Cohen, David

The Jewish Honour Council

The aim of the Honour Council was to pass judgement on every Jew whose attitude and behaviour during the occupation was irreconcilable with the most basic Jewish solidarity. The Honour Council was not able to pass sentences and could only bring its judgements to the publicís attention. The Honour Council handled some 20 cases, but of those 20, the Jewish Council case was the most crucial. The powerlessness of the Honour Council can be clearly illustrated by the simple refusal of Abraham Asscher to respond to the invitation to testify at the Honour Council. Cohen, on the other hand, did testify. After all sessions were completed, the Honour Council reached the following conclusions:

  • The chairmen of the Jewish Council failed in a world that was already failing
  • It is condemnable that they took on the task of forming the Amsterdam Jewish Council, given to them by the German occupiers and that they accepted chairmanship.
  • It is condemnable that the newspaper Het Joodse Weekblad was still being published when it was clear that it was of more use to Germans than to Jews.
  • It is condemnable that they cooperated with anti-Jewish measures such as the distribution of the Jewish star and the delivery of deportation orders.
  • The fact that the chairmen revealed the people who refused to comply with the orders of the first LiRo command on 8th August 1941 is condemnable. According to this command Jews were obligated to hand over their funds above the amount of a thousand guilders (approximately Ä450) to the Lippmann-Rosenthal Bank, a former Jewish bank that was taken over by the Germans.
  • The cooperation with the selection of people for deportation and, in particular, the cooperation in May 1943 is extremely condemnable.

The Jewish Honour Council banned Cohen and Asscher from ever holding a position within the Jewish community, which due to their lifelong involvement in helping Jewish refugees and in various Jewish organisations, must have been a heavy sentence. For Asscher, the sentence was a devastating judgement of his involvement.

The government also stepped in. On 6th November 1947 both chairmen of the Jewish Council were arrested on a warrant signed by N.J.C. Sikkel, the procurator fiscal of the Bijzonder Gerechtshof in Amsterdam. They were taken into custody by Sikkel because they were found guilty of "unpardonable cooperation with the enemy, that eased the Jewish deportation considerably." A month later both were released, in expectation of a later trial. A trial never came and in 1951 on grounds of general interest the trial was abandoned. The discussion over the question of guilt will undoubtedly be continued by historians, without them ever being able to come to a definitive conclusion. The boundaries between virtue and responsibility are therefore too difficult to identify, certainly in a time of great crisis such as the one that Cohen and Asscher had to endure.

Cohen returned to his position as a professor at the university until he retired in 1953. In the remaining years of his life he lived in seclusion, a broken man full of guilt about how things had manifested and about the role he had played in the great Jewish drama, but who, at the same time, stuck to his conviction that the Jewish Council had carried out useful work and saved many lives.

Cohen died in Amsterdam on 3rd September 1967. David Cohen was the father of the architectural engineer, Herman Cohen (1914-2005), who from 1939 to 1957, helped with the formation of the state of Israel and endeavoured to do so in harmony with the English colonial powers and the original Palestinian population. One of his grandchildren is politician Rob Oudkerk.


Jewish star
Star of David on a yellow background which had to be worn by Jews in Nazi Germany and occupied territory during World War 2.
Middle Eastern people with own religion that lived in Palestine. They distinguished themselves by their strong monotheism and the strict observance of the Law and tradition. During World War 2 the Jewish people were ruthlessly persecuted and annihilated by the German Nazis. . An estimated 6,000,000 Jews were exterminated.

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Article by:
Rachael Darwin
Article by:
Frans van den Muijsenberg
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