The Jews and not the Dutch Should Apologize for Slavery

The Jews and not the Dutch Should Apologize for Slavery

I was recently alerted by a reader to the news that an ‘independent panel’ has ‘recommended’ to the Dutch government to: ‘acknowledge that the 17th-19th century transatlantic slave trade amounted to crimes against humanity, and to apologise for the Dutch role.’

The article from Reuters goes on to describe how:

‘Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged that racism and discrimination were also a problem in the Netherlands and his government helped to set up the independent panel.

However, as he faces the delicate task of reconciling polarised views in the Dutch population, he said his government would not apologise for slavery because it was not his place to pass judgement on Dutch history and doing so would further divide opinion.

While many Dutch view sea captains of centuries gone by as heroes, they are less aware of the role played in the slave trade by the Dutch West India Company - an important source of the Netherlands' early national wealth.

The company operated a chain of fortresses in modern Ghana and historians estimate Dutch traders shipped more than half a million enslaved Africans to the Americas, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean.’

Now there is a bit of a problem here in the historical record for one very obvious reason in that it completely ignores who the people financing and profiting from the Dutch Slave Trade in the Americas were. We are supposed just to believe that they are nasty historical Dutch Nazis and that is that, but if we go back to the academic literature on the subject then it becomes painfully apparent that it is not really the Dutch who need to be ‘apologizing’ to anyone here but rather the jews.

It is often forgotten that jewish financiers operated in large cities – such as Amsterdam – across what is now the Netherlands from at least the early 1500s (when they began to emigrate to the Netherlands from Spain following the expulsion of the jews in 1492) (1) and were key in providing the financing for the urban development of the Dutch economy that allowed for the creation of the formidable Dutch navy and the Dutch West and East Indian Companies. (2)

Between 1609 and 1620 Sephardi jews from Spain and Portugal flood into Amsterdam to take part in the booming Dutch-Brazilian trade – which included slaves and sugar – and soon comprised 9 percent of the total accounts held by the Amsterdam Exchange Bank in 1620. (3)

So important were jews to the Dutch-Brazilian trade – which is an academic euphemism for ‘Get Money – Sail to Africa – Buy Black Slaves – Sail to Brazil – Trade them for Sugar – Sail to the Netherlands – Sell Sugar’ – by 1621 that they spent the next two years – till 1623 – trying to convince the Dutch States General that they should be able to carry sugar from Brazil to the Netherlands in ‘enemy ships’ and not be liable to have it confiscated. (4) The jews lost this case and as a result exited the sugar trade en masse making the Dutch-Brazilian trade go from a nearly complete jewish monopoly to jews just being 1 percent of it in the course of a year. (5)

After this reverse in 1623 the jews who had formerly been the core of the Dutch-Brazilian ‘slaves for sugar’ trade went one of two ways. They either left the Netherlands to continue to trade ‘slaves for sugar’ in Brazil in England, France or Germany (6) or they went to work instead at the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Of its 4,000 members – as Alberto Guenzi has pointed out – (7) in 1621 some 2,000 were jewish and it was at the Amsterdam Stock Exchange that the Dutch-Brazilian ‘slaves for sugar’ trade and the Dutch East India Company looked for investors to finance their ‘slaves for sugar’ trading expeditions.

In other words: the people who originally traded ‘slaves for sugar’ between the Netherlands and Brazil were almost all jews and the people who then migrated to financing these expeditions from the Amsterdam Stock Exchange were also very heavily jewish.

Indeed – as Simon Schama rightly notes – (8) jews were heavily involved in financing and managing Dutch colonial and trading ventures from the beginning of the Dutch slave trade in the early 1600s almost to its end in the mid-1800s.

So thus, when the ‘independent panel’ recommended to the Dutch government that it should ‘apologize’ from slavery; they forgot to make a significant qualifier. Jews living in – or formerly resident in – the Netherlands should be the ones apologising and offering ‘reparations’ to the ‘former slaves’ not the Dutch people and their government.


(1) Russell Shorto, 2013, ‘Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City’, 1stEdition, Doubleday: New York, p. 163

(2) David Nicholas, 1992, ‘Medieval Flanders’, 1st Edition, Longman: New York, p. 170

(3) Jonathan Israel, 1982, ‘The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World 1606 – 1661’, 1stEdition, Clarendon Press: Oxford, p. 47

(4) Ibid, p. 126

(5) Ibid, pp. 126-127

(6) Ibid, p. 135

(7) Alberto Guenzi, 2006, ‘European Expansion in the Seventeenth Century’, p. 73 in Antonio Di Vittorio (Ed.), 2006, ‘An Economic History of Europe: From Expansion to Development’, 1st Edition, Routledge: New York

(8) Simon Schama, 1977, ‘Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813’, 1stEdition, Collins: London, p. 262