An in-depth interview by Lenny Giteck, publisher and editor
The stories of Evelyn Markus, her family during the Second World War, the Jews of The Netherlands back then, and antisemitism in Holland in recent years make up the primary focus of the powerful and disturbing documentary Never Again Is Now.
The film was released on Amazon Prime in October 2019 to considerable acclaim. (An earlier version was released on Blaze TV in 2015. Unfortunately, a section on the rise of antisemitism in the U.S. needed to be added.) The documentary has been called a “must-see.” (To watch Never Again Is Now, click on the link at the bottom of this article.)
In addition to being a subject of Never Again Is Now, Markus played a key role in making the film. Although she is listed as the director, she insists it definitely was a group effort.
Markus is a psychologist, activist, and founder of the nonprofit organizaiton Network on Anti-Semitism. The daughter of Dutch Holocaust survivors, she and her longtime partner, Rosa Zeegers, left the Netherlands in 2006 because of resurgent antisemitism in their home country. They now live in the United States.
“I wanted to tell the story of the Jews’ current exodus from Europe and why they don’t feel safe anymore,” Markus was quoted as saying by the Jewish Journal. “I didn’t make the film to tell the story of my parents, but my fear of being in Europe and my anger over having to leave has a lot to do with what happened to them.”
We spoke with Markus about her personal journey, the documentary Never Again Is Now, and the growth of antisemitism in Holland and around the world.
Let’s begin with your parents’ World War II experiences. How did they survive the Holocaust?
My mother and father met in 1940 when they were 18 and 20 years old. It was only a few months after the Germans invaded and occupied Holland. My father and his family — his brothers, his parents — went into hiding early in 1941 and survived that way. Evangelical Christians hid them and took care of them.
My mother and her family had the opportunity to go into hiding but chose not to. They were afraid they might be betrayed. There was a lot of betrayal of Jews who were in hiding — by neighbors, by all sorts of people who found out. My mother’s family felt if they obeyed the Germans, they would have a better chance.
It didn’t work out that way. They were rounded up toward the end of 1943, first brought to a concentration camp in Holland, and from there to Bergen-Belsen. Many of the prisoners there died from illness. Those who were still alive were shipped further east at the end of the war because there were no gas chambers in Bergen-Belsen, and the Germans wanted to gas everybody to erase evidence of the atrocities.
In April 1945 my mother, her parents, and her two siblings were very ill but still alive. They were put on a train and sent eastward. Just before reaching the destination — the gas chambers — they were liberated by the Americans. My mother always said if they would have been liberated a week later, all of them would already have been dead.
Your mother and her entire direct family — her siblings, her parents — survived.
Yes. It’s just amazing.
When they decided not to go into hiding, were they aware of the mass extermination?
No. They thought they would be sent to a work camp, where it might not be exactly ideal, but where they might survive. Nobody was thinking about mass extermination at the time.
After the war, your parents were reunited, got married, and had you. Many people who survived the Holocaust never wanted to speak about it. Was it talked about in your house when you were growing up?
Absolutely. My father talked about it quite a bit. Every evening he would watch television programs about World War II — not necessarily about the Holocaust or the persecution of the Jews, but the entire phenomenon of the war. I’d say he was obsessed with it. He wanted to understand what had happened but never really could.
My mother would walk away from the television; she didn’t want to look at those programs. If you asked her questions, she would tell you about the concentration camps… but not for longer than a minute or so. When I was little, my mother still had nightmares about the camps, and the next day she would talk about what she had dreamt.
In the documentary, you said your parents assured you the Holocaust was a one-time event, that it would never happen again.
They didn’t want us to be afraid or anxious. My father, especially, would tell us that kind of thing. He was very confident the Holocaust was a one-time event because it was a moment in history when Germany was demoralized by losing World War I, and because of the reparations they had to pay.
Also, he would point out that the Germans had lost their honor and pride by being defeated in the First World War. And there was the Great Depression and enormous inflation, of course. There was no work in Germany. So that’s how my father would explain to us why the Holocaust happened and why it wouldn’t happen again.
What about antisemitism while you were growing up? Did you experience it?
Only occasionally and very subtly. A comment here and there about Jews being rich or being crooked in business. Once in a while there would be a remark or a joke like that, but nothing serious.
You were never assaulted physically?
Oh no, that didn’t happen to Jews in the Netherlands. They had lived in the country for centuries. My family had been there 400 years. They were never persecuted, never assaulted. However, it’s true that during World War II most Dutch people didn’t pay too much attention to the fact that their fellow Dutch citizens — Jewish Dutch citizens — were being deported. It was as if it wasn’t happening to their people.
Another reason why there was not more resistance, I should add, was that Holland was occupied by the SS, not the regular German army. The SS men were much crueler, much more driven by Nazi ideology. They killed people found to be helping or hiding Jews. You were risking your own life to help Jews in Holland. Who wants to give his life for somebody else if you have children and so forth? So that’s another reason the Dutch looked away — but almost all of them did look away, that’s for sure.
