Dutch Under Nazi Occupation

The German occupation in the Netherlands has been, and probably will be the cause of the heated debate among historians, politicians or Dutch citizens themselves for quite a long time. The question which triggers the emotions is how the Dutch people acted during the occupation. One the most influential historians on this matter, De Jong, one of the first faced the myth of an intransigent people standing up to the terror of occupier. [1]

In the evolution of this view, there is certain consensus reached by most of the historians; most of the Dutch people tried to adopt “accommodation” tactic during the occupation. The essay focuses rather on the daily aspects of average Dutchman to understand sociology behind it; it examines the specific Dutch attitude of “accommodation” during German occupation, the origins and the consequences.

1. Prewar Dutch-German relations

Contrary to common belief, a far from insignificant rapprochement between the Dutch and the Nazi Germany had existed during the interwar periods. The origins could be traced in some way similar ideological and economical motives i.e. a virulent anti-communism that had deeply infiltrated in the Dutch elites. In 1917, after the collapse of tsardom, the Bolsheviks annulled all foreign debts.

Although it was not the Dutch Government that suffered, but mostly private individuals who had invested heavily in the empire of the Tsar. In those days the amount of 1 billion guilders was at stake which was even more than the total sum of Dutch annual expenditure.[2] The common hatred of Communists proved to be somehow common ground for Dutch and Germans before the war.

The pro-German attitude in the Netherlands among authorities and elites was also confirmed by the German diplomat Wolfgang zu Putlitz, who spent four years in England, and was moved to take the new post as the Counselor in the Hague. In his memories he writes “In England I had never come across officials in leading agencies who expressed their sympathy for the new Germanism as enthusiastically as in the Netherlands […] The National Socialists of Mr. Mussert[3] had supporters in almost all ministers and even among the royal household […]

There Chiefs of Police who, summarily, at one signal from Butting[4] deported German emigrants at any time of day or night, and handed them to Gestapo […] I have never heard that the Dutch government asked for a single document concerning such arbitrary acts, which were known to us by the dozen”[5]. In the prewar phase, the Netherlands seemed to have accepted the rise of “radical nationalism” in the neighboring country, and as long as it has not affected Netherlands, Dutch population stayed lenient towards more and more extreme German changes[6].

The evidence of closer relations with the Nazi Germany is undeniable. Among the Dutch authorities, particularly among the staff of police, there were few who had offered their service to the Nazis already before the war. In Amsterdam for example, the police commissioner, Broekhoff, personally informed in 1935 to the Gestapo officials in Berlin that the Dutch Minister of Defence would cooperate against “kommunistische and marxistische Umtriebe” (communist and Marxist machinastions).

With the pen-name “David” Broekhoff took care of exchange of data due to which 250 German “illegals” who fled to the Netherlands immediately were arrested after the occupation in 1940.[7] The chief commissioner of police in Rotterdam, Mr. L. Eintoven, together with 17 other Dutch police officers considered to be “deutschfriendlich” in the list written by Gestapo.

2. Dutch Response and Attitude to the Occupation

When the Nazi Germany invaded Poland on the 1st September 1939, few days later Britain and France in reply declared war on Germany. Caring in mind benefits of a peace in the country during the First World War, the Netherlands once again remained neutral. However, this did not stop Germany to invade the Netherlands on 10th May 1940. Queen Wilhelmina together with members of her family and the Dutch government escaped and settled in London. After the Luftwaffe bombing completely destroying the city of Rotterdam, the country surrendered on 15th May 1940. [8]The invasion of the Netherlands took only 5 days.

The moderately uneventful transition had few outcomes. First, even though the Dutch people were surprised and demoralized by the unforeseen loss, they could relax a bit. Many deceived themselves that the Nazi occupation would not entail any great hardship or the expected atrocities. Secondly, Dutch culture and convention has been always stressed the importance of obedience to the law. These two factors together led many to believe that all they needed to do was safely survive the German occupation. Many hoped that the war would be short-lived and thus, through a process of cooperation, the effect of Nazi occupation on the Dutch would be minor.

