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Jacob Arnon

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5022 | Film ID: 3265, 3266, 3267, 3268, 3269

Jacob Arnon was a Dutch Jew and leader of a Zionist student organization. Arnon's uncle was one of the chairmen of the Jewish Council [Judenrat] in Amsterdam, and though he admired his uncle greatly, he condemns the Council's actions, especially their choice of whom to deport. Arnon's uncle survived the war but the two never spoke again.

FILM ID 3265 -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 01:00:18 to 01:29:12
[CLIP 1 BEGINS] Mr. Jacob (Ya'akov) Arnon, born Jaap van Amerongen, sits outside on a balcony and holds a pipe. There are some construction and other noises in the background. The image is soft when the camera pulls in close on Arnon's face. He says that his family received their certificates for Palestine the day before the Germans invaded Holland in May, 1940. After the initial reaction of the Jews to the invasion, which included many suicides, life returned to a kind of normal existence. Arnon points out that about 80 percent of the Dutch Jews were killed, the worst percentage in Western Europe. He says the Dutch Jews were very assimilated and felt that it couldn't happen to them.

Jews made up ten percent of Amsterdam's population and Arnon says that while there was antisemitism in Holland, it was very mild compared to other places. Arnon was a Zionist. He talks about the mood of the Jews as time passed under German occupation and describes the first razzia in Amsterdam. In response to a question from Lanzmann, Arnon says that the Jewish Council was formed in February, 1941. He describes his uncle, Asscher, the biggest manufacturer of diamonds in Amsterdam, and Rabbi Cohen. These two prominent Jews were natural choices to be chairmen of the Jewish Council. Arnon says that his uncle was very well-loved by people but that in the end he was a "good man for quiet times." Some men refused to be part of the Jewish Council, arguing that it was a mistake to be pushed out of the Dutch community, but most people thought the Council was a good idea. Arnon says that the Germans forced the Jewish Council to break a strike that was instigated by the general population in protest of the razzia against the Jews. In July, 1942 the deportations began. Arnon says that he does not think that the members of the Council knew about the gas chambers. However, the Germans told the Jews that they would be part of labor columns and it should have been clear that old people and children would not survive this treatment. According to Arnon, the worst thing was that the members of the Council found a way to send the less important Jews first and the more important Jews later in hopes that a second front would end the war [CLIP 1 ENDS].

FILM ID 3266 -- Camera Rolls #4-7 -- 02:00:19 to 02:31:01
Lanzmann asks Arnon whether he remembers the relocation of the provincial Jews to Amsterdam. He says that this was the first case where the Jewish Council requested power from the Germans. Arnon says he did not have much to do with the Council at this time. [CLIP 2 BEGINS] Arnon says that in reading the Jewish newspaper it was not always clear which decrees were coming from the Germans and which from the Council.

Arnon tells Lanzmann he must understand that there was a constant movement from bad to worse. Taking the case of the Jewish Council, they started out with the best intentions but ended up only trying to save their own families at the expense of other Jews. Nonetheless, Arnon says, he wants to make clear that the Germans and not the Jews perpetrated the Holocaust. Arnon's main criticism of the Council was that by keeping the Jews quiet and by lulling them into the feeling that things would work out they actually diminished their chances of survival. He says that if the Council had not gone along with the Germans and had instead been honest about the situation then more Jews would have gone into hiding and been saved [CLIP 2 ENDS].

Arnon says there were two meetings in which the Council discussed whether or not to comply with the demands of the Germans, who wanted them to prepare the deportation lists. The Council wanted to keep intact as much as possible the "valuable" part of the Jewish Community, meaning those in their own circle. He says that they made their most fatal decision in July of 1942, when they did not refuse to make choices among the remaining 140,000 Jews in Holland. In September 1943 the Germans convinced the Council to keep the last deportations a secret, in exchange for the lives of about 100 Jews who were family members of Council members. The Germans did not keep their promise and deported them all. Arnon says that in July and August, 1942 he had two meetings with his uncle that resulted in the two breaking all ties to each other. Arnon went to his uncle and told him that he should give a sign to the Jewish community that all was lost. He offered to help his uncle get out of Holland.

FILM ID 3267 -- Camera Rolls #8-10 -- 03:00:18 to 03:33:51
[CLIP 3 BEGINS] Arnon and his uncle had a terrible argument. The argument took place in his uncle's diamond factory, which was still in operation. Arnon says he was influenced in his anger by the fact that he was a teacher and his students had been deported. He details his first and his second conversation with his uncle. Arnon told his uncle that he must tell the Jews somehow that all was lost so that some of them would go into hiding. During the second meeting Arnon said that if his uncle did not do something he would be a murderer of Jews. Arnon says that only a small percentage of the Jews reported to the station when ordered to do so for deportation [CLIP 3 ENDS].

[CLIP 4 BEGINS] He says that the vast majority of the Dutch were against the German occupation and against the persecution of the Jews, but they didn't do anything to resist. Lanzmann asks if it is true that members of the Jewish Council went door to door to convince the Jews to show up for deportation. Arnon says it is possible that some did do this, but in any case the Council advised the Jews to act "legally" without considering that the laws they were asking the Jews to follow would result in deportation. Being a member of the Council did not mean that one had absolute security -- there were members of the Council who were deported starting in 1942. Lanzmann points out that in the end the Jewish leaders lied about the living conditions in the East.

Arnon says that the Jewish leaders made a fuss out of the very few letters and cards that came from those deported. Lanzmann points out that the Jews of Holland were shipped to Auschwitz and Sobibor and killed immediately, but that some of them were forced to write letters home first. Lanzmann quotes from internal Council bulletins in which claims were made about the good conditions in Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Arnon says that he is not defending the Council, but they did not know what was happening in Poland, did not know about the gas chambers. Lanzmann is skeptical and Arnon continues to defend the Council on this point [CLIP 4 ENDS].

FILM ID 3268 -- Camera Rolls #11,12 -- 04:00:18 to 04:18:15
Lanzmann describes the 60th birthday celebration of Rabbi Cohen, one of the chairmen of the Council. He says that Cohen was compared repeatedly to Moses and was presented with several gifts. Arnon says that this event was very badly received by the other Jews, who viewed it as a festival in the middle of the deportations. He says that the Council members felt deeply that they were doing the right thing but that they were out of touch with reality. Both Asscher and Cohen survived the war. Arnon saw his uncle once after the war but neither wanted to talk to the other.

[CLIP 5 BEGINS] Arnon discusses the sterilization of Jews in mixed marriages. These Jews were told they could either be sterilized or be deported. Arnon says that this only happened in Holland [CLIP 5 ENDS].

FILM ID 3269 -- Camera Roll #12A -- 05:00:18 to 05:04:57
Mute. CU on Lanzmann's face as he listens to Arnon (Arnon is not in the shot). Lanzmann smokes a cigarette. The camera pans out to reveal a notebook with writing and an ashtray on a table in front of Lanzmann.

Event Date
September or October 1979
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
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Record last modified: 2018-03-07 13:22:43
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