In the Shadow of Auschwitz
The Netherlands and the memory of World War II
The image of the Second World War has changed drastically over the past fifty years. Since the 1960s the systematic murder of Jews, the retarded, gypsies and other groups who were considered inferior has come to occupy central stage at the expense of a national perspective in which there was little place for camp survivors, the guilty or the fence-sitters. Auschwitz has become, in the words of Frank van Vree, ‘a ritual point of calibration for behaviour, a symbol for a tolerant, multi-ethnic society.’
In de schaduw van Auschwitz describes the changes in the way people remember the horrors of the Second World War, from liberation to the recent debates on where to situate Nazi destruction in the history of Western civilisation. Van Vree draws on memorials, pictures, films, documentaries, novels, and works of history to chart the shifts in the way people think and speak of the war.
He presents the developments in the Netherlands as an extensive case study, while also locating them against the background of developments in other countries. In terms of human and material losses, the Netherlands was one of the hardest hit countries in Europe. However, it was only with the cultural revolution of the 1960s that the destruction of three-quarters of the Jewish population and the compliant attitude of most Dutch men and women began to be perceived as a moral burden. This change in attitude reflects the developments in other Western countries. The Netherlands is not the only place where the dismantling of traditional ideological and national views of history has been accompanied by the relocation of the Endlösung into the heart of the popular memory.