Rabbijn Maarsenplein, 2512 HJ, Den Haag
Close to the gravestone of the philosopher Spinoza, the monument at the former Jewish school bears testimony to the victims of terror. The moral resistance offered by Rabbi Maarsen inspires peace education about the basic value of tolerance.
“Peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.”
– Baruch de Spinoza
Like most Dutch cities, The Hague provided a safe haven for victims of religious persecution, in particular Jewish refugees. Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), who was expelled from his Amsterdam community, was a main advocate of an ethics of tolerance. In The Hague, he wrote a treatise Ultimi Barbarorum (The worst of Barbarians, 1672), condemning the political murders of the statesmen Johan and Cornelis de Witt, lynched by a crowd near the Prison Gate.
In the 19th century, Spinoza’s ethics became a source of inspiration for initiatives to outlaw the barbarity of war and political hatred. In this spirit, Theodor Herzl, a friend of Bertha von Suttner in the campaign against anti-Semitism, convened the 8th Zionist Congress during the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. The pogroms in Tsarist Russia reinforced Herzl’s hope of gaining international support for mass settlement in Palestine (still part of the Turkish Empire). Others, like the international lawyer Tobias Asser, considered civil law reforms and international legal relations the surest way for protecting rights of people in the long run.
The monument on the Rabbijn Maarsenplein dramatically illustrates the lack of legal protection during the Nazi-German occupation of 1940-1945, Isaac Maarsen (1892-1943) was the Chief Rabbi of The Hague who refused to go into hiding himself and continued to defend the community until the end. More than 10.000 Jewish residents of The Hague were murdered in concentration camps, including 1700 children. The monument near the former Jewish school commemorates the names of 400 pupils, symbolized by the empty chairs. It also serves as a climbing rack, and a tool for peace education in the neighbourhood.
The Spinoza House (Paviljoensgracht 72), where Baruch de Spinoza died in 1677, has been preserved with a library collection that includes his manuscripts, as well as studies about his legacy. Like the Jewish Children’s Monument, this remains a place of remembrance and reflection about the ethics of peace and tolerance.