Skip to content

I wish they had rioted then

'This would have made the difference for my maternal family and 100,000 Dutch Jews,' writes Anton van Walraven

“As long as the protests are peaceful, I am okay with them but when they turn into riots or blockades, I lose my sympathy for the protesters and their cause.” We have heard something along these lines often in 2020, and long before then, not only in U.S., but in Canada and many other Western nations. 

I don’t flat-out condemn riots or blockades and here’s why.

There is this small country that claims to be one of the best-organized countries in the world. Everything in the country is neatly kept and rioting seldom happens. Only two occasions come to mind: the Iconoclastic Fury of 1566, and the Amsterdam Coronation Riots of 1980. And the first “Fury” didn’t even happen in the country as we know it today, at the time the low-lands were part of the Habsburg Empire. 

A peaceful orderly bunch those low-landers. Still, I wish they hadn’t been as peaceful on one more occasion. I wish they had rioted more, burned buildings, burned trains, had shown civil disobedience and general condemnation. As it turned out, it was this attachment to orderly conduct that would change the lives of 140,000 Dutch citizens forever.

That’s not to say protests didn’t happen when Jewish deportations by the Nazis started. The February Strike in 1941 broke out in reaction to the Nazis violently rounding up Jews. When the deportations turned more “orderly,” the public protests died down. From there on it was up to the Dutch resistance to deter the Nazis. 

There were no protests or strikes when the Nazis ordered a civil servant who had designed the new Dutch citizens registration system introduced in 1936, to continue his work that lead to an ID card that every Dutch citizen, 14 years and older, had to carry. The Dutch dutifully responded to exchange their notification card for the new ID. The notification cards were centrally kept as duplicate registration. The ID was impossible to counterfeit and contained information about religious affiliation: it was part of the many small-step Nazi measures to separate Jews from non-Jews.

There were no protests, nor rioting when the Dutch police was ordered by the Nazis to help round up Jews for transportation. It was up to individual officers to resign, few did as they knew Nazi collaborators would take their place and so the police attended to this new task. 

There were no protests when the Nazis ordered the Dutch National Railways to transport Jews to Westerbork - the camp from which Jews were sent to the different concentration camps in Germany and Poland. The railways responded, and in fact were so dutiful that during the 1944 railway strike, no trains ran except for the ones going to Westerbork.

That’s why I wish there had been rioting, torching of trains used for transporting Jews, torching of buildings containing public records. This would have made the difference for my maternal family and 100,000 Dutch Jews. The resistance did what it could, but it couldn’t break the Nazi fear most people lived in. 

It all came to and end, and many years later I continue to be deeply grateful for the role Canadian soldiers played in liberating the Netherlands and defeating the Nazis. 

Yet that gratitude doesn’t blind me from what Canada’s governments and their laws, their policing, embedded as they are in false ideas of racial supremacy, continue to cause to Indigenous people: hardship, suffering, material loss. Resources from Indigenous lands continue to be taken without Indigenous consent. More than 30% people incarcerated in Canada are Indigenous, although Indigenous people makeup about 5% of the country’s population. Sufficient compensation is still lacking.  

And…most people in Canada, including myself, benefit from this twisted situation every single day. 

With this knowledge, we must do better, we have no other choice and must make right what is wrong. 

So what‘s our excuse? None. 

Appendix: The duplicate ID registration was bombed in 1944 by the RAF as it was then capable of ‘precision’ drops. It came too late for Jews as most had been taken away. It did save the lives of some resistance fighters who had used fake IDs.