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15 august 1945

History of the Netherlands (1939–1945)

Interbellum

Like other European countries, the Netherlands experienced the impact of the global recession after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The Dutch Prime Minister, Hendrik Colijn, avoided devaluation of the Dutch guilder, which caused poverty and unemployment. Largely due to these circumstances, the fascist NSB emerged and the Defense department’s budget was cut short.

The defense budget was not increased until Nazi Germany remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936. The budget was further increased in 1938 (annexation of Austria, and occupation of the Sudetenland) and 1939 (German invasion of Poland). The colonial government also increased their military budget because of increasing tension with the Japanese Empire. The Dutch didn't mobilize their forces until France and Great Britain gave Nazi Germany their declaration of war. The Dutch government tried to buy new arms for their badly equipped forces from Sweden, the UK, Switzerland and even in Germany, but most weapons never arrived.

In the winter of 1939-1940 the Dutch experienced a number of false alarms concerning a German attack. Dutch agents in Berlin warned the military command a number of times, but as all reports proved to be false the Dutch commanders eventually paid little attention to them. On May 9th 1940 the Dutch agents in Germany reported: "Morgen vroeg bij het krieken van de dag. Houdt stand!" (Tomorrow morning at dawn. Hold fast!), but the Dutch military did not believe them. The next morning, the Germans invaded the Netherlands.

German invasion

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Netherlands declared itself neutral once again as it had done during World War I. Even so, on May 10, 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands.

The main purpose of the German invasion of the Netherlands was to draw away attention from operations in the Ardennes and to lure British and French forces deeper into Belgium as well as to pre-empt a possible British invasion in North Holland.

The German forces faced little resistance at first, but their advance was eventually slowed by the Dutch army, which was mostly fighting with weaponry made before 1900. At the Afsluitdijk, the Grebbeberg and Dordrecht the Dutch army offered strong resistance. A German airborne landing at The Hague, intended to capture the Dutch royal family and the government, failed, and the paratroopers that had not been killed were captured and shipped to Britain. Queen Wilhelmina and her government stayed in Britain, but during the Battle of Britain her daughter Princess Juliana and her children proceeded to Ottawa, Canada.

On May 14 the Germans - surprised by the Dutch resistance, as they had expected to capture the Netherlands in a day - demanded the surrender of the city of Rotterdam, threatening to bomb the city. Negotiations with the city's commander for surrender became stalled and were about to resumed when German bombers, which had already been sent, failed to be called back for reasons unknown. This error resulted in the city being heavily bombed.

After this bombardment, the German military command threatened to bomb the city of Utrecht as well if the Netherlands did not surrender. The Dutch army capitulated on May 15, with the exception of the forces in Zeeland. They resisted for a few days, until the bombardment of Middelburg on May 17, which forced the Zeeland forces to surrender as well.

Aftermath of the invasion

The invasion resulted in 3,500 dead, and 6,000 wounded Dutch soldiers and the deaths of over 900 civilians. The German army lost 2,500 men, suffered 6,000 wounded and 700 troops reported missing, and 2,000 were captured and shipped to Britain.

Initially the Dutch expected to be liberated quickly by the Allied armies, who were expected to drive the Germans back. This did not happen, however. The Allied armies stationed in northern France were forced to evacuate Dunkirk for Britain, and those that remained surrendered as Germany won the Battle of France. The Dutch now knew the Nazi occupation would not be over soon.

Shortly after the German victory, the Dutch government led by Prime Minister Dirk Jan de Geer was invited by the Germans to return to the country and collaborate with Nazi forces, as the Vichy France government had agreed to do. De Geer wanted to accept this invitation but Queen Wilhelmina did not approve it, and dismissed De Geer in favor of Pieter Gerbrandy, who wanted to continue fighting, as the new leader.