Hitler did not aim to alienate the Dutch nation, that he actually considered to be of "superior" Germanic breeding. As consequence of the Dutch religious stratification, the Dutch people could be qualified as almost 100 percent Aryan. Hitler's ultimate ambition was to make the Netherlands a ingredient of Germany following the war. Through incorporation of the Netherlands to Germany, Hitler intended to further infuse the new Reich with the Aryan ideal. With this aim in mind, the transition to Nazi rule in the Netherlands was not as abrupt and dramatic. In comparison for example to Poland whose “Slavic” population recognized as being interior was treated with aggression and brutality, that was definitely not the case in the Netherlands.

This important aspect to remember while explaining relatively small resistance in the Netherlands; the worse treatment of civil population the higher chance that more people will join resistance, whereas if it is just “mild” occupation, average man will hesitate much more.

Nonetheless, it should not be overlooked that only very small percentage of 1,5% of the population supported the Dutch Nazi Movement.[9] Furthermore, as from summer 1940, even before battle of Britain had been won by RAF, the majority of Dutch population was convinced that Germany would lose the war, and the Dutch independence would be restored,[10] it is just the matter of the accommodation to this temporary situation. In the meantime this attitude was made clear by number of small acts, which Louis de Jong describes as “symbolic resistance”.[11] Stamps, for example were affixed to the left-hand corner of envelopes because, people still believed that the right-hand corner belonged to the stamps with the picture of queen Wilhelmina, who was in exile in London.[12]

Another example was simple greeting “hallo”, which from the summer 1940 onwards was widely regarded as the abbreviation of the sentence “Hang alle landverraders op” which meant “Hang all traitors”.[13] On Prince Bernard's birthday, many people took to wearing orange carnations - orange being the symbol of the Dutch ruling family. In 1943, when students were obliagted to sign an loyalty oath of to the occupying pwer, over 85% p ercent refused to sign and thousands went into hiding.

The role of the Dutch railway is quite controversial one. Minister of Transport and Energy, I.van Schaik argued in front of the railway personnel in September 1945 “Ï understand your struggle in your hearts, when our boys were moved across border by your trains, or, even worse, to the concentration camps. Your work served the welfare of the Dutch people but was to the advantage of the enemy at the same time”.[14] Jan Herman Brinks argues that in other words it basically mean that during the war the economic interests could not have been risked even when the “lesser” implied that the Jewish Dutch were sent to their deaths.[15]

Although Brinks perceives lack of any general strike[16] as another evidence in placing the burden of Dutch Jews on Dutch population, it has to be remembered that the Netherlands unique economy is largely based on trading, hence transport is essential. The truth is, that even tough general strike might have proved to be disastrous for the Dutch economy, there were no examples of sabotage of specific railways or trains which were prepared for the deportation and transport of Jews. This “silent resistance” was quite unique for the Netherlands.

3. Dutch Answer to the Jewish Question under the Occupation

One central question in Dutch historiography is why such a high percentage of Jews from the Netherlands died in the Holocaust. At the time of German occupation, the Jewish population in the Netherlands amounted to about 140 000 people (over a half lived in Amsterdam), among them some 25,000 German-Jewish refugees that had fled Germany in the 1930s. Of this number 110 000 were killed.

This represents over 75% of Holland's Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis.[17] This is the largest percentage of Jews that died from a particular country. Importance of this facet is very often stressed by some historians; some believe overall very low rate survival rate should be explained in context Dutch-German collaboration, some believe the Netherlands was just very unfortunate place to be for someone who would want to flee or hide. It should be admitted that both approaches carry some merits.

The registration of births, deaths, marriages introduced already by Napoleon proved to have tremendous value for Nazis. Since it recorded data not only as birth and name, but also address and religion to was very easy to track down all the Jews. Attempts at escape from the Netherlands under Nazi control were almost impossible. First, countries bordering the Netherlands were under German occupation or control as well. Therefore, flight through the Dutch border meant entrance into another Nazi controlled country. Secondly, the west and north borders of the Netherlands consist of North Sea coastline. Safe passage through German carefully patrolled waters was very dangerous. Additionally, the Netherlands in 1940 was a densely populated country.

Yet, it was home for over nine million individuals. The flat land was providing little forestation or mountain terrain good for partisan activity or hiding.[18] Culturally, Dutch society was stratified largely on the basis of religion. Thus, close bonds or friendships between Jews and Christians were unpopular in occupied Holland. This made it hard for Jews to go hiding within the homes of Gentile neighbors, individuals that they did not know. For those Jews that had Christian friends, to accept place in their homes carried with it the knowledge that discovery placed their friend's lives into jeopardy.

