(JTA) – At the cemetery in the rural Dutch town of Ysselsteyn, the bodies of Nazi soldiers lie alongside Dutch civilians and 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 commemorations equate WWII victims with perpetrators like Julius Dettmann – the Nazi officer responsible for sending Anne Frank and her family to death camps – who is buried at Ysselsteyn. In the past, German ambassadors in the Netherlands have attended the ceremonies.
A Dutch chief rabbi visited the site for the first time on Sunday, 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 the spot where several soldiers from the elite unit Nazi of the Waffen SS are buried.
âI 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,â he said.
He decided to come due to new measures taken by the Dutch War Grave Foundation, a non-profit organization tasked with 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 this is important because failing to do so risks making Ysselsteyn a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis.”
The plaques are the result of talks between the Foundation, Jacobs and representatives of the Jewish community, many of whom have long protested against the cemetery commemorations.
Jacobs’ speech received high praise from Arthur Graaf, a longtime activist against commemorations in Ysselsteyn, a town 110 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam.
“The atrocities of the Holocaust [are] is no longer hushed up there and the role of several thousand dead perpetrators on Ysselsteyn is no longer kept a secret, âGraaf wrote in a statement to the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
In addition to plaques informing readers that some of the graves are 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 slave workers were victims of the war and Nazi violence in the Netherlands. Most were not allowed to have their own graves. Many of them remain unknown to you to this day. We mourn their fate here.