German occupation

Gleichschaltung

Following the refusal of the Dutch government to return, the Netherlands was controlled by a German civilian governor—unlike France, Denmark and Norway, which had their own governments, or Belgium, which was placed under German military control. The civil government was headed by the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart. The German occupiers implemented a policy of Gleichschaltung (“enforced conformity”), which was characterized by the systematic elimination of non-Nazi organizations. This was an enormous shock to Dutch society because of decades of pillarisation, which meant that nearly every social group (for example socialists, liberals, Catholics and Protestants) had its own institutions. The Roman Catholic Church and some Socialist parties fiercely opposed these actions. All Roman Catholics were urged in 1941 by Dutch bishops to leave associations that had been Nazified. The policy was a complete failure, mainly due to the war and because of the economic situation in the Netherlands. The national-socialist ideology was alien to the approach of different Dutch ideologies in which humanism was the most important element.

Position of the Dutch within the Nazi ideology

Another aim of the German occupiers was to dissolve the Dutch nation and make it part of a greater Germanic, or Aryan, one. The German officials, including those of the SS, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Adolf Hitler himself regarded the Dutch as part of the Aryan Herrenvolk.

Persecution of Jews

Shortly after it was established, the military regime began to persecute the Jews of the Netherlands. In 1940, there were no deportations and only small measures were taken against the Jews. In February 1941, the Nazis deported a small group of Dutch Jews to the concentration camp Mauthausen. The Dutch reacted with the February strike as a nationwide protest against the deportations, unique in the history of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although the strike did not accomplish much—its leaders were executed—it was a major setback for Seyss-Inquart as he had planned to both deport the Jews and to win the Dutch over to the Nazi cause. As a reaction to the February strike, the Nazis installed that same month a Jewish Council: a board of Jews who served as an instrument for organising the identification and deportation of Jews more efficiently, while the Jews on the council were told and convinced they were helping the Jews. In May 1942, the Nazi leaders ordered Dutch Jews to wear the Star of David. Around the same time the Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands publicly condemned the government’s action in a letter read at all Sunday parish services. Thereafter, the Nazi government treated the Dutch more harshly: notable socialists were imprisoned, and, later in the war, Roman Catholic priests, including Titus Brandsma, were deported to concentration camps. In 1942, a transit camp was built near Westerbork by converting an existing internment camp for immigrants; at Vught and Amersfoort the Germans built concentration camps as well.

High Jewish death toll

Of the 140,000 Jews that had lived in the Netherlands prior to 1940, only 30,000 survived the war. This high death toll had a number of reasons. One was the excellent state of Dutch civil records: the Dutch state, prior to the war, had recorded substantial information on every Dutch national. This allowed the Nazi regime to easily determine who was Jewish (whether fully or partly of Jewish ancestry) simply by accessing the data.

Another factor was the disbelief of both the Dutch public as a whole and the Dutch Jews themselves. Most could not believe that the Jews would be subjected to genocide and sent to death camps. This meant the Jews needed to hide in others’ homes, but that was punishable by death. Despite the risks, many Dutch people helped Jews. One-third of the people who hid Jews did not survive the war.

Oppression

Arbeitseinsatz—the drafting of civilians for forced labour—was imposed on the Netherlands. This obliged every man between 18 and 45 to work in German factories, which were bombed regularly by the western Allies. Those who refused were forced into hiding. As food and many other goods were taken out of the Netherlands, rationing (with ration cards) became a way of controlling the population. Anyone who violated German laws, such as hiding or hiding another, automatically lost his or her food ration.

The Atlantic Wall, a gigantic coastal defence line built by the Germans along the entire European coast from southwestern France to Denmark and Norway, included the coastline of the Netherlands. Some towns, such as Scheveningen, were evacuated because of this. In The Hague, 3,200 houses were demolished and 2,594 were dismantled. 20,000 houses were cleared, and 65,000 people were forced to move. The Arbeitseinsatz also included forcing the Dutch to work on these projects, but a passive form of resistance took place here by working slowly or poorly.

For the resistance to succeed, it was sometimes necessary for its members to feign collaboration with the Germans. After the war this led to difficulties for those who pretended to collaborate when they could not prove they had been in the resistance —something that was difficult because it was in the nature of the job to keep it a secret.

Collaboration

Not all Dutch offered active or passive resistance against the German occupation. Some Dutch men and women chose or were forced to collaborate with the German regime or joined the German army (which usually would mean being placed in the Waffen-SS). Others, like members of the Henneicke Column, were actively involved in capturing hiding Jews for a price and delivering them to the German occupiers. It is estimated that Henneicke Column captured around 8,000-9,000 Dutch Jews who were ultimately send to their death in the German death camps.

Nationaal Socialistische Beweging

The NSB (National Socialist Movement), during most of the war was the only allowed Dutch political party, and it actively collaborated with the German occupants. In 1941, when Germany still seemed certain to win the war, about three percent of the adult male population belonged to the NSB.

After World War II broke out the NSB sympathized with the Germans, but nevertheless advocated strict neutrality for the Netherlands. In May 1940, after the German invasion, 10,000 NSB members and sympathizers were put in custody by the Dutch government. Soon after the Dutch defeat on 14 May 1940, they were set free by German troops. In June 1940, NSB leader Anton Mussert held a speech in Lunteren in which he called for the Dutch to embrace the Germans and renounce the Dutch Monarchy, which had fled to London.

In 1940 the German regime had outlawed all socialist and communist parties; in 1941 it forbade all parties, except for the NSB. The NSB openly collaborated with the occupation forces. Its membership grew to about 100,000. The NSB played an important role in lower government and civil service; every new mayor appointed by the German occupation government was a member of the NSB.

After the German signing of surrender on May 6, 1945, the NSB was outlawed. Mussert was arrested the following day. Many of the members of the NSB were arrested, but few were convicted; those who were included Mussert, who was executed on May 7, 1946. There were no attempts to continue the organization illegally.

Dutch volunteers in the German army

Between 20,000 and 25,000 Dutchmen served in the Heer and the Waffen-SS. The most notable formations were the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland which saw action exclusively on the Eastern Front and the SS Volunteer Grenadier Brigade Landstorm Nederland which fought in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Nederland brigade distinguished itself on the Eastern Front during the Battle of Narva (1944), with several troopers receiving the Knight's Cross, Nazi Germany's highest award for bravery.

Dutch Resistance

The Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II developed relatively slowly, but its counter-intelligence, domestic sabotage, and communications networks provided key support to Allied forces beginning in 1944 and through the liberation of the country. Discovery by the Germans of involvement in the resistance meant an immediate death sentence.

The country's terrain, lack of wilderness and dense population made it difficult to conceal any illicit activities, and it was bordered by German-controlled territory, offering no escape route, except by sea.

Resistance in the Netherlands took the form of small-scale, decentralized cells engaged in independent activities. Some small groups had absolutely no links to others. These groups produced forged ration cards and counterfeit money, collected intelligence, published underground newspapers, sabotaged phone lines and railways, prepared maps, and distributed food and goods.

One of the riskiest activities was hiding and sheltering refugees and enemies of the Nazi regime, Jewish families like the family of Anne Frank, underground operatives, draft-age Dutch, and others. Collectively these people were known as onderduikers. Later in the war this system of people-hiding was also used to protect downed Allied airmen. Reportedly, resistance doctors in Heerlen concealed an entire hospital floor from German troops.

In February 1943, a Dutch resistance cell rang the doorbell of the Dutch collaborator Hendrik A. Seyffardt in the Hague. After he answered and identified himself, they shot him twice in the abdomen. He died the following day. This assassination of a lower-level official triggered a cruel reprisal from SS General Hanns Albin Rauter, who ordered the killing of 50 Dutch hostages and a series of raids on Dutch universities. A war crime happened on October 1 and 2, 1944, when the Dutch resistance attacked German troops near the village of Putten. After the attack, the entire male population of Putten was executed. The Dutch resistance unintentionally attacked Rauter's car on March 6, 1945, which in turn led to the killings at De Woeste Hoeve, where 116 men were rounded up and executed at the site of the ambush and another 147 Gestapo prisoners executed elsewhere.

