The Uncivil Servant: Refugee Children and Their Teacher

by Mitchell Abidor   NICOLAS PHILIBERT’S 2002 To Be and To Have was a moving documentary about the students and teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in rural France. This lovely film, a deservedly huge success, was in a way a vision of both France past and the mythical eternal France — the students white, the teacher dealing, at worst, with […]

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Another Jewish Pirate

Moses Cohen Henriques, a Sephardic Portuguese pirate, helped the Dutch West India Company capture a Spanish treasure fleet in the Battle of Matanzas on this date in 1628. The capture took place in Cuba’s Bay of Matanzas, with sixteen Spanish ships intercepted, four fleeing galleons trapped in the bay, and numerous other ships forced to surrender. The Dutch took an […]

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Jews of New Amsterdam

Captain Jacques de la Motthe of the St. Catrine, who had brought twenty-three Jews to North America after rescuing them from a pirate attack, petitioned for payment of their fare on this date in 1654. His passengers had been part of a convoy of sixteen ships carrying Dutch colonists from Recife, Brazil back to Holland following Portugal’s […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Ten Million Books

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell. Viking, 2017, 352 pages. THE NAZI WAR on knowledge and ideas is well-known and documented, and its image has been eternally fixed: the burning of books on May 10, 1933, a scene that opens Anders Rydell’s informative and well-written The Book Thieves. Less […]

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March 27: Blowing Up Nazi Records to Save Lives

Frieda Belinfante helped to blow up Amsterdam’s population registry in the city’s City Hall on this date in 1943 in order to prevent Nazi efforts to expose false documents and capture more of Amsterdam’s Jews, many of whom were in hiding. Belinfante, a cellist, was the daughter, on her father’s side, of a musical Sephardic […]

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November 24: The Lens Grinder

Philosopher Baruch Spinoza was born in the Netherlands on this date in 1632. He made his living as a lens grinder and turned down numerous teaching positions while writing and developing the philosophical outlook that would be explicated (in part through mathematical argument) in Ethics, published after his death in 1677, a book described by […]

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July 1: The Gay Dutch Resistance Fighter

The Westerbork deportation camp in the Netherlands became operational on this date in 1942. Originally established by the Dutch occupation government to house German Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, it became the point of transit to the death camps for tens of thousands of Dutch Jews. One year later on this date, Willem Arondeus, a […]

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January 31: Amsterdam’s City Planner

Samuel Sarphati, a physician who built the Amstel Hotel, the Palace of National Industry, a garbage-collection system, a bread factory, and a trade school in Amsterdam as he sought to improve the hygiene among poor communities, was born in the city on this date in 1813. An Orthodox Sephardic Jew, Sarphati lived in an Amsterdam […]

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December 5: Frits Philips, a Righteous Dutchman

Frits Philips, who headed the Dutch electronics company Philips and saved thousands of Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands by requisitioning their labor, died at 100 on this date in 2005. While most of his family fled the Nazis to the United States, Philips stayed and kept the company alive. He had a […]

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