AMSTERDAM (Jan. 29)
Two Nazi war criminals responsible for the deportation of more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were released Friday from Breda prison by an act of the Dutch Parliament, amid angry protests from Jewish groups and former resistance fighters in the Netherlands and other countries.
Ferdinand aus der Fuenten, 79, and Franz Fischer, 88, the last two war criminals incarcerated in Holland, were set free four hours after the lower house of Parliament voted 85-65 to expel them from the country as “undesirable aliens.”
They were escorted to the West German border near Venlo, where they were handed over to German police. The West German news media paid little attention to the event.
Justice Minister Frits Korthals Altes revived longstanding proposals to release the two last Monday and the matter was promptly put to a Parliament sharply divided over the issue.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, protested in a letter to Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers.
“It is unconscionable to release such notorious individuals who perpetrated heinous crimes and caused suffering to so many thousands,” he wrote to Lubbers.
“To pardon such criminals desecrates the memory of those who perished and sends the wrong signal to the perpetrators of tomorrow’s crimes.”
Ephraim Zorof, a Holocaust historian who heads the Wiesenthal Center in Israel, said, “Their release will not help our struggle to persuade Britain and Sweden to bring Nazis to trial.”
He added that the Dutch decision “is very grave because these two criminals, who served as important parts of the Nazi mechanism in Holland, did not even express regret for their deeds.”
Zorof noted that aus der Fuenten, a captain in the SS, was deputy director of the office responsible for deporting Jews to death camps. In that capacity, he oversaw all Jewish deportation from the Netherlands from 1941 until the end of the war.
Fischer, a Gestapo official, registered and deported 13,000 Jews from The Hague.
The two, convicted in 1949, were among 154 German and Dutch Nazis and collaborators found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death in Holland in the years immediately after the war.
Forty were executed. The rest had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
The sentences later were reduced to a maximum of 20 years in 106 cases. In practice, none served more than 15 years.
By the 1960s, only four remained in Dutch prisons. One, Willy Lages, was freed in 1966 because he was believed to be dying. Another, Joseph Kotaella, died in prison in 1979.
Only aus der Fuenten and Fischer remained. They became known as “The Breda Two.”
In February 1972, the justice minister at the time, Andries Van Agt, supported their release. Hearings were held behind closed doors and the idea was rejected.
Now, 16 years later, the parliamentary debate on the same subject was broadcast live in its entirety by Dutch television.
On Thursday night, Jews and former resistance fighters demonstrated against release of the war criminals in The Hague and Amsterdam.
Sunday marked the annual commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army in 1945.
Sponsored by the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee, the ceremony usually draws about 800 people.
This Sunday, the crowd was estimated at 2,000, including several Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament. The larger turnout was attributable to the release of the two Nazis from prison.
A leading authority on war trauma, Professor Johan Bastiaans, supported their release. His rationale was that those who would be traumatized by it were already traumatized and never cured.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)