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January 20, 1984 - Image 80

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-01-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

80 Friday, January 20, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

History and Art Are Linked in Dutch Jewish Record

(Continued from Page 32)
orders, the Yellow Badge
was imposed on Jews, but in
the course of time, religious
freedom predominated and
the Dutch Jewish experi-
ence is depicted apprecia-
tively in "Memorbook."
The voluminous trac-
ing of Dutch Jewish re-
cords in this volume
takes into account the
Dark Middle Ages and
soon teaches the Golden
Age froni which began
the civilized treatments
and the excellent
neighborly relations be-
tween Jews and Chris-
tians.
The numerous cities in
which Jews found havens
and gradually attained
their right to trading and to
religious freedom have
thorough analyses here. A
chapter entitled "The
Jewish Nation Becomes the
Dutch Israelitic Congrega-
tion" is an especially fas-
cinating recording of free-
doms attained and
gradually enforced com-
mencing with the year
1795.
While Amsterdam is not-
able in these records, the
many small communities
and their Jewish residents,
interestingly depicted, pro-
vide totality for the Nether-
lands Jewish story.
Most tragic in the Gans
volume is the period of Nazi
occupation and the mass
murder of Jews. The chap-
ter entitled "1933 to 1940:
the Writing on the Wall"
describes the savagry. It is
a story of submissions and
also of the resistance, and
among the most moving
episodes which add to the
glory of people who refused
to bend their backs to tyr-
ants in this quotation from
this moving chapter in the
history of Nazi-era Jewry:

"In the neutral Nether-
lands of 1939, Justice
Ernst Visser, president of
the High Court, declared

over the radio that if the
Netherlands were at-
tacked 'the Dutch people
will have clean hands.'
On 10 May 1940, the day
of the German assault, he
appeared in the High Court
in full robes, and opened the
session with an address in
which he spoke of 'murder'
and 'a treacherous attack.'
Towards the end of Novem-
ber 1940, he was dismissed,
together with other Jewish
state officials.
"It does not redound to the
credit of the Netherlands
that the High Court should
have allowed 'its Jewish
president to be forced from
office by the invader as an
inferior Dutchman instead
of putting up open resis-
tance to this break of one of
the most fundamental prin-
ciples of our Dutch system of
law and drawing the correct
personal consequences from
it.'
"And this brings to the
crux of all the problems the
occupation raised. Quite a
few of them may strike us as
trivial compared with the
mass murders, but in fact
they were not. One of the
many whose deeds in those
years can be weighed and
not be found wanting and
who have earned a place of
honor in Dutch history, was
L.E. Visser.
"On 6 April 1941 he
wrote an official letter in
his capacity as chairman
of the Jewish Co-
ordination Committee to
Messrs. Linthorst,
Homan and de Quay,
leaders of the Neder-
landse Unie, who had
asked the committee to
advise Dutch Jews to re-
sign from the union 'in
the interests of the
Fatherland, because
their presence in our
movement might blunt
the edge of our actions.'
"Mr. Justice Visser
granted that the union had
only made this request 'lest
worse befell,' but not for a
moment was he prepared to

defer to the Germans, and so
he rejected the request out
of hand. He was also a lead-
ing contributor to the illegal
Het Parool, the paper pub-
lished by the Resistance. He
lodged fierce protests
against anti-Jewish meas-
ures with both the German
and the Dutch Secretaries-
General. He refused to take
possession of his identity
card because it bore a 'J' and
thus served to distinguish
one Dutch citizen from an-
other, in violation of the
Constitution.

"Again, when the Nazis
daubed the synagogue in
The Hague and the congre-
gation were wavering over
their next move, Visser,
who had meanwhile taken
over the presidency of the
local Jewish community al-
though he was not a practic-
ing Jew, walked through
The Hague on the Sabbath,
dressed in Sabbath clothes,
prayer book and tallis in
hand, to join his fellow Jews
in the synagogue. Many of
those passing by took off
their hats to him.
"He was a staunch oppo-
nent of the Jewish Council
and wrote a letter to its
presidents, in which he said:
'It is possible that the oc-
cupier will have his way
with us in the end, but it is
our duty as Dutchmen and
as Jews to do everything we
can to thwart him, and to
stop doing anything that
might smooth his path.'
Courageous language by a
true aristocrat! Yet how
many had the chance to act
as he did?
"When Prof. Cohen,
president of the Jewish
Council, informed him on
behalf of the German
Beauftragte (delegate) for
Amsterdam that unless he
curtailed his activities he
would be sent to a concen-
tration camp, L.E. Visser
replied: "I have taken note
of what you say, and am
fully cognizant of the
humiliation this communi-

cation has inflicted on you,
aware as you must be of
what has gone before.'
"That was on 14 February
1942; on 17 February he
died.
"J.A. Polak, son of N.
Polak, one of L.E. Visser's
fellow judges, wrote the fol-
lowing lines on the 80th an-
niversary of Visser's birth:
'In Dutch history, Visser
will live on as one of the
foremost jurists of his day.
In Jewish history, his place
is beside the great biblical
figures and the modern
fighters for the Jewish
homeland. He was a man
who, like Mordecai, did not
bow down before the enemy.
Let us never forget him.'
"If genuine compassion,
moral courage and unas-
suming pride were properly
rewarded in this world, then
L.E. Visser and many,
many others like him would
have earned for Dutch
Jewry a quite different fate.

"Jonas Daniel Meijer
and his contemporaries
were happy to see the
members of the Jewish
nation being made equal
citizens, members of a
religious congregation.
Their optimism was jus-
tified inasmuch as, until
the advent of Hitler, there
was never a serious at-
tempt to deprive Dutch
Jews of their civil rights
— the Dutch tradition of
freedom of faith and
opinion was much too
deeply rooted for that.
"As a result, Dutch Jewry
developed a personality of
its own, and tended to be-
come increasingly isolated
from Jewry at large, L.E.
Visser — even though he
himself was spared the
worst — and his contem-
poraries saw the collapse of
a sanctuary which, accord-
ing to all the rules of Jewish
history, was, in any case,
bound to collapse sooner or
later.
"At a meeting of the
Jewish Youth Federation
shortly before the war, a
speaker mentioned the man
who built his house on ice
and then prayed: Lord,
please let it freeze, or I will
lose my house. But despite
these and similar warnings
Dutch Jewry, the species
hollandica judaica, clung to
its illusions of safety and
moved inexorably to its
doom."

`Memorbook' Is
Art History

"Ashkenazic Jews in 1648," an etching by Rembrandt.

"Memorbook" by Gans is
also a history of art, of Re-
mbrandt and the Israels and
many more. Rembrandt van
Rijn is represented in this
volume in scores of reprod-
uctions of his works with
their indications of his
interest in Jews, their
synagogues, the Bible. The
more than 10 pages of Re-
mbrandt art add to the trea-
sures in this volume. There
is a reference here to an im-
portant chapter in history
referring to Manasseh ben
Israel who played a great
role in the period of Crom-
well and the regaining of
just rights by Jews under

"The Prophet Balaam," a 1626 painting by Rem-
brandt.

him. Manasseh ben Israel
had gone to London in 1655
to argue in support of
Jewish rights.
Under a group photo of
etchings by Rembrandt ap-
pears this explanatory note:
"Rembrandt illustrated
three books only; for the
first two he produced one
engraving each, for the
third, Manasseh Ben Is-
rael's 'Piedra gloriosa de la
estatua de Nebuchadnesar,'
published in Amsterdam in
1655, he made four. That
book started with Daniel's
interpretation of a dream of
Nebuchadnezzar, and went
on to combine the following
elements:
"The stone, which in
Nebuchadnezzar's
dream, 'was cut loose
without human hands'
and 'smote the image.
upon his feet that were of
iron and clay and brake
them to pieces' (Daniel
2:34).
"The stone that served
Jacob for his pillow when he
dreamed of 'a ladder set up
on the earth, and the top of
it reached to heaven'
(Genesis 28:11).
"The stone, with which
David slew the giant
Goliath (I Samuel 17:49).
"Daniel's vision of four
great beasts (the four king-
doms on earth) (Daniel 7:3).
"In Manasseh's view all
the stones mentioned in
these stories were one
and the same, a single
symbol of the Messiah
after whose coming Is-
rael will succeed to the
four kingdoms of Baby-
lon, Persia, Macedonia
and Rome. The etchings
are absent from most
copies of the little book.
"They were subsequently
revised (probably by Salom
Italia) and republished. It
has always been assumed
that the author rejected
Rembrandt's own version
because it contained a re-
presentation of God, but
Manasseh included the
original version in an ex-
tant presentation copy.
"Moreover, the 'Book of
Minhagim' (religious cus-

toms) published by Manas-
seh 1645 (the reprint of an
Italian edition), also con-
tains a picture of God giving
the Law. The very fact that
Rembrandt agreed to make
these etchings which gave
him little chance to deploy
his skills, may be consid-
ered proof of a close rela-
tionship between rabbi and
artist."
Joseph Israels' role is
among the especially
noteworthy artists recorded
in the "Memorbook." There
are more than 10 pages of
reproduced art works em-
phasizing the creative
works of this eminent artist
in art history. There is
much here about Joseph's
son Isaac and a number of
other members of the dis-
tinguished family.
Baruch Spinoza (Be-
'nedictus) is among the
history-making
per-
.
sonahties who is pro-
vided thorough reference
to Dutch Jewry, to the
theological conflicts
within him, to the Jewish
community's attitude
toward him.
The Israels and Spinoza
in themselves would merit
special reviews relating to
this volume. -
In a description of "The
Golden Age" it is valuable
to mention a quotation by
the author from Spinoza:
"It has been our rare good
fortune to live in a com-
monwealth that warrants
everyone complete freedom
of opinion and of worship
and in which nothing is
deemed to be more precious
or sweeter than liberty."
"Memorbook" is his-
tory recapitulated. It is
freedom
reedom
acclaimed and bigotry
condemned. It is replete
with the artistic and crea-
tive. It is history on the
highest level.
Publication of this im-
mensely important work is
a mark of honor for the pub-
lishers, and raises Wayne
State University Press to
the highest level in publish-
ing.
—P.S.

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