United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumJan Zwartendijk with his daughter and son in Kaunas, Lithuania
NOS News•today, 16:00•Edited today, 16:16
The cabinet wants to posthumously honor the Dutch resistance hero Jan Zwartendijk with the highest royal decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. It is not legally possible to award such a high honor to someone who has passed away.
But the cabinet now wants to see whether a one-off exception can be made. “Zwartendijk saved thousands of Jews in World War II. This award is fully deserved,” says Minister Hoekstra of Foreign Affairs, who is arranging this exception.
On the initiative of D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, all MPs asked the cabinet and the king in February for this special rehabilitation for the Dutch diplomat Zwartendijk (1896-1976).
As a Dutch consul in Lithuania, he saved thousands of Jews during the Second World War, at the risk of his own life. He issued many Jews with a Dutch visa, which allowed them to go to Japan via the Soviet Union and from there to travel to the Netherlands Antilles or Suriname, then parts of the Dutch kingdom that were not occupied.
Zwartendijk, who worked for Philip in Lithuania, thought for years that his actions had saved only one person in World War II. But it turned out to be thousands of people, his relatives heard on the day of his funeral.
On that day they received a letter that showed that not just one person, but more than 95 percent of the thousands of Jews that Zwartendijk had hoped for had survived the war. It was the result of a study of possible survivors commissioned by his children in the 1960s at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Holocaust Research Center.
The diplomat was even reprimanded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the war for “wrongly” issuing visas. Five years ago, an apology was offered to the relatives and a monument in his honor was unveiled in Lithuania.
D66 MP Sjoerdsma thought that Zwartendijk deserved more than this recognition. “He was a modest man and he himself did not care much for public recognition and royal honours,” said Sjoerdsma in February. “But it always hurt him that he was reprimanded for this.”
Minister Hoekstra fully supports the action of the D66 MP, but the cabinet cannot decide for itself whether the law can be amended once to honor a resistance hero posthumously. That is what the Chapter for Civil Orders does. “I am hopeful that they will honor our request,” says Hoekstra. The distribution to the next of kin could then take place this year.