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The Netherlands’ Jewish Mother

Beatrix abdicated so she could usher in a new era—of heads of state who have never experienced war

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Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands appears with King Willem-Alexander on the balcony of the royal palace in Amsterdam to greet the public after her abdication on April 30, 2013. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
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The Queen is dead! Long live the King!

That is what they are decidedly not saying in the Netherlands right now, where the former Queen Beatrix, having in accordance with typically practical Dutch tradition abdicated after 33 years on the throne in favor of her oldest son, Willem-Alexander, is still very much alive.

A spry 75-year-old, she was seen all over the place this week in Amsterdam, presiding over a banquet table filled with eccentrically millinered royalty, saucily grinning up a storm at the official abdication ceremony, gazing benevolently over the sea of adoring orange-clad peasantry cheering before the little-used balcony of the royal palace in Dam Square. If the whole experience felt a little like being at her own funeral, it didn’t show in her beaming face or eyes misting over slightly with happy tears. Watching the new king, the first male sovereign of the Netherlands in 123 years, being sworn in, she looked like a kvelling mother watching her son graduate from medical school. We’re all familiar with the concept of the self-sacrificing mother—you can fill in your own joke here. But in this case, Beatrix is doing something more than proving her total, and totally guilty-inducing, devotion to her son. She’s also pushing Europe into a new era.

Unlike this generation of Windsors, or God forbid, the Grimaldis—they of the fatal accidents, the illegitimate children, the captive Princess Charlene, a dead-eyed hostage who seems to inhabit a sort of modern Bluebeard fairy nightmare—the Dutch royal family is famously functional. It’s not that they have been without foibles—Beatrix’s father, the scandal-plagued Prince Bernhard, said by many to have been Ian Fleming’s model for the character of James Bond, was the father of at least two illegitimate children, neither of whom was officially acknowledged until he was comfortably dead. Nor are they untouched by genuine tragedy: A skiing accident last year left Prince Friso, the new king’s younger brother, and father of two young children, in a coma from which he may never recover. Prior to this, Friso had declined to ask the Dutch Parliament to approve his marriage to Mabel Wisse Smit, due to her previous “sailing friendship” with the drug lord Klaas Bruinsma (I was living in Amsterdam when all this was going on, and I can’t say it made a lot of sense to me then either) and has as a result been officially removed from the line of succession.

But Willem-Alexander with his wife Queen Maxima (an Argentinian former investment banker, she famously had no idea “Alex” was a prince when they met) appear to be the very picture of stability. In their civilian clothes, free of the medals, sashes, and tiaras, they look like any other affluent forty-something couple you might see strolling down Madison Avenue on a Sunday afternoon, complete with three adorable blonde daughters in matching tea dresses from some overpriced children’s store. It’s easy to see how Beatrix, after 33 years of service under her belt and probably with some ideas on how better to spend her golden years than opening supermarkets and having her hair criticized by the Daily Mail (she isn’t even their damn queen!) felt more than comfortable vacating the throne to, as she puts it, “make way for a new generation.”

And yet, by that turn of phrase, Beatrix may have meant something more significant than a not-so-subtle hint that someone should get out of the way and just let Kate Middleton—excuse me, the Duchess of Cambridge—be Queen of Everything already. At 46, Willem-Alexander is now the youngest reigning monarch in Europe and one of only two to be born after World War II and the only one to have grown up comfortably out of its shadow. (Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden was born in 1946.) Given the complicated ties of aristocratic bloodlines, and the fact that the principalities of Germany had for centuries been little more than a so-called “stud farm” for the female scions of more coherent monarchies, the rise of Nazism and subsequent Occupations deeply divided the aristocracy of Europe, often pitting brother against brother in a profoundly literal way. The House of Orange, along with Norway the only surviving royal house of country under Nazi occupation, may have felt this division most keenly. Wilhelmina, Beatrix’s grandmother and Queen-in-Exile, may have been a symbol of national resistance for her people, but her son-in-law Bernhard was a German prince who prior to his marriage to Princess Juliana was a member of the Reiter SS. Beatrix was the first to view Anne Frank’s diary when it went on display; her husband, Prince Claus, however, was a German aristocrat who had been drafted into the Wermacht and joined the Hitler Youth (a membership, to be fair, that was compulsory for all boys of his generation), a fact that even two decades after the end of the war caused an enormous outcry among the still-traumatized Dutch population. Protesters gathered outside the palace chanting “Claus, raus” and “Give me back my bike” (a reference to the German policy of confiscation, which to a cycling-mad people is sort of like some government official showing up at an ammo store in Wyoming to take all the guns). On the day of their wedding, someone tossed a smoke bomb into their carriage. The bride and groom were unhurt, but the message was clear: This wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.

