Jewish Christians in the Netherlands during the Holocaust

Update on the ongoing Jewish Believer Holocaust Project

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By Kelvin Crombie
Heritage Resources

Ed. Note: In 2018, Kelvin Crombie was commissioned by the Rev. David Pileggi to research and discover the names and narratives of the Jewish followers of Jesus who died in the Holocaust. The firstfruit of that research is Bazyli & Anna Jocz: Jewish Christian victims of the Holocaust. He more recently published a booklet titled “Jewish Christians in the Netherlands during the Holocaust.” This is an excerpt from a lecture Kelvin gave at Gosnells Christian Reformed Church, Western Australia on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January 2022.

One of my closest friends in Israel for many years was Reuven Achimeir. Reuven grew up in the Netherlands.

At the age of 18, Reuven became a committed follower of Jesus, whereupon he became interested in his Jewish heritage and even wanted to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel.

He then chatted with his Jewish grandfather, Hartog Sluis, an Auschwitz survivor. During one conversation Reuven discovered that before the war his grandfather had also been a follower of Jesus and had even attended a congregation of Jewish Christians led by a Jewish pastor named Johannes Rottenberg, who was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church and worked with CMJ in Holland.

The Nazis classified Jewish people who were associated with the Church as ‘non-Aryan Christians.’ They mostly saw themselves, however, as Hebrew Christians or Jewish Christians. Most Jewish people looked upon them as ‘converts’, and some even called them meshummadim – traitors. Today they mostly call themselves Messianic Jews. 

After the Germans invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, and finally took control on 15 May, they made assurances that life would not be dramatically changed - even for the Jewish residents. But it did not take long before small changes began occurring. 

Image: Round-up of Jews in Amsterdam via the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Round up of Jews in Amsterdam - US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In June 1940 most of the Protestant denominations formed the ‘Convention of Churches, through which they planned to present a united front to the Nazi authorities. However, the Nazi authorities implemented more and more anti-Jewish statutes. In January 1941 they ordered that all Jewish people in the Netherlands needed to be registered.  

When in October 1941 they ordered that a full catalogue of all Jewish people, including their assets, be created, the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Archbishop Johannes de Jong joined the ‘Convention of Churches’, which then became the ‘Interdenominational Consultation’, or IKO. 

At this time, the Nazis were planning how they were going to systematically murder the Jewish people. The mechanics of this demonic ideology were still in the process of being formulated. Those administrative mechanics were presented at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. Now it was just a matter of time before all Jewish people living in the Netherlands, including the Jewish Christians, would be ensnared and sent to their deaths. 

News of the impending deportations ‘east’ to ‘work camps in Germany’ were widespread by early July 1942. The Interdenominational Consultation quickly sprang into action. They sent a telegram to the Nazi leadership protesting the upcoming deportations which were due to begin on 15 July. 

As the number of people which the Interdenominational Consultation could reach amounted to some 7 million people, the Nazi leadership was quite perturbed by this telegram of opposition. In response they stated to one of the Church representatives of the IKO that if they dropped this opposition to the Jewish deportations then, the Nazis ‘promised’, no ‘baptised Jews’ would be sent away. 

The Dutch Reformed Church took this ‘promise’ seriously, and thereafter took on the responsibility of protecting the Protestant Jews – to the best of their ability. Reich Commissioner Arthur Seyss-Inquart, though, informed his Nazi colleagues that he had no intention of keeping this ‘promise’ and would also send the ‘baptised Jews’ away at a ‘politically convenient time’. 

The Roman Catholic Church, led by Archbishop de Jong, and the Protestant denominations on the Interdenominational Consultation continued in their opposition to the Jewish deportations. On Sunday, 26 July, the telegram which had been sent to the Nazi leadership, as well as a pastoral letter, were read in all Roman Catholic Churches throughout the Netherlands, as well as the churches of the smaller denominations and in some Reformed churches. 

The Nazi leaders, and especially Reich Commissioner Seyss-Inquart, were extremely angry, and were determined to enact vengeance for this act, especially against the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Nazi response was swift and brutal. On the morning of 2 August, full-blood ‘Jewish Catholics’ all over the country were summarily arrested. Most were taken initially to Amersfoort Concentration Camp and the Hollandsche Schouwburg Theatre in Amsterdam, then to Westerbork Camp. Many of these were deported on 7 August to Auschwitz and were gassed either on 9 August or shortly afterwards.

 About 113 Jewish Catholics were murdered in this initial onslaught against the Churches. Among those murdered were Carmelite nuns Edith and Rosa Stein and five Trappist monks and nuns, all siblings from the Lob family. 

Of the eight Lob children, seven died during the War. These Lob siblings were 100 percent Jewish, but had no Jewish upbringing at all. Edith Stein was a doctor of philosophy before becoming a follower of Jesus in Germany, had come to the Netherlands after Kristallnacht, and was later made a saint by the Vatican. 

Image: Edith Stein, also called Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein - Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Following riots in Amsterdam in February 1941, more than 600 young Jewish men were taken to Mauthausen camp in Austria and all but a handful were worked to death. Among them was Rev. Johannes Rottenberg, who died in June 1942. The main reason why Rev. Rottenberg was arrested was the same as that of another Jewish pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev. Josef Cohen. They were both preaching sermons which the Nazis did not like. The fact that both these Dutch Reformed ministers were also full blood Jews did not help their situation.

Image: Rev. Johannes Rottenberg

Rev. Johannes Rottenberg

Rev. Cohen was taken ultimately to Dachau concentration camp, and then to Schloss Hartheim in Austria where he was murdered most likely by lethal injection on 4 May 1942. 

Rottenberg was initially sent to the Scheveningen Prison (colloquially named the “Orange Hotel”) then to Kamp Amersfoort, then to Buchenwald and finally to Mauthausen. He is known to have continued sharing about Jesus the Messiah in all of these locations.  

So, what does this all mean for us today? What lessons can we learn from this historic period? 

Firstly, there is the need for both the Church AND for Israel to recognize the existence and integral part that Jewish followers of Jesus have played in history, and are playing today, within both covenant communities. 

We have seen that those Jewish Christians in the Netherlands, as well as the tens of thousands of others in Poland, Germany, Hungary and elsewhere, were persecuted and many were murdered not because of their belief that Jesus is the Messiah, BUT because of their bloodline. They were persecuted and murdered because they were JEWISH – even if they did not know or acknowledge their Jewish heritage. 

Secondly, there is the need to learn from those courageous women, men and even children in the Netherlands, as well as in Germany, Poland, France and elsewhere, who remained unshakeable in their faith and belief in God and/or in upholding righteous and moral standards, despite the immoral and ungodly dictates of the totalitarian regime under which they lived. 

Thirdly, there is the need to be vigilant for signs of the ‘spirit of genocide’ raising its ugly head even in our own society, even in our own time. Antisemitism is one such sign. 

As Peter Abetz often says, ‘ideas have consequences’, and genocide begins initially with bad ideas, leading to the development of bad ideologies. If the carriers of those bad ideas and bad ideologies are given places of power and authority, there will inevitably be terrible consequences. 

I think we might still have some work to do. 

Kelvin Crombie is the author of For the Love of Zion and Restoring Israel: 200 years of the CMJ Story. He lived for almost 25 years in Israel – where he met his Dutch wife, Lexie. He now devotes his time to research and writing, including on the plight of the Jewish Christians during the Holocaust. 

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Article published on 02/15/2022