A Price on Their Heads
Nederlandse premiejagers op zoek naar joden, 1943
Dutch bounty hunters in search of Jews, 1943
In the spring of 1943, when the deportation of Dutch Jews was in danger of stagnating, the occupying German forces took a remarkable step: premiums were offered for bringing in Jews who had gone into hiding. Part of the staff of the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) was given the task of tracking down Jews. This became the Recherchegruppe Henneicko (‘Henneicke Column’) and to a large extent it was the premiums, the kopgeld – literally ‘head-money’ –, that stimulated their activities.
Until now no historical research has been done about this group. On the one hand because much of the work of the ‘Jew hunters’ took place in secret and the vast majority of their victims could no longer bear witness to their experiences, on the other hand because it was difficult to gain access to the judicial records. Journalist Ad van Liempt was the first to receive permission to examine the bounty hunters’ criminal dossiers. On the basis of this information he described the group of perpetrators and reconstructed a large number of their activities.
As a result of Van Liempt’s astonishing research many unknown facts have come to light. The group of civilian Jew hunters arrested a total of 8000 to 9000 Jews. Van Liempt describes some particularly shocking cases. The most gripping are the arrests of young children. Two bounty hunters travelled hundreds of kilometres across the country to get their hands on a two year old girl who was living in a safe house; a month later she was gassed at Sobibor. The father of three other young children had all his teeth knocked out; in this way the Henneicke Column were able to learn the addresses where the children were being put up.
In court the Jew hunters consistently maintained that they received no premiums for their work, but Van Liempt’s research has clearly shown the opposite to be true. Family members of the perpetrators give detailed accounts of how much was earned from their activities and where all the money went.
The civilian Jew hunt was undoubtedly the blackest page in Dutch history. It is striking how few Germans appear in Van Liempt’s book: the arrest of Jews was carried out exclusively by the Dutch. A Price on Their Heads sketches a depressing world: motivated by a thirst for power and wealth, ordinary Dutchmen, socially unsuccessful, were prepared to turn their Jewish countrymen over to the Germans.