But with the ascendancy of Willem-Alexander, and to paraphrase the book of Exodus, a generation that knew not Hitler, perhaps it finally is. Beatrix’s abdication is the first step in the ushering in of new ceremonial heads of state who have never experienced their continent at war, who may never have a more difficult question to answer than “What did you do in the recession?” By simply being practical, Beatrix has given the crowned heads of Europe a new lease on life. Now let’s just hope her son remembers to call.


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small corrections to a very interesting article. Denmark, Belgium, and Monaco are monarchies also occupied by Nazi Germany

meirmoses says:

Well, with a bit more research the author would have found that apart from Bernhard’s philandering ways, he also caused a constitutional crisis in the Lockheed bribery scandal and Juliana – likely not a very bright woman – intervened to ensure he was not prosecuted by threatening to abdicate! She herself caused another constitutional crisis when it became clear her personal advisor was a quack and a faith healer! Beatrix ‘beloved’ husband was in the Hitler Jugend and later a mental wreck. Maxima’s father was likely complicit in the crimes of the Argentinian junta – and though she is not to blame, her life of wealth and ease contrasts with the many persecuted and disappeared of Argentina. The Dutch royal household still does not pay taxes and is amongst the most expensive in Europe to run. And though the Dutch public seems to accept it, I can’t abide by the notion of a hereditary right of mere mortals to inherit such wealth and power off the backs of people.

    I assumed it was charity on behalf of the writer that she ignored all of Prins Claus’s many bouts of foot-in-mouth disease that rivaled Prince Philip. The Dutch royal family owns controlling shares in many major corporations. So, taxes aside, your last point is about as useful as complaining about how much the Kardashian sisters spend.

Why would she be called Princess Beatrix, and not the Queen Mother?

    Queen Elizabeth II’s mother created that term when she abdicated. It’s not part of some universal protocol. When you abdicate, and not do so in disgrace, you can call yourself whatever you darnwell please.

Beatrix17 says:

Charles, born 1948, is post WW2 also. He’s been in line for the throne for 61 years. Why would you deprive him of finally achieving the job he’s been preparing for his entire life?

How does this make her a “Jewish Mother”? Or was the title needed to justify the article’s appearance in Tablet?
Actually, the pre-war Dutch Jewish community was fanatically faithful to the royal family.
Sadly, this did little to help them. Wilhemina made few if any references to Jews in her weekly speeches broadcasted from London: Not to warn Jews; not calling to Dutch bureaucrats to help Jews obtain Aryan documents, nor to threaten the vast number of collaborators that their participation in deporting Jews would be punished.
In contrast, Elisabeth, the German born Queen Mother of Belgium, ordered Belgian bureaucrats to provide Jews with false ID’s on authentic documents.

    pubpubpub says:

    Oh jesuschrist, when are you people going to get over it? Why do always wonder why the world hates you?

Benno may have been a German born but he was totally anti Germany… not only anti Hitler… else he would have played a huge roll in post war Europe… I know….. Donah..//

the_lemur says:

Wilhelmina’s and Juliana’s parentage is not without doubt – it is possible that Beatrix therefore is not actually of the House of Orange, but (of course) she refuses to have her DNA tested.
Just to give you an idea of the small-time weaseliness of these royals: when she was still engaged to Willem-Alexander, Máxima got into a car accident while leaving the grounds of one of the palaces. She was not licensed to drive in the Netherlands and had failed to yield, but the collision magically became the fault of the other driver because the rules at that particular intersection were changed so she would avoid being charged.



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The Netherlands’ Jewish Mother

Beatrix abdicated so she could usher in a new era—of heads of state who have never experienced war

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