The final year

After the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944, the western Allies rapidly advanced in the direction of the Dutch border. Tuesday September 5 is known as Dolle dinsdag (“mad Tuesday”)—the Dutch began celebrating, believing they were close to liberation. In September, the Allied launched Operation Market Garden, an attempt to advance from the Dutch-Belgian border across the rivers Meuse, Waal and Rhine into the north of the Netherlands and Germany. However, the Allied forces did not reach this objective because they could not capture the Rhine bridge at Arnhem. During Market Garden, substantial regions to the south, including Nijmegen and much of North Brabant, were liberated. Much of the northern Netherlands remained in German hands until the Rhine crossings in late March 1945.

Parts of the southern Netherlands were not liberated by Operation Market Garden, which had established a narrow salient between Eindhoven and Nijmegen. In the east of North Brabant and in Limburg, British and American forces in Operation Aintree managed to defeat the remaining German forces west of the Meuse between late September and early December 1944, destroying the German bridgehead between the Meuse and the Peel marshes. During this offensive the only tank battle ever fought on Dutch soil took place at Overloon.

At the same time, the Allies also advanced into the province of Zeeland. At the start of October 1944, the Germans still occupied Walcheren and dominated the Scheldt estuary and its approaches to the port of Antwerp. The crushing need for a large supply port forced the Battle of the Scheldt in which First Canadian Army fought on both sides of the estuary during the month to clear the waterways. Large battles were fought to clear the Breskens Pocket, Woensdrecht and the Zuid-Beveland Peninsula of German forces, primarily “stomach” units of the Wehrmacht as well as German paratroopers of Battle Group Chill.

By 31 October, resistance south of the Scheldt had collapsed, and the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division, British 52nd (Lowland) Division and 4th Special Service Brigade all made attacks on Walcheren Island. Strong German defenses made a landing very difficult, and the Allies responded by bombing the dikes of Walcheren at Westkapelle, Vlissingen and Veere to flood the island. Though the Allies had warned residents with pamphlets, 180 inhabitants of Westkappelle died. The coastal guns on Walcheren were silenced in the opening days of November and the Scheldt battle declared over; no German forces remained intact along the 64-mile path to Antwerp.

The Dutch government had not wanted to use the old water line when the Germans had invaded in 1940. It was still possible to create an island out of Holland by destroying dykes and flooding the polders, but this island contained the main cities. The Dutch government had decided then that there were too many people to keep alive to justify the flooding. However, Hitler ordered that Festung Holland be held at any price. The winter of 1944–1945 was very severe, and this led to hunger journeys and starvation (about 30,000 deaths), exhaustion, cold and disease. This winter is known as the Hongerwinter (“hunger winter”), or Dutch famine of 1944. The food situation was aggravated by a general railway strike ordered by the Dutch government-in-exile in expectation of a general German collapse near the end of 1944.

On the island of Texel, nearly 800 Georgians, part of the German army, rebelled on April 5, 1945. Their rebellion was crushed by the German army after two weeks of battle. 565 Georgians, 120 inhabitants of Texel, and 800 Germans died. The 228 surviving Georgians were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet-Union when the war ended.

After crossing the Rhine at Wesel and Rees, Canadian forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the eastern and northern provinces. The western provinces, where the situation was worst, however, had to wait until the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands was negotiated on the eve of May 5, 1945 (three days before the general capitulation of Germany), in the De Wereld Hotel in Wageningen. Previously the Swedish Red Cross had been allowed to provide relief efforts, the most memorable ones employing Allied bombers dropping food over the German-occupied territories in Operation Manna.

After being liberated, Dutch citizens began taking the law into their own hands, as had been done in other liberated countries, such as France. Collaborators and moffenmeiden were abused and humiliated in public, usually by having their heads shaved and painted orange.

Casualties

By the end of the war 205,900 Dutch men and women had died. The Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe, 2.36%. Another 30,000 died in the Dutch East Indies, either while fighting the Japanese or in camps as Japanese POWs. Dutch civilians were held in those camps as well.

