The Holocaust in the Netherlands is one of the major episodes of mass destruction in Dutch history of the last century. During five years of Nazi-occupation, over 104,000 Dutch Jews perished. In the historiography of this genocidal episode in Dutch and Jewish history, the emphasis is primarily on the interaction between German perpetrators and Jews, with Dutch non-Jewish citizens and officials in the role of bystanders. Moreover, as almost 65 percent of prewar Dutch Jewry lived in the urban agglomeration of Western Holland, particularly the Dutch capital, the literature is ‘metropole-centered’ or ‘Amsterdam-based’. Consequently, the conventional image of the Holocaust in the Netherlands is based on the course of events in Amsterdam and the other big cities in the west of the country (Presser 1965; Moore 1997; Happe 2017). However, a substantial part of the persecution of Jews in the Netherlands took place outside these urban centers. Early 1943, Jews in the ‘mediene’ were expressly targeted in what the Nazis labeled the ‘Provinzentjudung’. As a result of this policy most of them were eliminated.


In this project, we will shift the focus to these local and communal aspects of the Holocaust. Our goal is to reconstruct the 'Provinzentjudung', understood by us as the sum of all measures to eradicate Jewish life beyond the urban centers of Western Holland, and to clarify the intersection of this ‘exogeneous’ genocidal process and ‘endogenous’ local dynamics.


To achieve this goal, we follow a very promising new trend in international Holocaust historiography that questions the perception of the Holocaust as a centrally led policy of Nazis and instead proposes to view the genocide in its local, communal embedment. Recent small-scale research of individual communities shows how, at times, a community´s specific social structures and cultural customs impacted the persecution, and, vice versa, how the persecution affected these structures and customs: in order to understand the genocidal process at a communal level, these studies show, research needs to include these specific structures and customs, starting in the years leading up to the genocide (Frijtag & Galimi 2019; Stone 2009; Bajohr 2016; Finkel 2017).


This new international trend also produces a new kind of local studies, mostly of single towns in Eastern Europe, that highlight the agency of local political actors and their sometimes strong engagement and initiative in the Nazi-genocide. The choices, deals and coalitions they made during the Holocaust become comprehensible by taking the local political constellation of earlier times into consideration (Bartov 2011, 2018; Burzlaff 2020).


In our project we adhere to this international trend and examine the Holocaust in its local and communal embedment, first, to gain insight in actions of local Dutch political actors (first key-objective). In most overviews of the Holocaust in the Netherlands the dissemination of anti-Jewish policy at a local level remains unproblematized, with local actors as merely reactive recipients of orders from above (Presser 1965; Romijn 2006; Happe 2017). We can build on a growing number of Dutch local studies, which attribute more agency to local Dutch actors (Piersma and Kemperman 2015; Te Slaa 2017; Von Frijtag 2020). However, their scope is restricted, as they fail to come up with a more comparative or general analysis.


The Dutch case is particularly intriguing because of the country’s tradition of local citizenship that leaves individual local communities and their political leaders considerable room vis-à-vis central authorities (Prak 2008). How did they use that room in the genocide? At the same time, as German anti-Jewish measures were hard to ground in Dutch continuity and consent, the Nazi-regime needed to win over local elites. Could it be that this made the bargaining position of local Dutch political actors stronger than that of their (much more studied) equals in Eastern Europe?


Second, we follow the international trend to elucidate how cultural customs and social structures in smaller Dutch communities affected the persecution of Jews in these communities, and, vice versa, how this persecution affected local communities (second key-objective). In the national historiography of the Holocaust, social and cultural aspects are underexplored (Burzlaff 2022). Interpretations of Dutch society and culture during the Holocaust are mostly developed within the conceptual frame of ‘Dutch pillarization’ (verzuiling). Pillarization supposedly stimulated social segregation and generated a culture of sectarianism and law-obedience, which complicated solidarity with others outside one’s own pillar (Moore 1997; Croes & Tammes 2004; Zeller & Griffioen 2011; Bar-Efrat 2017); or, on the contrary, guaranteed tight networks of help based on trust (Braun 2019). Paradoxically, more general literature stresses that pillarization was far from complete and uniform (Blom & Talsma 2000). Could it be that other, local, social organizing principles and cultural customs influenced the way relations between Jews and gentiles within a community developed?


By way of a comparative historical approach, this project exceeds the idiosyncratic nature of most local studies, allowing for a systematic analysis of local and communal (f)actors impacting the genocidal process. The project also pushes the boundaries in international Holocaust historiography by connecting the communal perspective to an intercommunal one: local communities – and people in these communities – were also part of larger, intercommunal webs of connections. In academic literature on survival and rescue connections figure largely. It is often suggested that social contacts and/or local ‘rootedness’ were preconditions for Jewish survival: without these roots in the (local) community, without (intercommunal) ties and networks, chances for Jews were slim (Moore 2010). However, in newer work this idea has been juxtaposed by the phenomenon of ‘social reactivity’, i.e., a wide range of small, spontaneous, and random gestures of solidarity, often by complete strangers, contributing substantially to Jewish survival (Sémelin 2019). How does this debate translate in the history of Holocaust in the provinces? Is it pre-existing social embeddedness, or spontaneous social reactivity, local nearby ties or networks beyond the communal borders that conditioned the fate of Jews? While this project decenters the historiography of the Holocaust, it also aims to map networks of intercommunal connections within which local communities were embedded and the way these networks were foundational for routes of Jewish escape and evasion during the Holocaust (third key-objective).