World War II: The Netherlands--Occupation


Figure 1.--

The NAZIs occupied the Netherlands for 4.5-5.0 years depending on where you lived in the country. The Dutch for racial reasons were not one of the occupied peoples targeted by the NAZIs for destruction. Children were still affected. Dutch Jews were arrested as were Dutch politicans that were anti-NAZI as well as Ressiastance members. Jewish children were the least likely to survive. Many children had fathers or brothers interned as POWs. Some parents and relatives were drafted for slave labor in Germany. Many Dutch government and cultural institutions, however, were allowed to function as long as they did not interfere with occupation policies. Unlike countries in the east, the schools, for example, were allowed to continue opoerating. A Dutch reader who was a schoolboy at the time tells us that during the occupation, "We were not bothered by their propaganda at school, but the teachers learned to keep their mouths shut in regards to the occupying forces. The general atmosphere was very anti-German and more anti-Nazi, but the Germans did not try to 'educate' Dutch children like they did in their own country." Of course if the War had gone differently, the NAZIs would have made major changes in Dutch schools along the lines of their own education ststem. I was a boy during the German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-45). Despite the German attitudes toward the Dutch racially, the Netherlands and Dutch children still endured severe privations during the War. A Dutch reader who was a boy during the War writes, "We suffered terribly and nearly died of starvation. I could write a book about it. We did not live far from a village, Putten, where the entire population was killed as a reprisal for the murder of some high ranking Germans in that area. As far as I know Putten was the only place in Holland where women and children were shot. But nearly every occupied country had its "Putten", Ouradour in France, Lidice in Czechoslovakia come to mind." [Stueck]

German Western Offensive (May 1940)

The Great German Western Offensive finally began (May 10). The Wehrmacht first focused on the Netherlands. The Dutch had assumed that as in World war I, the Germans woulkd not invade. The British and French had anticipated that the Germans would attempt to outflank the Maginot Line by striking though Belgium. The cream of the French Army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were thus positioned on the Belgian force. The British and French responded by leaving their prepared defenses and moving north to releave the Dutch. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender on May 15 before the British could reach them. Queen Wilhelmina fled to London to establish a government-in-exile. Princess Juliana, the next in line, was sent to Canada in case Britain would also sucumb to the NAZI onslaught.

Reichskommissariat Niederlande

After the Dutch Army surrendered, the Germans ex[ected the Dutch government to return from Britain where officials and the Queen had fled. The wanted an arrangement like Vichy. Unlike the French, hoever, they refused and became a Government-in-exile. Instead the Germans established a civil Government overseen by the Reichskommissariat Niederlande headed by the Austrian NAZI Arthur Seyss-Inquart. He was in esence a pro-consul. The Dutch civil service was kept in place and dutifully reported to Seyss-Inquart.

German Racial Policies

The Dutch for racial reasons were not one of the occupied countries targeted by the NAZIs for destruction. The Dutch people were considered Aryans and racially appropriate for inclusion in the master ruling race. Hitler admired the Dutch people and thought that blood would tell. [Oliner, p. 33.] He believes that they would eventually come around to the NAZI world view. When they did not in the final year of the War he saw them as tritors,explaining the horrors of the Hunger Winter. Dutch ethnicity with prevalent blond hair and blue eyes significantly affected occupation policies as well as the attitude of German soldiers toward the Dutch, except of course toward Dutch Jews. If the Germans had won the War, the Netherlands would have been annexed to the Reich like Austria. [Chesnoff, p. 103.] This was probably one of the reasons Seyss-Inquart was chosen as Reichskommissar. He had played a primiment role in the Austrian Anschluss.

Occupation Policies

The NAZIs occupied the Netherlands for 4-5 years, depending on the area of the country. The basic German occuption policy was Gleichschaltung (enforced conformity). Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart proceeded to systematically eliminate all non-Nazi organizations. The Germans immediately after the seizing conbtrol outlawed all Socialist and Communist political parties (1940). The next year they banned all political parties except for collaborationist NSB. The basic German occuption policy was Gleichschaltung (enforced conformity). This was a shock to the Dutch people which were among the mot tolerant people in Europe. Dutch politicans that were anti-NAZI as well as Ressiastance members were arrested and executed are transported to concentration camps in the Reich. There was no freedom of the press and people were not allowed to gather with more than 10 persons. Open resistance was impossible. Religious leaders, especially Catholics, who urged passive resistance. Dutch bishops urged their faitful to withdraw from associations that were Nazified (1941).

