Wednesday, 16 February 2022

No country for old people

The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) has just published its report into the way the Dutch government handled the first phase of the corona pandemic in 2020.

If you want to assess the success or failure of actions, you first have to clarify what the goals of the actions were. There is usually a discussion of these goals in a report, at least in the preamble.

How do we remember earlier pandemics?
We conclude that the flu pandemic in 1918 was the worst pandemic in recent history because it killed the most people worldwide. The 2009 swine flu pandemic resulted in less than 300,000 deaths globally and is considered relatively mild.

Therefore, in my opinion, preventing excess deaths is a major goal of preventive measures during a pandemic. There are of course other goals and the different goals should be weighed before choosing a course of action.

A discussion of goals with the emphasis on saving lives cannot be found in the OVV report. The reason is simple: saving lives was/is not a relevant goal in the Dutch corona policy.
There are three illustrations for this lack of interest in mortality during the pandemic.

1. It is not compulsory to report deaths from corona in the Netherlands.
A policy directed towards preventing deaths from the virus would want to know how many people were dying from the virus.

2. The infected elderly were not given the necessary treatment that could have saved them.
No smiling photos of old people leaving hospital after a long fight against the corona virus in the Netherlands, as they would not have been admitted to hospital.
This also happens in other countries, but there is a difference.
In the UK it was exposed in a Sunday Times article: “Revealed: how elderly paid price of protecting NHS from Covid-19”.
In the Netherlands it is the accepted norm.

3. Lack of priority for vaccinating the elderly.
Remember the smiling photos of the old people who received the first corona vaccines. They were a signal of hope.
Not in the Netherlands. The first photo was of a happy nurse, the second was of a beaming television doctor. 
I remember an uplifting photo in German newspapers; it took another three weeks before the first old person was vaccinated in the Netherlands.

The German nurse who vaccinated the first person in Germany said he was happy that Germany had started to vaccinate. It was important to start as soon as possible because every day people were dying.
The Dutch Minister of Health when confronted with a question about the Dutch tardiness with vaccinations replied: it was not important when you started as the Dutch would eventually catch up with the rest of Europe.

Thursday, 10 February 2022

My back burner



We lived behind and above my parents’ shop in the Elephant & Castle. When I was 6, my parents sent me to a Jewish boarding school in Hove. I stayed there until I was 12.

One of the problems of the boarding school was that other children only stayed one or a few terms. It was quite usual for me to return from a school holiday and find that some of my friends had left the school.

I unconsciously developed a defence mechanism for this recurring form of loss.
When I went home, I put all my school friends on a back burner. If they were gone when I returned, I left them there and eventually forgot about them.

Since then I have always used my back burner for events and people. It has enabled me to hide traumatic events and move from people and countries more easily.
For me, it is literally: out of sight, out of mind.

When I was 18, I left England to go and live on a kibbutz in the northern part of the Negev desert. I was the only member of the kibbutz from an English-speaking country. 
The Romanian Holocaust survivors who founded the kibbutz did all speak a foreign language, but that was German.
I put my family and old friends out of my mind and concentrated on the present and the future.

Fast forward 3 years. The 6 day war is over and I have been demobbed. I was back on the kibbutz but that was difficult. 
The relentless routine of work, eat, work, sleep was eroding my motivation.

I had a relationship with a South African tourist. She was pleasant company and I found her attractive.
For me, she was a diversion. For her, I was an experience she could relate to her girlfriends when she returned home.

We were together in my room. A knock on the door: telephone for you. Where is the telephone? In the office.
I went down to the office that was in a wooden hut. There was a telephone there that I had never seen before.

I picked it up. It was my mother.
She knew I was in the paratroopers because she had been to the Israeli Embassy about my father’s illness.
She was phoning to find out if I was still alive. I had not contacted her since the war.

That’s the problem with back burners.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

A New Beginning

In order to make Aliyah in 1964 I tagged on to a “Hashomer Hatzair” European youth “garin” (group) that was going to settle in kibbutz Magen, in the north of the Negev desert near to the Egyptian border.

The group was composed of 15 to 20 Jewish teenagers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
I am not sure about the exact number because some had emotional or mental problems and were quietly returned to the countries they came from after a short period in Israel.

Before I could make Aliyah I had to spend a few weeks at a training farm in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. This was to prepare me for physical labour on a communal farm.
The Hashomer Hatzair “shaliach” (emissary) was an Israeli man who lived on the farm with his wife and young child.

I met Gidon for the first time on that farm. He was visiting on his way to Israel. I thought it was a strange detour to make from the Netherlands, but he said he wanted to visit the shaliach.
We hit it off well and he later confided in me the real reason he was there. He was knocking up the shaliach’s wife.

I was an 18-year-old innocent British teenager about to start on a life changing adventure.
The first person I met who was going to be part of that adventure told me he was knocking up somebody else’s wife.
Was I shocked? No.
I thought to myself: bring it on.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Rich families

The west coast of Sicily is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas of Italy. There is an old, dilapidated public hospital in Castelvetrano that you should avoid.

How do I know?
I spent 3 hours there waiting to be admitted to their emergency department and then another 14 hours with an intravenous drip in my arm waiting to be seen by a doctor. There was no bed for me, I was allocated a stretcher in a large open space with about 15 Sicilians on stretchers and beds.

It was difficult for them to register me because their computer programme did not accept British as a nationality.
I knew that I had (recurrent) erysipelas and all I needed was antibiotics.

The place was in a constant state of bedlam. The nurses shouted at patients and patients shouted at nurses.
There was only one doctor for the whole emergency department. When he had to walk past patients he would keep his head in the air. They would call to him, but he did not respond.

There was no bedding, only a sheet of paper for the stretcher. I had an extra roll that allowed me to change the paper when it got torn or too crumpled. 
There was no food or water. At the front of the building there was a vending machine for cola and other fizzy drinks.

The one toilet had no toilet paper. I asked a nurse for toilet paper and he gave me some surgical cloths.
The other patients ignored me. Not in a hostile way, more not wanting to bother me.

On the other hand, all the patients had family at their bedside who looked after them.
They brought food and water, helped them to the toilet (they had their own toilet paper), and helped them wash. Some had even brought their own bed linen.
Most important of all they were there to comfort their ill family (or friends): talking, smiling and sometimes stroking and hugging.

I remember one older woman with little hair who was coughing a lot. Every now and then she was sick. 
A middle-aged man sat close to the head end of her bed. He read from a book for her.

Those poor people, rich with family.

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Fornicating memories


Music can bring back memories.
Sometimes of a period in life, other times of a specific occurrence.

I was working on the docks in Amsterdam. In those days I was paid in cash at the end of the week; in a brown paper envelope with my name written in ink on the outside.
We had been living in the flat of my girlfriend’s mother for a couple of weeks. Now, as the mother was coming back from her holidays, we needed a place to live.

In the east of Amsterdam there is a building near the zoo called the Hollandse Schouwburg (Holland’s Theatre).
Originally the Schouwburg was a Dutch theatre, but in 1941 the Nazi occupiers used it as an assembly point for the deportation of Jews.
Nowadays it is a monument with an eternal flame in memory of the deported Amsterdam Jews.

Right behind the Schouwburg in the adjacent street there was a courtyard that could only be reached through an alley.
In the courtyard there was a large building owned by a carpenter. He had his workshop on the ground floor.

The other floors had been converted into rooms separated by walls made of hardboard. That is where we went to live when my girlfriend’s mother came back from her holidays.

The room was small and the carpenter had used hardboard (again) to separate the room into three even smaller areas. One of these areas was an alcove big enough for a three-quarter bed.

Our neighbours were a young couple. Their alcove and our alcove were next to each other, just separated by hardboard.
The young couple were not too keen on us listening to their sexual activity. 
They solved the problem by playing a record of the Mamas and the Papas during their lovemaking.

