(JTA) — A Dutch diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and was punished for his actions received a long overdue apology.
Zwartendijk served in Kaunas as consul at the same time that Chiune Sugihara was there to represent Imperial Japan.
Largely eclipsed by Sugihara, Zwartendijk was the initiator and chief facilitator of the rescue of more than 2,000 Jews by the two diplomats. Sugihara gave the refugees, who were fleeing German occupation, transit visas that enabled them to enter the Soviet Union. But they would have been unusable had Zwartendijk not given them destination visas to Curacao, then a Caribbean island colony of the Netherlands. Some of those rescued by Zwartendijk nicknamed him “the angel of Curacao.”
Both men acted without approval from their superiors. Unlike Sugihara, Zwartendijk risked his own life, as well as those of his wife and their three small children, who were all living under Nazi occupation.
Yet Zwartendijk, who died in 1976, was “given a dressing down” after his actions became known by a top Foreign Ministry official, Joseph Luns, who later became the head of NATO. The incident was revealed in a new book published about Zwartendijk, based on interviews with people who were told about it by Zwartendijk and other materials. Zwartendijk’s children said their father was deeply offended by how he had been treated.
“If that happened,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a written response to Parliament on Tuesday, “that was completely inappropriate. Jan Zwartendijk earned recognition and tribute for his brave behavior, unfortunately posthumously, from the 1990s onwards.”
He said he and King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands spoke with Zwartendijk’s son and daughter and expressed “great admiration for the actions of their father in 1940.”