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Holocaust survivors taxed, student finds in search of Amsterdam city archives

| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 7:33 p.m.

AMSTERDAM — Charlotte Van den Berg was a 20-year-old college student working part-time in Amsterdam's city archives when she and other interns stumbled on a shocking find: letters from Jewish Holocaust survivors complaining that the city was forcing them to pay back taxes and late payment fines on property seized after they were deported to Nazi death camps.

How, the survivors asked, could they be on the hook for taxes due while Hitler's regime was trying to exterminate them? A typical response was: “The base fees and the fines for late payment must be satisfied, regardless of whether a third party, legally empowered or not, has for some time held the title to the building.”

Following her discovery in 2011, Van den Berg waged a lonely fight against Amsterdam's modern bureaucracy to have the travesty publicly recognized. Now, largely because of her efforts, Amsterdam officials are considering compensating Holocaust survivors for the taxes and possibly other obligations, including gas bills, they were forced to pay for homes that were occupied by Nazis or collaborators while the rightful owners were in hiding or in death camps.

“I didn't expect any of this to happen, though I'm happy it finally did,” Van den Berg said.

An unpublished review of those files by the Netherlands' Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies found 217 cases in which the city demanded that returning Jews pay taxes and penalties for getting behind in their payments.

Two Dutch newspapers received leaked copies of the report, which found that the city's top lawyer advised politicians of the time not to enforce the fines. But politicians worried that granting one claim might lead to more.

“The city made a conscious decision to reject this advice, which cannot be described otherwise than as a totally needless callousness toward (Jews) who had their property taken during the war,” the report states.

Amsterdam's official ruling of Sept. 12, 1947, a public document, was that “the city has the right to full payment of fees and fines” and that most excuses — including that property had been seized by the Nazis — were invalid.

Ronny Nafthaniel, a leader of the Dutch Jewish community, said many of the homes were sold to Dutch collaborators who left the bills unpaid and fled at war's end.

“Another thing that happened, and this is almost too sad to relate, is that Jews got back from Auschwitz — and then got an invoice for the gas that had been used in their homes,” Nafthaniel said.

During the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1945, an estimated 110,000 Dutch Jews were killed in the Holocaust, including teenage diarist Anne Frank. As many as 30,000 survived, many of whom immigrated to Israel.

In one of the letters Van den Berg found, a Jewish man asked for an extension in paying the back taxes because his home had been seized by an organization set up by the Nazis in 1941 to despoil Jews of their property. Before deportation, the man was forced to surrender his assets to a bank in Amsterdam, which transferred them to the Third Reich — leaving him with neither the house nor funds to pay for taxes on it.

“In conclusion,” the man wrote, “I'm asking you in handling this matter to be led by moral considerations.”

No response was found in the archives, Van den Berg said.

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