Right after the war when there was no longer a threat to anybody… when the few Jews who did survive came back… people who had given their possessions to their neighbors to take care of in case they returned… the neighbors would refuse to return the possessions in many cases. They’d say, “They’re ours now.”
Also, it was not exactly appreciated that Jews who came back would talk about their horrible experiences. Jews couldn’t really share their stories because non-Jews didn’t want to hear them. They felt guilty and didn’t want to listen.
When and why did things start getting worse in recent years for the Jews of The Netherlands? Was it because of the huge influx of Muslim immigrants?
That certainly was a turning point, and it had a big impact. But there had been something of a turning point even earlier. When I grew up in the ’60s, the Netherlands was very pro-Israel and there were no issues about Dutch Jews. In the ’70s, academia flipped. It became extremely pro-Palestinian and very anti-Israel. That spread from academia to the cultural elite, and from there to the media. I was in university at that time, and I was always being held responsible for Israel’s policies. As a Dutch Jew, I was constantly asked to explain Israeli actions… to defend Israel.
The media were constantly criticizing Israel and picturing Israelis as child murderers, bloodsuckers, imperialists, and so forth. There were horrible cartoons that would win awards… cartoons where the Palestinians were pictured as prisoners in Auschwitz, and the Israeli military was pictured as the camp guards. Jews were depicted wearing Nazi-like armbands with stars of David. Eventually, it became mainstream. Today if you ask the average Dutch person whether they think it’s a good idea to dissolve the state of Israel, about 45 percent will say yes.
One theory about what was behind the change in attitude is that because Europeans felt guilty about the Holocaust, demonizing the Jewish state helped reduce that feeling in their minds. Europeans could say, “It was terrible what happened here to the Jews, but look at what the Israelis are doing!”
I agree with that. One Dutch professor of Sociology, who is also a psychoanalyst, wrote a brilliant article about getting rid of guilt feelings by blaming the victim. That was already going on in Holland in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. It was mainly on the left — first among the far left in academia, and then among the more left-of-center media and population.
You said the huge influx of Muslim immigrants was a turning point.
That was in the 1990s. They brought their own antisemitism with them, which was further stimulated by propaganda from Islamists. By the year 2000, Muslims started to attack Jews in the streets of Holland. They threw stones at Jews while they were on the way to synagogue, or they would beat them up. They would rant and rave at them, calling them Yahood, Arabic for Jew. They would throw stones through the windows of houses where Jews lived, draw antisemitic graffiti on Jewish property, and deface Holocaust memorials.
Was it true that the Dutch people — I’m not talking about Dutch Muslims or Jews — weren’t exactly thrilled about the influx of Muslims?
Correct, because it was not the choice of the Dutch grassroots population to have mass immigration from Muslim countries; it was the politicians’ decision. And suddenly whole neighborhoods would change. There would be one Dutch family living on a street and all the rest were, for example, Moroccans. The newcomers had different ideas and values than what the Dutch were used to.
Women noticed the difference, girls noticed the difference, gays noticed the difference. All of a sudden, females and gays were no longer equal in daily life. They were yelled at, they were assaulted. As I’ve said, many Dutch neighborhoods, especially lower-income neighborhoods, saw a total change in population, culture, and values.
Even the language changed. The new immigrants didn’t have a legal obligation to learn Dutch, so many didn’t. A lot of them couldn’t find jobs because they didn’t speak the language. Instead, they would get social welfare, which further disincentivized them to learn Dutch. All of it created a big antipathy toward Muslims and Muslim immigration.
Did that also have a negative impact with regard to Dutch Jews?
Many voters in the lower-income neighborhoods switched from the social democrat Labor Party (Partij van de Arbeid) to the populist anti-immigration parties. These parties aren’t antisemitic, but anti-immigration movements always trigger xenophobia and antisemitism in the fringes, including in The Netherlands. It could easily become mainstream.
How has the Dutch government responded to antisemitism compared to how they’ve responded to Islamophobia?
The government has tried to act against discrimination in general, regardless of who the victims are. That sounds good, except they don’t want to discuss the fact that a lot of antisemitism in The Netherlands is coming from the Muslim community.
Acknowledging it makes the politicians extremely uncomfortable. The government would rather ignore the truth: One vulnerable minority is harassing another one. Instead, they focus pretty much exclusively on antisemitism coming from the extreme right. Fortunately, the Dutch government recently appointed a national coordinator against antisemitism because of the rising numbers of antisemitic incidents.
Watch Never Again Is Now [1:29:40]. Be sure to watch the epilogue at the end. ►
This concludes Part One of our in-depth interview with Evelyn Markus. The second and concluding part — about the documentary itself — will appear in the next edition of AntisemtisimExposed.org.