Dutch Nazi Reunions Reopen Painful Wartime Wounds
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The Dutch are reliving the painful years of wartime collaboration after revelations that countrymen who once volunteered as Nazi SS members during World War II have been holding secret annual reunions.
The gatherings came to light recently in an interview in the weekly Vrij Nederland with Jan Rudolf Hommes, a 70-year-old former lieutenant in the Dutch SS who talked about the reunions.
The SS, or Schutzstaffeln (Protection Units), were founded in 1929 and originally served as bodyguards to Adolf Hitler and other senior Nazi officials. Led by Heinrich Himmler, the SS later served as guards in Nazi death camps throughout wartime Europe.
The unit also gained notoriety for fanaticism in combat. A Dutch SS unit fought on the Russian front, the largest non-German SS unit to do so.
The next reunion for former SS members, wives and widows is scheduled for May or June in southwestern Netherlands’ Biesbosch region, Hommes told The Associated Press on Wednesday. He refused to say exactly when or where.
News of the scheduled meeting was played up in this weeks’s Dutch press, reflecting the disdain here for the 20,000 Dutch citizens who signed up for SS duty during Nazi Germany’s brutal, five-year occupation of the Netherlands. The nation’s Jewish community was all but destroyed in the death camps.
Two German Nazis are still imprisoned here for war crimes. Periodic calls for their release provoke an outcry from the Dutch public.
Disclosures of the reunions have drawn vows from Biesbosch officials and wartime resistance leaders to do whatever they can to stop the gathering.
Hommes described the reunions as ″having a nice day out″ and made light of all the publicity.
″They’re making such a tremendous amount of fuss,″ Hommes complained. ″It’s just like a bunch of kids from kindergarten .. . They’ve found something to get all excited about.″
He said about 20 people took part in the 1988 reunion last spring in northern Drente province.
″There are fewer of us every year ... They’re dying all the time,″ said Hommes, who said he served as a war correspondent during the German invasion of the Soviet Union and in Normandy after Allied troops landed there in 1944.
″We’ve been doing this undisturbed, in all quiet for 40 years.″
He said he now regretted joining the SS ″because all kinds of things happened that I never suspected were happening.″
″We all learned our lesson,″ he said. ″We simply made a mistake.″
After the war, a Dutch court sentenced Hommes to three years in prison for collaboration. He worked as a Dutch civil servant following his release.
Hendrik van Liempd, a spokesman for former Dutch resistance fighters in the Biesbosch region, said local resistance figures would lobby hotel and boat owners not to offer their services to the SS group.
D. ten Veen, a city hall official in the Biesbosch city of Dordrecht, said, ″We don’t want such a reunion in the Biesbosch. We’ll try to prevent this gathering by whatever legal means we have,″according to the Brabants Nieuwsblad newspaper.
It quoted him as saying that authorities can do nothing to prevent the meeting, however, unless it presents a threat to public order.
Austrian Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal accused the Dutch government Wednesday of being too lax in seeking to extradite three Dutch war criminals who fled the nation and were convicted in abstentia.
″I have the impression the thing isn’t being prosecuted with enough energy,″ he told reporters at Amsterdam’s City Hall.