Children

Despite NAZI racial proclivities, Dutch children were still affected by the occupation. Jewish children were most severely affected. Dutch Jews were at first uprooted and concentrated. They were isolated from the rest of the population. Jewosh children were expelled from the schools. Deportations began in 1942. Jewish children were the least likely to survive. Many children had fathers or brothers interned as POWs. Some parents and relatives were drafted for slave labor in Germany. And after the Allies liberated the southern areas (Swptenver 1944) and Operation Market Garden failed, conditions notyh of the Rhine deteriorated. By the tome the Allies finally crossed the Rhine (March 1945), the Dutch were starving and the children and elderly were thde groups most severely affected.

Dutch Instititions

The NAZI allowed many Dutch government and cultural institutions to function as long as they did not interfere with occupation policies. Unlike countries in the east, the schools, for example, were allowed to continue opoerating. A Dutch reader who was a schoolboy at the time tells us that during the occupation, "We were not bothered by their propaganda at school, but the teachers learned to keep their mouths shut in regards to the occupying forces. The general atmosphere was very anti-German and more anti-Nazi, but the Germans did not try to 'educate' Dutch children like they did in their own country." Of course if the War had gone differently, the NAZIs would have made major changes in Dutch schools along the lines of their own education ststem. I was a boy during the German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-45)." [Stueck] Despite the German attitudes toward the Dutch racially, the Netherlands and Dutch children still endured severe privations during the War.

Food

The Netherlands unlike more heavily industrialized Belgium was self sufficent in food production. The food surplus was exported before the War, primarily to Britain. Not only did the Germans required the Dutch to feed the occupation force, but food from the Netherlands was shipped to the Reich. Denmark, France and the Netherlands provided some 21 million tons of grain to the German occupation troops and fir export to the Reich. This was far more than obtained in the occupied East which Hitler had expected to feed his war effort. [Collingham, p. 165.] The Germans had hoped that they could benefit from occupying the Netherlands, simply redirecting the exports from Britain to the Reich. This did not work out as anticipated, primarily because the British paid for the Dutchfood shipments. The Germans on the other hand were not prepared to pay at anything like the levels the British paid. In addition, imports like fodder and fertilizer were no longer available from Britain and the Germans did not provide either. Thus Dutch farmers began changing their farming practices, adjusting to the new relities. This involved reducing effort and changing what they rduced. The shifted from livestock raising to arable farming. Meat and fat exports continued in 1940 and 41, but as the livestok herd was reduced, these shipments tailed off. Rather potatoes, feed grain, sugar, vegetables, and fruit was what could be exported. It also ffected Dutch diets. Shortages of meat and fat had health consequences, especially for children. [Collingham, p. 175-77.] Food was strictly rationed and ration books issued. The Germans used the rationing system to control the Dutch population. Jews received lower rations than the rest of the population. The Germans drafted civilians for forced labor--Arbeitseinsatz. Every man (18-45 years old) to work in German approved factories and project. Anyone who did not comply could not get ration books. The Resistance sometimes raided distribution centers to obtain ration books which could be distributed to people hiding. The archetect for Generlplan Ost was Konrad Meyer. He was the head of the Planning Office in the Reich Commissioner for Strengthening of German Nationhood (RKF). Generalplan Ost provided for the elimination of tens of millions of Slavs and other in the Occupied East. They were to be replaced with Reich Germans and the ethnic Germans ordered Home to the Reich before the War. When these Germans showed litle enthusiasm, the idea was toresettle 3 million Duch farmers in the east. Not only would that provide Aryan people for what Meyer referred to as a Blood Wall. The project would also significantly reduce Dutch resistance to Germinization by replacing the Dutch farmers with German farmers. Some 600 Dutchfarmers wereconinced to move with promises of land (1941-42). The Germans did not orgabnize aass transport because it would have disrupted the war economy. Had the Germans won the War, this project probably would have been adopted. [Collingham, p. 46.] The Dutch like othercountries suffered under German occupation with food shortages. Children were most affected. Malnutritiin affected growth rates with life-long effects. [Collingham, p. 7.] This was the case before the Allies began after D-Day as the Allies the liberation of the the Netherlands (Septmber 1944). The failure of Market Garden (October 1944), left the Netherlands beyond the Rhine still in German hands. Hitler was furious that a fellow Aryan people would be so supportive of the Allies. As a result, he decided to punish the Dutch--the Hunger Winter. As a result, the Dutch were starving by the time that the Canadians reached them (May 1945).