Dutch East Indies and the war against Japan

On January 10 1942 the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Dutch naval ships joined forces with the Allies to form the ABDA fleet (American-British-Dutch-Australian fleet) commanded by the Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman. On February 27-28, 1942, Admiral Doorman was ordered to take the offensive against the Imperial Japanese Navy. His objections on the matter were overruled. The ABDA fleet finally encountered the Japanese surface fleet at the Battle of the Java Sea, at which Doorman gave the order to engage. During the ensuing battle the ABDA fleet suffered heavy losses. The Dutch cruisers "Java" and "De Ruyter" were lost, together with the destroyer "Kortenaer". The other allied cruisers, the Australian "Perth", the British "Exeter", and the American USS Houston tried to disengage, but they were spotted by the Japanese in the following days and eventually destroyed. Numerous ABDA destroyers were also lost, such as the USS Pope. According to legend, Adm. Doorman, gave the order to attack were Ik val aan, volg mij! ("I am attacking, follow me!"); in reality, the order was "All ships follow me."

After Japanese troops had landed on Java and the KNIL had been unsuccessful in stopping their advance (due to the Japanese ability to occupy a relatively unguarded airstrip) the Dutch forces on Java surrendered on 1 March 1942. Dutch soldiers were imprisoned in labor camps, though some were executed on the spot. Later all Dutch, including civilians, were captured and sent to camps, and some were deported to Japan or sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway.

The Dutch submarines escaped, and they resumed the fight on with the Allies, from bases in Australia, such as Fremantle. As a part of the Allied forces, they were on the hunt for Japanese oilers on their way to Japan and the movement of Japanese troops and weapons to other sites of battle (including New Guinea). Because of the significant number of Dutch submarines active in this theater of the war, the Dutch were named the "Fourth Ally" in this area - along with Australians, Americans, and New Zealanders.

Many Dutch Army and Navy airplane pilots also escaped, and, with airplanes given by the United States of America, they formed the Royal Australian Air Force No. 18 Squadron (with B-25 Mitchell bombers) and the No. 120 Squadron (with P-40 Kittyhawk fighters). These squadrons helped to defend Australia from the Japanese, and bombing raids from Australia to the Dutch East Indies were carried out. They also participated in the eventual liberation of the Netherlands East Indies.

Gradually, control of the Netherlands East Indies was wrested away from the Japanese. The largest Allied invasion took place in July 1945 with the Australian landings on the island of Borneo, ostensibly to seize the strategic oil-fields from the now cut-off Japanese forces. However, the Japanese had already begun independence negotiations with Indonesian nationalists such as Sukarno, and the Indonesian forces had themselves taken over control of sizable portions of Sumatra and Java. Following the Japanese announcement of surrender on 15 August 1945, Indonesian nationalists led by Sukarno declared their country's independence and a four year armed and diplomatic struggle between the Netherlands and Indonesian republicans.

After the war

After the war some who were thought to have collaborated with the Germans were lynched or otherwise punished without a trial. Men who had fought with the Germans in the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS were used to clear minefields and suffered losses accordingly. Others were sentenced by the Ministry of Justice. Some were proven to have been wrongly arrested and were cleared of charges, sometimes after having been in custody for a long period of time.

The Dutch government initially developed plans to annex a sizable portion of Germany, either with or without German population — which in the latter case would have to be 'Dutchified' — doubling the land area of the Netherlands. This plan was dropped after an Allied refusal (although two small villages were added to the Netherlands). One successfully-implemented plan was Black Tulip, the deportation of all holders of German passports in the Netherlands and several thousand Germans were deported in this way.

The bank balances of Dutch Jews who were killed are still the subject of trials today, more than half a century later.

The end of the war also meant the final loss of the Dutch East Indies. Following the surrender of the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies, Indonesian nationalists fought a four-year war of independence against Dutch and initially British Commonwealth forces, eventually leading to the Dutch recognition of the independence of Indonesia. Many Dutch and Indonesians emigrated or returned to the Netherlands at this time, and their presence has resulted in a lasting Indonesian influence in Dutch culture and cuisine.

World War II has left many trails on Dutch society. On May 4, the Dutch commemorate those who died during the war. Among the living there are many who still have emotional problems due to the war, both in the first generation and the second. In the year 2000, the government was still granting 24,000 people an annual compensatory payment (although this also includes victims from later wars, such as the Korean War).

Documentaries

  • Making Choices: The Dutch Resistance during World War II (2005) Tells the stories of four participants in the Dutch Resistance and the miracles that saved them from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

See also

References

External links


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