Jacob Luitjens, Dutch collaborator during World War II, dies at 103

Jacob Luitjens, a Dutch botany professor who lived quietly in Canada until he was deported to the Netherlands in 1992 to serve a decades-old prison sentence for collaborating with the Nazis, a case that has opened wounds and questions about justice. died after World War II at the age of 103.

Maarten van Gestel, a journalist from the Dutch newspaper Trouw who covered Mr. Luitjens’ story in a podcast last year, said that on December 15 he was informed of the recent death of Mr. Luitjens by a supervisor. Other details were not immediately available. Mr. Luitjens, stripped of his Canadian citizenship lived in Lemmer, northern Netherlands, since his release from a Dutch detention center in 1995.

As the last Nazi collaborator imprisoned in the Netherlands for war crimes, Mr. Luitjens represented “the end of a chapter,” Van Gestel observed in an interview.

During his decades on the run, he became known as the “Terror of Roden”, referring to the town where he wore the black uniform of the Landwacht, or Land Guard, a Dutch paramilitary group. helped the Nazis arrest Jews, resisters and other targets of the Third Reich after Germany in 1940 May. invaded the Netherlands.

But more recent assessments of Mr. Luitjens’ life have shown him not to be the notorious war criminal his moniker suggests, but like many others of his generation who were drawn to National Socialism and served as functionaries of the Nazi apparatus. 6 million Jews died and millions more were victims throughout Europe.

“I regret that I had an ideology at that time – in 1992. “Which, I didn’t know, would end up killing so many people,” Mr. Luitjens said in a Dutch courtroom.

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Jakub Luitjens was born in 1919. April 18 Buitenzorg, then in the Dutch East Indies, now Bogor, on the Indonesian island of Java. His father belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church and his mother was Mennonite, although they were not particularly observant.

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in 1923 the family moved to the Netherlands, Van Gestel said, and settled in Roden, where Mr. Luitjens grew up. His father, a veterinarian who looked after the livestock of poor local farmers, became a figure of influence and authority in the community.

In an article published this year in the Mennonite Quarterly Review, historian David Barnouw described Mr. Luitjens’ father as a “fanatic supporter of the Dutch National Socialist Party” and “actively collaborated with the Germans during the occupation.”

Jacob, who was 21 at the time of the invasion, joined his father as a member of the Dutch Nazi Party. So did the younger brother. “It was either Communism or National Socialism,” Mr. Luitjens said a year later.

After graduating from the University of Groningen with a law degree, Mr. Luitjens volunteered to serve in the Waffen-SS, the military branch of the German SS. He was turned away, apparently because of the deformity of his left hand and arm, which made him memorable to the people he later arrested while serving in the Landwacht.

Mr. Luitjens was not accused of personally carrying out the arrests of Jews, Van Gestel said. His activities, according to Van Gestel, focused on underground resistance participants and Dutch nationals who, among other things, went into hiding to avoid forced labor in Germany. The resistance fighters he arrested were often taken to a villa where they were interrogated and tortured by the so-called blood squad.

“People were very afraid of them,” Barnouw, a researcher emeritus at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, said of the Landwacht. “They knew the area, and the Germans, of course, didn’t.

Fewer than 25 percent of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which described them as “doomed” by the “ruthless efficiency of the German administration and the determined cooperation of Dutch administrators and police.”

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Mr. Luitjens admitted that he was involved in the pursuit of two people, a Dutch resistance fighter and a German military deserter, both of whom were eventually killed. However, he insisted that he “didn’t personally kill anyone”.

When Roden and its surroundings were liberated in 1945, Mr. Luitjens surrendered on his 26th birthday. He was interned in Westerbork, a former Nazi transit camp that was then used as a prison for collaborators. The following year he escaped and fled to a Mennonite refugee camp in Germany.

in 1948 Mr Luitjens was tried in absentia in a Dutch court, convicted of aiding the enemy during the war and sentenced to life in prison. By then, he had already left Europe and sailed from Germany to South America at the beginning of the year with more than 750 Mennonite émigrés, according to Barnouw’s research.

On the ship, he met his future wife, Olga Klassen, with whom he had three children. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Luitjens lived for many years as a devout member of the Mennonite colony in Paraguay, originally under the name Gerhard Harder. He worked as a teacher and raised cattle, as well as providing basic veterinary services that he learned from his father. He became a “highly respected member of the community,” Van Gestel said, and believed he was accounting for his sins before God.

Mr. Luitjens immigrated to Canada in 1961 and became a Canadian citizen a decade later. He studied ecology and biology, taught botany at the University of British Columbia and belonged to a Mennonite congregation in Vancouver.

The investigation into Mr. Luitjens’ war activities was renewed in the 1980s, when governments in Canada, the Netherlands and countries around the world came under increasing pressure to bring suspected Nazi war criminals and their collaborators to justice before their trials became impossible due to age or disability.

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After years of legal disputes, the Canadian government in 1991 revoked Mr. Luitjens’s citizenship on the grounds that when he came to Canada and applied for naturalization he had concealed his membership in the Landwacht and in 1948 Mr. Luitjens claimed that no Canadian authorities inquired about his background during the war and that he was unaware of his post-war criminal record until more than two decades after his arrival in Canada.

In 1992, almost half a century after his original conviction, Mr Luitjens was deported to the Netherlands and imprisoned in Groningen. He was released after 28 months because of his age (he was 75 at the time) and lighter sentences for many Nazi collaborators convicted of similar crimes.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, according to Van Gestel, many Nazi sympathizers in the Netherlands were treated with “unexpected kindness” because “the country had to be rebuilt and people had to live with each other again.” Among the collaborators imprisoned and released that year were Mr. Luitjens’ father and brother.

Mr. Luitjens was not allowed to return to Canada, nor was his Dutch citizenship restored, leaving him stateless. He lived in Lemmer, tending his garden and going to church with the curtains drawn in his house.

When in 1997 Interviewed by a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen, he blamed the “menacing Jewish forces,” paraphrasing his anti-Semitic remark, for the turnaround in his life.

But in conversations with Van Gestel about a year before his death, Mr. Luitjens seemed open to some introspection. He did not completely condemn Nazism, but he deplored the persecution of the Jews and spoke obliquely of wanting to “leave behind” the “bad things” of the past.

In a final interview last spring, Mr. Luitjens commented that perhaps his story offered hope that “a monster can also become a normal person again.”


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