The sad facts are, that most Jewish Dutch, in spite of sympathy strike in February in 1941,[19] received very little support form non-Jewish population and many Jews were also betrayed by the Dutch. Anne Frank, who is often depicted as a moral standard bearer of the nation in the myth of resistance against the Germans, was after all also betrayed by the Dutch.

Aid from individuals such as Gertude Wijmuller- Meijer who helped hundreds of Jewish children escape from Germany, was flatly condemned by the Dutch authorities. In the press release from the Dutch Government, few days after Kristallnacht we can read “The behavior of Dutch who transfer Jewish children by car or by train to the Netherlands has to be disapproved of. Such a disorderly arrival of fugitives naturally cannot be tolerated. Only an orderly flow is permissible and that to a very limited extent”[20]

Moreover, after the Royal family fled the Netherlands, the Dutch civil service actively participated in the preparations for the elimination of Dutch Jews. The Dutch police was the one who arrested the Jews, and it was Dutch field security officers that guarded Jews in the Westerbork camp, from which they were moved to death by Dutch railway personnel.

4. Nation of heroes?

In 1944, Queen Wilhelmina, who wholly identified with the Dutch underground, in her broadcast speeches characterized the Dutch people as 'a nation of heroes.' Not a single underground paper felt compelled to accept this qualification. They knew more, and the knew better. Most people, with whatever anti-German feelings they had , tried to protect themselves, their families, and their property, adapting themselves to the increasingly complicated circumstances of daily life. It was tiny minority that proved willing to accept great personal risks and to put everything, even life itself, at stake.

Nations of heroes did not exist. It is enough to say that individual Dutch person who had to face very often heart-breaking alternatives such as working for or in Germany or to go into hiding, to offer shelter to Jews, or to join resistance group, came to decision with some mixture of heroism, cowardice and common sense that most people would display in similar conditions. Because each example of “accommodation” has to be judged on its own merits, it is impossible to make generalized conclusions with the respect to the category of collaboration or resistance.

But there existed among the Dutch thousands of ordinary human beings, men and women, who did save the country's soul. Bibliography Hirschfeld Gerhard, Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboartion, The Netherlands under German Occupation, Hamburg 1988

Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990

Warmbrunn, The Dutch under German Occupation 1940-45. Stanford University Press, 1963

Brinks Jan Herman, The Dutch, the Germans and the Jews. Abridged version of this article in: History Today, Vol 49 (6), June 1999

Woolf, Linda M.,Survival and Resistance: The Netherlands Under Nazi Occupation, New York, 2000

Hamilton, Leslie Ann, "Dutch Resistance to the Nazis during World War Two" (2003). University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects. http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/652 -----------------------

[1] Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990 [2] Zee, C. “To prevent worse. The Preparation and execution of the destruction of Dutch Jewry during the Second World War” Amsterdam, 1997, p.40 [3] Leader of the Dutch Nazis

[4] Attaché at the German embassy [5] Putlizt zu, Wolfgang, “In Evening Dress among the Brownshirts. Memories of a German Diplomat” The Hague, 1964, p.210 [6] Brinks Jan Herman, The Dutch, the Germans and the Jews. Abridged version of this article in: History Today, Vol 49 (6), June 1999 [7] Warmbrunn, The Dutch under German Occupation 1940-45. Stanford University Press, 1963 [8] Hamilton, Leslie Ann, "Dutch Resistance to the Nazis during World War Two" (2003). University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects. http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/652

[9] Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990 [10] Warmbrunn, The Dutch under German Occupation 1940-45. Stanford University Press, 1963 [11] Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990 [12] Warmbrunn, The Dutch under German Occupation 1940-45. Stanford University Press, 1963 [13] Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990 [14] Brinks Jan Herman, The Dutch, the Germans and the Jews.

Abridged version of this article in: History Today, Vol 49 (6), June 1999 [15] Brinks Jan Herman, The Dutch, the Germans and the Jews. Abridged version of this article in: History Today, Vol 49 (6), June 1999 [16] This was the case until Dutch government's appeal for a railway strike starting September 1944 to further the Allied liberation efforts [17] Hirschfeld Gerhard, Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboartion, The Netherlands under German Occupation, Hamburg 1988

[18] Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990

[19] Jong Louis, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, 1990 [20] Brinks Jan Herman, The Dutch, the Germans and the Jews. Abridged version of this article in: History Today, Vol 49 (6), June 1999