Since that time, the music of the Mamas and the Papas reminds me of fornication.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Flourishing business, flourishing virus

Sunday in November, around 5 in the afternoon, I finished my latest reunion with a cross trainer and other similar unsavoury devices in my gym.


A few doors down there is a post-secondary vocational education centre for older teenagers. On the ground floor of the same building there is a big supermarket belonging to the Dirk van den Broek national chain of supermarkets.

I stumbled from the gym to the supermarket.

When it comes to corona infections, the Dutch are up a creek and cannot find a suitable paddle.
They do not know how many people are infected because the maximum of their test capacity has been reached. Regular hospital wards and ICUs are filling up with corona patients at an alarming rate.

There is now talk of "code black": a situation where they decide to let people die because there is not enough capacity to treat everybody.
A talk show guru physician said recently that if code black is activated, the hospitals will have to be guarded by the police.
The police immediately replied: we do not have enough capacity, it will have to be done by the army.

The government has reintroduced a few measures.
One is the mandatory wearing of a face mask in all indoor areas accessible to the public, including shops. The only exceptions are indoor places where the coronavirus entry pass is used

The supermarket that was the destination of my weary tread was quite busy.
People were walking in and out without a face mask.
There were two young female shop assistants standing near to the entrance chatting to each other. One was wearing a face mask over her nose and mouth, the other had it under her chin.

I am not really integrated into Dutch society as I do not think rules only apply to other people.
I approached the young ladies and asked them why all these not wearing face masks people were in their shop. Should they not do something about it?

They replied that wearing a face mask was only an advice and their team leader had told them not to say anything about it.
I told them wearing a face mask in shops had been mandatory for over a week. They shrugged their shoulders.

Most of the staff inside the supermarket were either not wearing a face mask or wearing it under their chin.

Next day, a report in the media, Dutch Security Council chair:
"If compliance with the measures does not fundamentally change and the number of infections does not fall substantially, there will be a lockdown that will last all winter."

Another report: "still hoping that a lockdown can be averted, the cabinet makes another appeal to us about our behaviour."

Monday, 8 November 2021

Don't mention the Verkaufsbücher

I have written before that during the Second World War almost all Dutch government and private organisations collaborated with the German occupier in the isolation, persecution and deportation of Dutch Jews.

I have also explained that the reason for this collaboration was not virulent overt antisemitism as it was in other occupied countries.
The reason was much more mundane: it was profitable.

In recent years there has been more research into the collaboration and as a result it has been raining profuse apologies.
However, it is not something people like to talk about.

The silence surrounding the collaboration can lead to a distorted view of the prelude to the Dutch Holocaust.
The following case is an example of this distortion.

The Jan van Goyen Medical Centre, a private, well-known Dutch clinic with a growing number of subsidiaries, has its domicile at Jan van Goyenkade 1.
It is a beautiful building in a very nice part of Amsterdam near to the Hilton Hotel.

On their site they write about their "long history":
"In 1942 an ENT clinic was established in the building on the Jan van Goyenkade."
According to their site, the building had a glorious war record as well: “During the occupation, people in hiding still needed medical care.
That was possible in a secret hospital in Amsterdam. The hospital was located at Jan van Goyenkade 1."

Strange, even though I searched as thoroughly as possible, I could not find any corroboration of a secret hospital there.
Surely, somebody would have recorded it somewhere? This was not the case.

The bigger problem for me was: why do they not mention the original owner?
He was the man who had the house built in 1923. His name was Alfred Cohen and he was a Jew.

The reason they do not mention him is because their "secret hospital", that is not mentioned anywhere else, was one of the houses Jewish owners were forced to leave and sell at a fraction of their value.
This is now referred to as the "theft of Jewish real estate."

The address can be found in the "Verkaufsbücher", the files the Germans kept of all stolen Jewish property.

"The Verkaufsbücher provide a gripping overview of Jewish real estate that was confiscated in World War II and subsequently stolen by war buyers.
These books describe in detail how more than 7,000 Jewish properties and plots of land ended up in the hands of mostly shady entrepreneurs and real estate traders."
KRO, NCRV television networks.