A Dutchman in London: The Papers of J.M. de Moor at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam
The London Moment is all about the people who met and interacted in London during the Second World War. They collaborated, argued and quarrelled, formed tightly knit national exile communities and cosmopolitan circles. Some knew each other intimately, others tried to keep their distance. Many exiles found purpose in planning for the post-war social, economic, political and legal order both within their home countries and internationally. Tracing the biographies of these émigrés is one technique to put a spotlight on this microcosm and disentangle the myriad ways in which the London Moment worked.
One of these “hidden figures” (LINK) was Dutch judge Dr. Johannes M. de Moor. Having immigrated to London in 1940, he became the president of the Netherlands Maritime High Court as well as the Dutch representative for the London International Assembly (LIA) and the United Nations War Crimes Commission. (UNWCC, LINK) As a participant in transnational legal debates, de Moor sought practical solutions to the question how war crimes could be punished. Amont those were: What acts should be defined as war crimes or punishable offences? Which courts had jurisdiction over which crimes – was there even a need for an international criminal court? What could be done about crimes committed in Germany against stateless persons? These issues touched upon fundamental questions of international law, national sovereignty and individual rights. De Moor worked for a post-war international order in which not the right of the strongest, but the rule of law governed the behaviour of states and individuals. When he died in 1945, he had contributed to the expansion of international humanitarian law and the formation of a transnational community of exiles in London. He was also involved in debates about the reform of the League of Nations, with de Moor in favour of a robust international organisation backed by an international court and international armed forces. In the Netherlands, he is mainly known for his capacity in the Dutch exile government and his work on the reorganization of the Dutch judiciary after the war.
His private papers, preserved at NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam show he was much more than that. When I visited its archive in 2019 – before the coronavirus pandemic inhibited archival work for several months – I found a large set of minutes, reports and correspondence of various organisations, among them LIA and UNWCC. They include de Moor’s own writings, speeches and reports he drafted for an international or a Dutch audience in London. They convey vividly that for de Moor, a sense of duty towards the Netherlands and internationalism went hand in hand: He could not conceive of a prospering Netherlands in an unstable international order. His papers thus show the need for transnational research perspectives: De Moor was not just a Dutch in exile, but part of a transnational community that reimagined internationalism in times of war.
With its focus on the history of the Holocaust and genocides, NIOD itself encourages international and comparative research agendas. Located in central Amsterdam, it was founded in 1945 and merged with the Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in 2010. It is both an archive and a research institute for the study of genocide, the Holocaust and the effects of war in the Netherlands and beyond. This translates into research projects of NIOD in which existing archival material is used to ask (and answer) new questions. For example, a team of researchers currently digitises diaries from the Second World War to prepare them for data mining. This will produce new insights into the daily experience of war and occupation in the Netherlands.
New insights can also be gained from photographs. The exhibition “The Persecution of the Jews in photographs: The Netherlands 1940–1945” uses a microhistorical perspective to uncover how Dutch people perceived of and responded to the deportation of Jews. It was also shown at the Topographie des Terrors in Berlin, which has an online exhibition as well. NIOD’s website features many online projects about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. These are good examples of educational work online, in particular when archives and libraries have restricted access due to the coronavirus. True to its name, NIOD also offers resources for the study of genocide and transitional justice regimes. The aim is to develop expertise about particularities and common patterns leading to genocide, and the juridical and societal response to it. By integrating research and public outreach, NIOD shows how lessons of the past can be made viable for the present generation. It also enables further research on people like J.M. de Moor who were in the midst of the London Moment.