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Student fought bureaucrats for Holocaust justice

Apr 19 2014, 16:34 IST
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SummaryNafthaniel said many of the homes were sold to Dutch collaborators who left the bills unpaid and fled at the end of the war.

Charlotte van den Berg was a 20-year-old college student working part-time in Amsterdam's city archives when she and other interns came across 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 four years ago, Van den Berg waged a lonely fight against Amsterdam's modern bureaucracy to have the travesty publicly recognized. Now, largely due to 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 awaiting death in the camps.

''I didn't expect any of this to happen, though I'm happy it finally did,'' Van den Berg told The Associated Press in an interview. ''I never dreamed that compensation could be the result.''

An unpublished review of those files by the Netherlands' Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies - or NIOD - found 217 cases in which the city demanded that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

Two Dutch newspapers, Het Parool and De Telegraaf, have received leaked copies of the report and published its conclusions. The report found that the city's top lawyer advised politicians of the time not to enforce the fines, but the recommendation was rejected. Politicians worried 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,'' De Telegraaf quoted the report as saying.

Amsterdam's official ruling of Sept. 12, 1947, a public document viewed by the Associated Press, 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

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