The Ambiguity of Virtue


The Ambiguity of Virtue – Gertrude van Tijn and the Fate of the Dutch Jews
By Bernard Wasserstein
Harvard University Press – £20.00

The procession of despair […] went on and on, streaming through this last open
port, Europe’s gaping mouth, vomiting the contents of her poisoned stomach.

Like so many things in life, good work and good deeds, often go unnoticed. One of the prime reasons being, it’s those that invariably shout ye loudest from many an assorted rooftop of incredulous wank – everyone who’s ever been appeared on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here for instance – that more often than not, (unfortunately) get heard. Get noticed. Get promoted.

Then get their own brand of perfume.

That’s not to say the ghastly likes of yesteryear’s Katie Price or the more recent, hideous instalment of utter vacuity, Kendra Wilkinson, remotely warrants being heard or noticed. It’s more a case of modern day society appearing to be utterly anaesthetized unto readily embracing, the most docile, the most dishonest, and the most insincere, of terrible arsewipes unto its febrile breast of sanctimonious stasis.

And while some might argue that such has always been the case, it’s a rather depressing mode of thinking and belief to say the least. But they’re probably right. One need only/literally pin-point any period of world history, to unfortunately ascertain that most people have always found it far easier to listen and adhere to complete, escapist, bollocks; than a mere inkling the truth.

Might this be because the truth is so much harder to endure?

That The Ambiguity of Virtue – Gertrude van Tijn and the Fate of the Dutch Jews is a nigh pristine example of good work and good deeds having fundamentally gone unnoticed, probably accounts for and ultimately answers two things:
Why most people have never heard of Getrude van Tijn.
Why this overtly powerful book has essentially sunk beneath the (moral) radar of far reaching popularity.

Again, might this be the case because no one really gives a damn? Or is it more a case of the subject being a little too enervating; too esoteric, for its own good?

Being half Dutch myself, all I do know is that amid the protagonist’s inexorable contribution to help her fellow countrymen during the Second World War, one hurdle after another hurdle after another hurdle was ever so bureaucratically placed before her. This becomes uncomfortably evident very early on in The Ambiguity of Virtue, especially in chapter five, ‘Mission to Lisbon’ (which also includes this review’s opening quote), where author, Bernard Wasserstein, painstakingly writes:

”The main objective of Gertrude’s visit was to ask for help from the Joint in securing trans-Atlantic passages for the refugees reaching Lisbon from Germany and the Netherlands. She confronted formidable hurdles. To Portuguese obstruction, severe competition for limited shipping space, and American quota restrictions were added growing American anxiety about spies and fifth columnists. Even as Gertrude was in Lisbon, Assistant Secretary of State Beckinridge Long testified to Congress that tighter visa controls were essential” as a sieve or screen… excluding persons who might be sent into the United States by interested governments in the guise of refugees […]. Given the impossibility of securing a US visa without access to an American consul and the diminution of passenger traffic across the Atlantic, the number of Jewish immigrants entering the United States dropped precipitously – from 36,945 in fiscal year (July to June) 1939-1940 to 23,737 in 1940-1941. Thereafter, the numbers dwindled even further: to 10,868 in 1941-1942 and just 4,705 in 1942-1943. As the last escape routes were sealed, Jews in Holland, as in the rest of Europe, faced extreme peril.”

Replete with a Prologue and an Epilogue (along with Sources, Abbreviations and Notes), these 268 pages resolutely address ”the machine-gun fire of bureaucracy” like no other publication. Not only does it illuminate the side-stepping and the consequentially tragic, smokescreen complacency of countless world governments, it also confronts the vile Anto Mussert and the NSB (Dutch Nazi Movement) in such a way that is by far, more realistic and conclusive than that previously addressed.

Admittedly, outside the realm of Judaism and The Netherlands, there might not be a real reason for many people to have ever heard of Gertrude van Tijn; but to my mind, such humanity as she bestowed, deserves to be remembered. If not embraced.

Even if only to remind us and ultimately reflect the true inhumanity of the world.

David Marx


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