subject it avoided for decades --
after the Netherlands' main Jewish organization, CJO, proposed
the poster campaign.

"The idea is to warn against indifference," said CJO member
Ronny Naftaniel. "During the Second World War thousands of Jews
were deported with the help of railway workers. They knew what
they were doing but kept going on."

"We believe it's really important to warn against
indifference especially after seeing increasing racism and
anti-Semitism in Europe and the rest of the world today."

The Netherlands is still troubled by guilt over the wartime
Nazi collaboration of its authorities and deportation of all
but a fraction of its Jewish population, as well as hundreds of
Gypsies and homosexuals.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
strongly condemned complicity in the Holocaust, saying the
Netherlands had failed to show much compassion when Jews who
survived death camps returned. The government apologized for
that in 2000.

But Holocaust survivors say the apologies come too late.

"We have to accept them, although it's a bit too late,"
said Bloeme Evers Emden, who was deported from Rotterdam to
Auschwitz by NS trains when she was 17.

"I fear that there is no lesson (from the Holocaust)
because anti-Semitism is rising in Europe and even in the rest
of the world. But maybe people who are traveling with NS will
read the posters and think about it," Emden, 79, said at the