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

Jacob Luitjens, a Dutch-born botany professor who lived quietly for years in Canada before being deported to the Netherlands in 1992 to serve a decades-long prison sentence for collaborating with the Nazis, a case that open wounds and questions about justice. following the Second World War, he has died at the age of 103.

Maarten van Gestel, a journalist from the Dutch newspaper Trouw who chronicled the story of Mr. Luitjens in a podcast released last year said a janitor informed him on Dec. 15 of the recent death of Mr. fight Other details were not immediately available. Stripped of his Canadian citizenship, Mr. fight had lived in Lemmer, a city in the north of the Netherlands, since he was released 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 commented in an interview.

Decades after his years as a fugitive, he was known as “the terror of Roden,” a reference to the city where he had donned the black uniform of the Landwacht, or Land Guard, a Dutch paramilitary group. who helped the Nazis arrest Jews, resisters and other targets of the Third Reich after Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940.

More recent assessments of the life of Mr. Luitjens, however, has been presented not as the notorious war criminal suggested by his nickname, but as someone like many others of his generation who were drawn to National Socialism and served as officials in the Nazi apparatus. which killed 6 million Jews and millions more victims throughout Europe.

“I regret that at that time I had an ideology,” said Mr. Luitjens in a Dutch courtroom in 1992, “which he did not know would eventually lead to the murder of so many people.”

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

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The family moved to the Netherlands in 1923, according to Van Gestel, and settled in Roden, where Mr. fight His father, a veterinarian who looked after the livestock of impoverished 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 as “a fanatical supporter of the Dutch National Socialist Party” and one who “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 a younger brother. “It was communism or National Socialism,” said Mr. Luitjens years later.

After studying law at the University of Groningen, Mr. Luitjens volunteered for service in the Waffen-SS, the military branch of the German SS. He was rejected, apparently because of a deformity in his left hand and arm, a feature that would make him very 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. Their activities, according to Van Gestel, centered on members of the underground resistance and Dutch citizens who had gone into hiding to avoid forced labor in Germany, among others. The resisters 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,” said Barnouw, an emeritus researcher at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, referring to the Landwacht. “They knew the environment, and the Germans, of course, did not.”

Less than 25 percent of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which described them as “doomed” by “the ruthless efficiency of the German administration and voluntary cooperation of Dutch administrators and policemen”.

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Mr. Luitjens confessed that he participated in the pursuit of two people, a Dutch resistance fighter and a German military deserter, who were eventually killed. But he insisted he had “not personally killed anyone”.

When Roden and the surrounding area were liberated in 1945, Mr. Luitjens turned himself in on his 26th birthday. He was interned at Westerbork, a former Nazi transit camp then used as a prison for collaborators. He escaped the following year 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 in wartime and sentenced to life in prison. By then, he had already left Europe, sailing from Germany to South America earlier this year with more than 750 Mennonite emigrants, according to Barnouw’s research.

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

Mr. Luitjens lived for years as a devout member of a Mennonite colony in Paraguay, at first under the assumed name of Gerhard Harder. He worked as a teacher and cattle breeder, also providing basic veterinary services that he had learned from his father. He became a “well-respected member of the community,” Van Gestel said, and believed he was mindful of his sins before God.

In 1961, Mr. Luitjens immigrated to Canada 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.

In the 1980s, an investigation was reopened into Mr. Luitjens, as the governments of Canada, the Netherlands and countries around the world came under increasing pressure to bring suspected Nazi war criminals and their collaborators to justice before age or disease make their judgments impossible.

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After years of legal wrangling, the Canadian government in 1991 revoked Mr. Luitjens on the grounds that when he entered Canada and applied for naturalization, he had concealed his membership in the Landwacht and his 1948 conviction. Mr. Luitjens maintained that no Canadian authorities had asked about his war background and that he was not aware of his post-war conviction until more than two decades after he entered Canada.

In 1992, nearly 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 because of the lesser sentences served by many Nazi collaborators convicted of similar crimes.

Immediately after the war, Van Gestel said, many Nazi sympathizers in the Netherlands were treated with “unexpected grace” because “the country had to be rebuilt and people had to live among themselves again.” Among the collaborators imprisoned and released in those years were the father and brother of Mr. Luitjens.

To 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 of the house closed.

When an Ottawa Citizen reporter interviewed him in 1997, he blamed “sinister Jewish forces,” in the reporter’s paraphrase of his anti-Semitic comment, for the turn his life had taken.

But in conversations with Van Gestel for a year before his death, Mr. Luitjens seemed open to some introspection. He did not fully denounce Nazism, but said he regretted the persecution of the Jews and spoke obliquely of a desire to “leave behind” the “bad things” of the past.

In his final conversation 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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