While there has been no shortage of films over the years about Holocaust heroes (SCHINDLER’S LIST being the most famous example), most people would be hard-pressed to name just one film where the main character is a Holocaust villain – Hitler and his upper echelon of rogues not included. That alone makes the new Dutch film, RIPHAGEN, intriguing viewing.
For those who aren’t familiar with Andreas “Dries” Riphagen, he was nicknamed the Netherlands’ “Al Capone”. Active during the 1930s and 40s, he was involved in more than a few criminal pursuits including prostitution, smuggling and car theft. During the Second World War, Riphagen expanded his activities to include larceny when he became an ally of Germany’s security service, SD (short for Sicherheitsdienst), helping the organisation track down Dutch Jews who had gone into hiding and confiscating their assets for the German Reich. Whenever he and his underworld pals would find a Jew, he would con them into turning over all their hidden jewels to him on the expectation that he would protect them from the Nazis and return their wealth to them at the end of the war. Of course, that never happened and a few days later he would notify the SS where the Jews were hiding. They were swiftly rounded up and sent off to their deaths. For his efforts, the Nazis would pay Riphagen a fee of 7-1/2 guilders (about €50 at today’s value) per Jew, so he was profiting quite handsomely on both ends. (He would give the SD a fraction of the Jews’ jewels either so that they wouldn’t be suspicious or just to keep them out of his affairs.)
Riphagen’s talent was that he was a fabulous liar and he was able to fool everyone he dealt with, from the Nazis to the Jews to the members of the Dutch Resistance to his cronies and even to his loyal wife, Greetje. Whenever his back was against the wall, he would say the right things that would get people to trust him all over again. The only one (according to the movie, at any rate) who could see through him was Jan van Liempd, a Dutch policeman and undercover resistance fighter. Throughout RIPHAGEN, Jan (actor Kay Greidanus) and Dries (actor/singer Jeroen van Koningsbrugge, who looks like a Dutch Vin Diesel with his shaved head and brawny appearance) perform a cat-and-mouse chase, except that Jan is the unwitting mouse to Dries’ cat.
Though nowhere near as exciting as that other recent Dutch wartime drama, BLACK BOOK, RIPHAGEN offers reasonable entertainment and a good history lesson at the same time. Dutch director Pieter Kuijpers has created an interesting dramatization of real events, which are based on the book, “Riphagen, ‘Al Capone’, One of the Netherlands’ Greatest War Criminals” and on interviews with Riphagen’s son, Rob, and Betje Wery, a Jewish woman who had collaborated with the Germans. In the film, the members of the Dutch Resistance come across like a bunch of buffoons, as many of them fail to see the enemy within their midst and, when they do, they lack the intestinal fortitude to do what’s right. One wonders how far off the truth this really is given that Riphagen operated in plain sight for so long. The post-war Dutch government and monarchy are similarly indicted, especially when we read at the end of the film what happened to all of the major players after 1945. It’s more than a bit shocking!
RIPHAGEN will be screened on April 28th and 30th at The Grand Cinema as part of the Dutch Film Festival 2017. I understand it’s also available with English subtitles on Netflix.
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I was only able to find trailers without English subtitles: