‘No Longer Kept Secret’: New plaques give context to Dutch cemetery where Nazis are buried alongside WWII victims

The Ysselsteyn cemetery in the Netherlands, where Nazi SS troops are buried alongside Dutch civilians. (Ralf Klinkhammer/Getty Images via JTA)

Commemorations have been held at Ysselsteyn Cemetery for years, but local Jews have complained that the ceremonies also honor Nazis buried there.

(JTA) — In the cemetery of the rural Dutch town of Ysselsteyn, the bodies of Nazi soldiers lie alongside civilians and Dutch soldiers.

For some, this makes the Ysselsteyn a symbolic reminder of the horrors of war, and Commemorations are held there every year.. But others say the commemorations equate World War II victims with perpetrators like Julius Dettmann – the Nazi officer responsible for sending Anne Frank and her family to death camps – who is buried in Ysselsteyn. In the past, German ambassadors to the Netherlands attended the ceremonies.

On Sunday, a Dutch chief rabbi visited the site for the first time, marking a turning point in public debate about the cemetery. New plaques have been unveiled acknowledging that this is the burial place of war criminals.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who has opposed commemorations at Ysselsteyn for years, said in a speech that he had a “heavy feeling” coming to where several soldiers from the Nazi elite Waffen SS unit are buried.

“I almost feel like a traitor, because this cemetery also contains horrible murderers who are responsible for the fact that 80% of my family did not return,” he said.

He decided to come because of new measures taken by the Dutch War Grave Foundation, a non-profit organization responsible for maintaining the gravesites of war victims in the kingdom.

Jacobs said the measures taken at Ysselsteyn were “comprehensive, they did everything that needed to be done, and that is important because not doing so risked making Ysselsteyn a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis”.

The plaques are the result of discussions between the Foundation, Jacobs and representatives of the Jewish community, many of whom have long protested the cemetery commemorations.

Jacobs’ speech won praise from Arthur Graaf, a longtime campaigner against commemorations in Ysselsteyn, a town 70 miles southeast of Amsterdam.

“The Atrocities of the Holocaust [are] is no longer hushed up there and the role of several thousand dead authors on Ysselsteyn is no longer kept secret,” Graaf wrote in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Along with plaques informing readers that some of the graves are those of SS soldiers, a larger plaque in German was unveiled there earlier this year. It reads: “Never again! 102,000 Jews, tens of thousands of civilians, resistance fighters, Sinti and Roma, prisoners of war and slaves were victims of Nazi war and violence in the Netherlands. Most were not allowed to have their own grave. Many of them remain unknown to you to this day. We mourn their fate here.

By Cnaan Liphshiz


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