Dutch Schools

We do not yet know much about Dutch schools during the German occupation. As far as we can tell, NAZI authorities did not interfere much with the schools, such as making curriculum changes. The one exception was to insist that Jewish teachers be dismissed along with Jewish civil servants. Jewish children were expelled from the schools. One HBC reader remembers seeing some children wearing uniforms of the Dutch fascist youth group. He reports other than that there was little change in the schools. We note a Dutch school in 1942. This of coure would have changed if the NAZIs had won the War. It is likely that the entire Netherlands would have been annexed by the Reich and become part of Greater Germany. A Dutch reader who was a school boy at the time remenbers, "I want to share some impressions I experienced during World War II. Although I was only 11 years old when the Germans occupied the Netherlands I was well aware of what was going on. In the beginning things were not really so bad, we still had enough to eat, although food was rationed immediately. There always were lots of German soldiers on the street. Contact with the Dutch was scarce, but often not unfriendly. Still, one had to be careful. At my school many kids expressed anti-German feelings openly. Even some teachers did. Nazi propaganda was everywhere and whenever the Germans conquered a country or a place the radio played 'Les Préludes' with all those fanfares by Franz Liszt. Then the voice: 'Das Oberkommando der Wehrmacht gibt bekannt' (the Upper Command of the Wehrmacht announces). After we heard what city was taken from the enemy we had to listen to some stirring Prussian marches until the next victory." [Stueck] Another Dutch reader tells us, "The Germans seized the schools in 1942. Our school was used as a stable for their horses. From the end of 1943 until liberation we were lucky to get 2-3 hours of school a week. Most of our school was filled with the Germans and their horses." [Groen]

Conscription for War Work in the Reich

As was the case in other occupied countries, the NAZI action that was most bitterely resented was conscripting people for war work in the Reich. This was essentially slave labor. There was no conscription for military servicem, although there was a proaganda campaign to get Dutch men to volunteer for military service. NAZI Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart issued an ordinance concerning the "duty for the performance of services" (February 28, 1941). This ordinance authorized the forced employment of Dutch citizens in the Reich and occupied territories. The initial recruitment was conducted by regional Dutch government employment offices. Some of the first people affected were the unemployed seeking services from the employment offices. NAZI authorities at forst attempted to disguise deportations of Jews as conscripted labor. Eventually 0.5 million Jews were conscripted for war work in the Reich. The Red Cross estimates that about 30,000 of those workers died as a result of hunger, mistreatment, and disease.

NAZI Attrocities

A Dutch reader who was a boy during the War writes, "We suffered terribly and nearly died of starvation. I could write a book about it. We did not live far from a village, Putten, where the entire population was killed as a reprisal for the murder of some high ranking Germans in that area. As far as I know Putten was the only place in Holland where women and children were shot. But nearly every occupied country had its "Putten", Ouradour in France, Lidice in Czechoslovakia come to mind." [Stueck]

Normality

A Dutch reader tell us, "It also was amazing how many other things went on if times were normal. There still were soccer matches, circus performances, theater, art exhibitions, etc."

