72-year-old Widow Leads Dutch Nazis
VELP, Netherlands (AP) _ The 72-year-old widow of a man who committed suicide in 1945 while awaiting trial on war crimes charges is the rallying point for a handful of Nazi ideologues who still exist in the Netherlands.
Florentine Rost van Tonningen, whose husband, Meinoudt, was deputy chief of the Dutch Nazi Party during five years of German occupation in World War II, was convicted in October of preparing to distribute anti-Semitic literature and was given a suspended four-month jail sentence.
Anti-fascist watchdog groups say she has several thousand followers out of a population of 14.3 million but do not consider them a threat.
Aided by a puppet National Socialist (Nazi) government, the wartime German occupation force destroyed the Netherlands’ once-vibrant Jewish community during World War II, shipping an estimated 100,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.
Dutch collaboration with German Nazism still weighs heavily on the Dutch collective conscience. Postwar Netherlands has been one of Israel’s leading supporters and because of this became a main target of the 1973 Arab oil boycott.
Mrs. Rost lives surrounded by Nazi memories, nevertheless, in a sprawling white stucco mansion on Recluse Road in this affluent eastern Dutch town. Her home is a shrine to the now-banned Dutch National Socialist Movement, the Dutch version of the German Nazi Party.
According to the watchdog groups and press reports, she hosts regular meetings of sympathizers from the old days, who reverently refer to her as ″The Lady.″
Dozens of pictures of her husband fill her living room, and a color photograph of Adolf Hitler is prominently displayed in her study.
Mrs. Rost recently recalled with fondness her one meeting with Hitler.
″The grandeur of what this man has accomplished will one day be recognized,″ she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Richard Stein, a spokesman for the Foundation for the Fight Against Anti- Semitism, told the AP that Mrs. Rost has a mailing list of about 2,500 sympathizers to whom she sends pro-Nazi material.
The material, sent under the letterhead of the Tree of Life Consortium, which she founded, contains praise for German Nazi leaders, singling out Hitler and his deputy, Rudolph Hess, who is serving a life sentence in an Allied war crimes prison in West Berlin. But the literature carefully avoids any anti-Semitic content, to stay within Dutch law.
″It’s absolute nonsense to say that I’d be anti-Jewish,″ Mrs. Rost said, but refused to discuss the subject further, as an elderly aide stood attentively by.
The court case against Mrs. Rost was based on a 1984 police raid at her home, in which authorities confiscated a brochure published in West Germany that termed the Jewish Holocaust a fraud.
Although the Dutch Penal Code contains no specific statute against anti- Semitic propaganda, it bans ″inciting hatred against people on the grounds of their race, religion, or other beliefs.″
Those on Mrs. Rost’s mailing list range from members of the now-disbanded Dutch Nazi party to ultraright-wing groups favoring Aryan supremacy and German dominance over Europe, Stein said.
″They’re not a tightly organized group, and are not involved in a sinister plot to overthrow the government or something like that,″ he added.
Toos Faber, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman, said Dutch authorities do not view the group with alarm.
″If they commit offenses, we prosecute,″ Ms. Faber said. ″But we don’t see them as a serious threat to society.″
Mrs. Rost and her admirers operate at the extreme fringe of the Netherlands’ small ultraright.
″What’s involved in the ultraright here is not so much Nazi ideology, but rather a fear of all people alien,″ said Joke Kniesmeijer, spokeswoman for the Anne Frank Foundation, an anti-fascist organization named after the Dutch- Jewish wartime diarist.
During her court trial, Mrs. Rost disclaimed knowledge of the contents of the anti-Semitic brochure in her possession, but unsuccessfully maintained that her constitutional right of free speech made possession of the brochure legal.
Her outspokeness has brought so-far unsuccessful moves in Parliament to withdraw Mrs. Rost’s annual $10,730 pension, deriving from her husband’s prewar years as a Parliament member representing the Dutch Nazi Party, which was founded in 1931.