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Cohen, David

COHEN, DAVID

COHEN, DAVID (1883–1967), Dutch historian and prominent Jewish and Zionist leader. Cohen, who was born at Deventer, east Holland, was professor of ancient history at the universities of Leiden and Amsterdam from 1924 to 1953 (except for the years of Nazi occupation). His involvement in Jewish affairs started in 1903; while a student he established an organization to assist Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who passed Deventer by train, and afterwards he became involved in a variety of local, national, and international organizations for Jewish refugees and migrants. In the 1920s, while living in The Hague, he headed the committee for the poor of the local Jewish community. A Zionist from his youth, he was for many years one of the leaders of Dutch Zionism, establishing branches and youth organizations, writing in its publications, and representing it abroad. In 1933, immediately after the ascendance of the Nazis to power in Germany, Cohen co-founded and led – with Abraham *Asscher – the Comité voor Bijzondere Joodse Belangen (Committee for Special Jewish Affairs) to combat Nazi antisemitism and policies and to help refugees from Germany; for this purpose a special Subcommittee for Jewish Refugees, headed by Cohen, was established, and became one of the most powerful organizations in Dutch Jewry of the 1930s. In this position he was instrumental in having Alfred Wiener with his documentation on Nazism and antisemitism move from Germany to Amsterdam (1933). From 1933 to 1939 he was chairman of the Jewish Central Information Office, under the auspices of which Wiener constantly enlarged his collection; in 1939 Wiener once again moved, now to London, where the collection finally settled and became known as the *Wiener Library. The Refugee Committee continued its activities also after the German invasion in May 1940. In December 1940 Cohen joined the Jewish Coordination Committee, an initiative to organize Dutch Jewry vis-à-vis the Germans. From February 12, 1941, to September 1943 Cohen acted as cochairman (with Abraham Asscher) and dominating personality of the Joodsche Raad voor Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Jewish Council, appointed by the German occupation authorities (see *Amsterdam), which gradually expanded its authority over all Jews in the Netherlands. In this position he conducted the controversial policies of the Council, which were characterized by servility towards the German authorities. He was finally arrested on the eve of Rosh ha-Shanah (September 1943) and sent as a "prominent Jew" to Theresienstadt, where he stayed from 1943 to 1945. In 1947 he was arrested on charges of collaboration with the Germans, but was soon released. However, a Jewish "honorary" court excluded him from participation in all Jewish functions. In 1955 Cohen published reminiscences, Zwervend en Dolend, dealing with his work for Jewish refugees in the 1930s; a second, planned volume, intended to explain his policies in the 1940s, was never published. However, a part of it was published in 2000 in a biography of Cohen. His and his colleague Abraham Asscher's behavior and policies have been a major theme of Dutch and general historiography as well as of popular discussion of the fate of the Dutch Jews, of whom about 75% perished during the Holocaust, and of the Jewish Councils in general.

bibliography:

A.J. Herzberg, Kroniek der Jodenvervolging (1951); J. Presser, Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry (1968). add. bibliography: L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, vols. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 14 (1969–89); J. Michman, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 4 (1970), 219–27; idem, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 10 (1974), 9–68; D. Michman, "The Jewish Refugees from Germany in The Netherlands, 1933–1940," ch. 3 (Ph.D. thesis, 1978) (Heb.); H. Knoop, De Joodsche Raad. Het Drama van Abraham Asscher en David Cohen (1983); n.k.c.a. in 't Veld, De Joods Ereraad (1989); J. Meijer, Prof. Dr. David Cohen: Joodse jeugdjaren in Deventer, 1882–1901 (1992); I. Scheltes, Cohen: professor in oorlogstijd (1995); W. Lindwer (with J. Houwink ten Cate), Het fatale dilemma. De Joodsche Raad voor Amsterdam, 1941–1943 (1995); B. Moore, Victims and Survivors: The Nazi Persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands, 1940–1945 (1997); D. Michman, in: Studia Rosenthaliana 32 (1998), 173–89; J. Michman, H. Beem, and D. Michman, Pinkas. Geschiedenis van de joodse gemeenschap in Nederland (1999); N. van der Zee, Um Schlimmeres zu verhindern. Die Ermordung der niederländischen Juden: Kollaboration und Widerstand (1999); P. Schrijvers, Rome, Athene, Jeruza lem. Leven en werk van Prof. Dr. David Cohen (2000); J.C.H. Blom, R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld, and I. Schöffer (eds.), The History of the Jews in the Netherlands (1992).

[Shaul Esh /

Dan Michman (2nd ed.)]

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