Radio

Radio was the only entertainment people had at that time, except for the movie theaters, where they played lots of German comedies and Heimat films. Surprisingly not many NAZI propaganda movies, but always "Die Wochenschau" ("The show of the week") with a lot of propaganda about the German attempts to save the world from Bolshevism. Many Dutch people refused to see even the German song and dance and operetta films. Everybody listened to the radio however, especially the BBC. A Dutch reader writes, "My mother listened not only to the Dutch-language broadcasts but also to the regular BBC programs in English. She also read books in English, especially Jack London." One had to be extremely careful about listening to foreign radio though, because people were sent to concentration camps for doing so. Dutch radio broadcasts of course were all copies of the German ones delivered in Dutch. Some German stations had very good concerts. A Dutch reader writes, "I have to admit the German music concerts were very good. I myself often listened to these concerts as well as Radio Beromünster, the German-language news from Switzerland, to hear what was going on in the rest of the world." The German occupation authorities realized that too may people were listening to clandestine broadcasts and the war new was increasingly turning against the NAZIs. Thus the occupation authorities in 1943 ordered every household had to hand over their radio(s). Naturally many kept a set hidden somewhere, but offenders if caught were severely punished. [Stueck]

The Holocaust

The NAZIs succeeded in killing most Dutch Jews. Some German Jews had fled to the Netherlands before the War began. Dutch Jews had heard rumors of what had happened in Poland. Many had thought that they were safe in the Netherlands. Most Dutch thought that the Germans would respect Dutch neutrality as they had in World War I. They were wrong. The Germans invaded and occupied the country in only a few days (May 1940). The terror bombing of Rotterdam and threats of similar bombings of other Dutch cities convinced the Dutch that resistance was futile. Queen Wilemina fled with her family to England. Hitler appointed an Austrian, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who had been involved in the administration of occupied Poland to seve as the NAZI governor of occupied Poland. In his first addressed to the Dutch people, Seyss-Inquart assured the Dutch people that Germany would not impose NAZI ideology and that they would respect existing Dutch laws. Unlike Poland thaere were no mass killings of Jews or burning of syynagoges as German soldiers occupied the country. The NAZIs administered the Netherlands differently than other occupied countries in the West (Belgiumm Denmark, and France). Most scholars believe that if Germany had won the War that the Netherlands would have been annexed to the Reich. The Dutch population was in fact more Aryan than the German population and thus for the race-obsessed NAZIs like Hitler and Himmler it would be a valuable addition to the Reich. Seyss-Inquart ruled by decree. Over the 5 years he governed the Netherlamds (1940-45), he issued hundreds of decrees. Contrary to his pledge, he turned the Netherlamds into a throughly NAZI police state. Many of his decrees were inconsequential, but slowly they created thge circumstances that permitted the NAZIs to murder most Dutch Jews.

Collaboration

One subject the Dutch and other Western Europeans do not like to discuss is the level of collaboration with the NAZIs. It is a subject for which we do not yet have much information. We do know that while the Queen and Government officials fled to England to form a Government-in-exile, the Dutch beaureacracy largely colaborated with the NAZI occupation authorities. As the War went on conditions in the Netherlands deteriorated. Food in particular became increasingly difficult to obtain. Thus connections with the occupation authorities had a range of advantages. Also after the Germans began concripting young Dutch men for war work in Germany, there were increasingly fewer youth for the young men to associate with. There were, however, large numbers of youthful German soldier. Not only were there Weheremacht soldiers, but also a substantial Luftwaffe presence in the Netherlands. The erial pathway from Allied bases in England to targets in the Reich went over the Netherlands and Belgium. As a result, German air defenses in the Netherlands and Belgium were an important part of the defense of the Reich. Here we are unsure just what the German policies about franternization were. There were liasons between the occupation soldiers and Dutch women. The extent of the liasons I am unsure about. Nor am I unsure about the number of children fahered by German soldiers.

Sources

Chesnoff, Richard Z. Pack of Thieves: How Hitler and Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History (Knopf Doubleday: 2011).

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Groen, Lambertus. E-mail message, December 4, 2016.

Oliner, Samuel P. Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (Simon and Schuster: 1992).

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, April 22, 2003, May 29, 2006, and January 28. 2013.






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Created: 5:23 PM 11/2/2006
Last updated: 6:38 AM 12/4/2016