This isn’t one of my true stories, this is the last part of a series of events which began before the war and only came to an end in the 1980’s. I often watch foreign TV series and saw one advertised called in English ‘The Body Collector‘ but in the original Dutch ‘De Zaak Menten’ (‘The Menten Case’)
It was released in 2016 but the true story began in 1976, when the Dutch journalist and editor-in-chief of the newspaper De Telegraaf, Hans Knoop received an unexpected and mysterious phone call from an unknown man in Tel Aviv. The call reveals information and accusations about a wealthy and well-known businessman and art collector, Pieter Menten and his art collection. Knoop begins to investigate the story and before long is drawn into a dangerous chase for the truth. Menten was accused of stealing art from Jewish and other people during the war and massacring in person, up to a thousand innocent and unarmed civilians.
I knew nothing about it at all, though obviously I knew that various European people profited by the war and by the holocaust, and that many valuable possessions and property were stolen and even after the war there were protracted court cases as they tried to recover what had been stolen from them.
‘The Body Collector’ is a very understated and yet powerful piece of television. It is gripping and yet not sensationalist; the people are portrayed as very ordinary, and although Pieter Menten is played as a chilling monster, he is able to turn on the charm – which must have made it difficult for people who knew him in his post-war life to believe he could have been responsible for such horrors. The actor, Aus Greidanus is superb in the part, he seems to emanate menace; the other actors too a terrific, but Guy Clemens who plays the part of Knoop is excellent, he is the star but his performance is modest and low-key, the way his performances shows the frustration, his determination, his courage, his tenacity of the real Knoop is magnificent.
The action takes place in the 1970’s and 80’s and the way the era is portrayed – as well as flashbacks to the war years, is subtle and clever. The colours are slightly faded so when old footage is spliced in it all looks part of the whole – such clever production. I know many people struggle with subtitles, but this series is so brilliant, I really do recommend you watch it. It gives a great insight not just about was crimes – about which we are well-informed, but what happened after the are, the double-dealings, betrayals and collusion is actually shocking.
Here are some details:
Pieter Menten was born in 1899 into a wealthy Dutch family, and became involved his father’s business in Poland, developing an extensive export trade of Dutch products. He actually moved to live in East Galicia in 1923 and became a wealthy landowner and businessman. This was part of Poland at the time, but then became part of the Ukrainian S.S.R. Although he seemed an ordinary person, he harboured a deep hatred and grudge against a local Jewish businessman and his family. After various different episodes of his life he was in Poland in 1941 when the Nazis were occupying the country – but he was back not as a businessman or art dealer, but as a member of the SS. He was involved in and responsible for the slaughter of many people in Lvov and elsewhere, and those former neighbours in East Galicia, and other Jewish people in the area.
After the war, in a controversial trial the prosecution were unable to provide sufficient evidence and he was sentenced to a mere eight months for working as a Nazi interpreter. A couple of years later the Dutch government refused his extradition to Poland.It wasn’t until Hans Knoop began his investigation in 1976, that the case was reopened and Menten was brought to trial again – this time being sentenced to ten years in prison. However he was released due to a ‘technicality’ but on retrial he was sent to prison in 1980. He was released in 1985 and died of dementia in an old folks home… at the age of eighty-six…
Knoop had a very different life; he was born in 1943 in the Netherlands to Jewish parents who were in hiding from the Nazi occupiers. He became a reporter with De Telegraaf at the age of twenty and has pursued his career in journalism with tenacity, courage and commitment.
Here’s a very interesting article on the making of the series:
… and more about Hans Knoop: