** war and social upheaval: World War II -- the Netherlands

World War II: The Netherlands

Figure 1.--The NAZI 1940 invasion was a great shock to the Dutch. For most Dutch people, however, the NAZI occupation was not at first very onerous. For many life went in rather much unchanged. This was in part because the NAZIs lookd on the Dutch as a fellow Aryan people. Unlike countries in the East, the Germans not only wanted Dutch territory, but saw the Dutch people as valuable genetic material. This postcard was mailed in 1941. The soft NAZI touch gradually changed as the NAZI grip tightened. Anf then the War began to go against Germany. German sauthorities were ngered as most Dutch people refused to colaborate. Utlimately the Dutch people were starving by the time the Allies reached them at the end of the War.

The Dutch were neutral during World War I, but there was considerable sympathy for the Germans. The Dutch offered asylum to the Kaiser at the end of the War and refused to turn him over to the allies for war crime trials. After the war, the Dutch supported charities offering relief to children in both Germany and Austria. The Dutch hoped to also remain neutral in World War II, but were invaded by the NAZIs as part of their Western offensive (May 1940). The small Dutch Air Force was destroyed and the country capitulated after the Luftwaffe terror bombing of Rotterdam. Queen Wilhemina fled to London to form a Government-in-exile. The NAZIs occupied the Netherlands for 4.5-5.0 years depending on where you lived in the country. They succeeded in killing most Dutch Jews. The Resistance had little possibility of armed oposition, but assisted the allies with relaying intelligence and assisting downed airmen. After D-Day, the Allies reached the southern Netherlands in September 1944, but the failure of Operation Market Garden (October 1944) left much of the country, the area beyond the Rhine, still in NAZI hands. Hitler to punish the Dutch for Allied sympthies cut off food supplies to the cities--the Hunger Winter. The Allies finally began crossing the Rhine south of the Netherlands (March 1945). The Canadians finlly liberated the rest of the Netherlands (May 1945). By this time the Dutch were starving.

World War I

The Dutch were neutral during World War I. Neither the Allies or the Germans occupied the Netherlands. The German invasion launching the war was directed at neighboring Belgium to the south. The Dutch as a trading nation, however, were significantly affected by the Allied naval blockade. The Allies were concerned that the Germans might obtain goods and supplies through Dutch ports. The Allies thus carefully regulated Dutchbtrade and put them under strict quotas. The Netherlands Trust was established to administer the Allied quotas regulating Dutch imports through the blockade. The Allies even attempted to prevent Dutch trade with Germany, but were unsuccessful. It is less clear why the Germans did not occupy the Netherlands. The German offensive launchingb the war did not need to pass through the Netherlands. Some believe the port of Rotterdam. There was considerable sympathy in the Netherlands for the Germans during World I. I'm not sure why this was. Perhaps it was ethnic and commercial ties. Perhaps itv was the Allied blockade. The Dutch offered asylum to the Kaiser at the end of the War and refused to turn him over to the allies for trial. After the War, the Dutch supported charities offering relief to children in both Germany and Austria.

Dutch Military

Conservative prime minister Colijn (1933-39) believed with some accuracy that the Netherlands could not withstand an attack by a major power, especially Germany. As a result, the Dutch Government did not make significate allocatioins for the military as Hitler rose to power and made huge increases in military spending. [Wubs, pp. 61-62.] There were some minimal increases toward the end of the decade. And this was after the Dutch Government began to modestly expanded the military (1936). The Dutch raised military spending to 4 percent--a substantial increase. It was, however, negligible in the face of massive German rearmament. NAZI Germany was devoting something like 25 percent of its economy to military spending. As a result, the Dutch Army was not a major force in 1940. The Dutch had put their faith in neutrality even after Geramny had invaded neutral Belgium launching World War I. And during that war, many Dutch sympathized with the Germans. But even the Dutch could not ignore developments in Germany after Hitler and the NAZIs seized power. The Dutch had neglected their miitary durung the iner-War years. There was no way the Dutch with no experienced military figures or martial traditiinwer going to build a creditable defense in 4 years. The Army had 20 portational battalions. They were poorly trained and armed. The officers had no real military expeience. The Army had few modern weapoons. The soldier carried 19th cenrury carbines. The artillery was also outdated. There was almost no armor. The air force (Luchtvaartafdeeling) had few modern aircraft. They were Fokker G.1 twin-engine fighter-bomber and the fixed-undercarriage Fokker D.XXI single-seat fighter. But there was no early warning system. And as there was a lengthy land border with Germanny, the small Dutch Navy was of no real defensive value.


The Landstorm (country storm) was a people's militia organized in German (or related) German speaking countries to support the regular army during the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch had a long history with cibilian militias. TheDuch War if Indeoendenve was largely fought with militia units. Lanfstorm units during the Napoleonic Wars were organized in Austria, Prussia and the Netherlands. All male citizens could join. Importnt people became officers. Some weapons were given out, but often members furnished their own weapons. The Dutch Landstorm played a role in the Dutch Liberation War (1813-15). It was disbanded after the Belgian revolt (1832). It was felt unecessary as the Netherlands and Belgium based their defense on neutrality. With tension rising in Europe, the Dutch began to increase military spending. One other measure was authorizing the reestalishment ofthe Landstorm (1913). The outbreak of World War I was a shock to the Dutch because the Germans ignored Belgian neutrality and invaded the country (1914). This meant that neutrality was no real guarantee of Dutch security. One of the steps taken was to establish Landstorm units. Some 20,000 men volunteered. The Landstorm played an important role in maintaining order in the chaotic conditions when the Germans surrendered (1918). he Germans never invaded the Netherlands so many Dutch did not lose their faith in Neutraliity. The Dutch attempted to build a creditable albeit small military. The Dutch mobilized their army at the onset of World War II, still hopeing that neutrality would protect them (1939). An expanded Landstorm consisted of 90,000 volunteers. Only half were mobilized. Landstorm units engaged the Germans when they invaded (May 1940), but were no match for them. The German raised the 34th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Landstorm Nederland in the Netherlands, but despite the name it had nothing to do with the Dutch Landstorm. The Germans adopted the term to attempt to recruit Dutch patriots. With few exceptions only Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (NSB -- Dutch NAZIs) joined.

World War II (September 1939)

After Hitler and Stalin launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939), the Dutch along with most of Europe hoped to remain neutral. The Germns issyed a guarantee of neutrality. The Dutch managed to avoid World War I by remsainung nedutral. The German Schliffen Plan cut through Belgium, but avoided the Netherlands. The Dutch were for the most part horrified at what they had been reading about the NAZIs. But somehow, most of the Dutch people believed that their neutrality would protect them as it had in World War I. Despite their feelings toward the NAZIs did not believe that the Germans, even the NAZIs, would ever invade their country. They began mobilizing the small, poorly equipped Dutch Army. The Dutch in reality relied on neutrality for their security, failing to remember that even in World WarI , the Germans had referred to guarantees on Belgian neutrality as a 'scrap of paper'. The Dutch offered asylum to large numbers of Jews and political refugees. Neutarlity or not, problems began for the Dutch even before the German invasion. The Netherlands was indiustrialized and no longer self sufficent in food prodyction. Much of the Netherlands food was imported. These imports were impaired by the war and the British North Sea naval blockde. The Government was forced to implement food rationing. (We are not sure about the date these regulations were implemented.) The Government began to develop defense plans. The major idea was the New Dutch Waterline, an area to the east of Amsterdam, which would be flooded. The Dutch began building fortified positions (1939). This began with Grebbe and Peel-Raam Lines, to protect the key cities of Dordrecht, Utrecht, Haarlem and Amsterdam. The idea was Vesting Holland/Fortress Holland. [Goossens] Dutch military planning assumed tgat the Akllkies would come tio the aid of Belgium and the Betgerkands., but neutrality was seen as a better choice than joint defense planning. The Dutch feared that defense planning wuth the Allies might cause a Germam invasion.

German Western Offensive (May 1940)

The Germans launched their long awaited Western Offensive (May 10). The Wehrmacht first focused on the neutral Netherlands and Belgium to the south. There was no declaration of war or other warning. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg. The Luftwaffe destroyed the small obsolete Dutch Air Force on thecfirst day.. The Dutch Army could do little to impeded the power of the Wehrmacht. 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 frontier. The British and French responded by leaving their prepared defenses and moving north to relieve the Dutch and Belgians. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender (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. The BEF and French units which moved north to aid the Dutch and Belgians were out of place when the main Germanblow struck in the Ardenes Thisc allowed the Germans to outflank the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobile style of Blitzkrieg warfare.

Rotterdam (May 1940)

The Dutch capitulated after the Luftwaffe terror bombing of Rotterdam. The same tactic was employed in Germany's western campaign in 1940. This time it was Rotterdam (May 1940). The Luftwaffe targetted the Dutch seaport of Rotterdam AFTER the city had surrendered. Screaming Stuka dive-bombers leveled the center of the city. Luftwaffe bombers on May 13-14 concentrated on Rotterdam without regard for civilian casualties. Hitler describes the tactic as "Schrecklichkeit" (frightfulness), the use of terror to break a country's will to resist. It worked in the Netherlands. The terror bombing of Rotterdam and threats of similar bombings of other Dutch cities convinced the Dutch that resistance was futile. The Dutch Army surrendered on May 15. A Dutch reader tells us, "When Rotterdam was attacked by the Luftwaffe in 1940, I was 11 years old and living 65 km miles east of that city. I do remember the airplanes in the sky. They flew very low over our heads, ready to drop the bombs. We did not hear the actual bombing, but the next day the westwinds blew clouds of ashes in our direction. Pretty soon everything was covered : the roof on our house, the plants in our garden. Then we knew that something terrible had happened."

Dutch Government in Exile

The Germans invaded the Netherlands (May 10). Queen Wilhelmina fled to London. She was evacuated by HMS Hereward, a British destroyer which took her and the royal family to safety (May 13). The Dutch Army surrendered (May 15). Dutch Navy ships also escaped to Britain. Important Dutch officials like Prime Minister de Geer also reached London. They at first hoped that France would conterattack and quickly liberate their country, but soon the enormity of the NAZI victory became apparent. The British and French moved north to come to their assistnce, but were soon cut off and forced to evacuate at Dunkirk. The French srrender and Marshall Petain's decession to collaborate with the NAZIs through the Vichy regime raised the issue of what the Dutch should do. At the time the NAZI victory seem overwealming. Britain itself looked like it might be the next country to fall. De Geer in fact wanted to return to the Netherlands and colaborate with the NAZIs. The Queen was adament that there would be no Dutch collaboration. She took charge of the Dutch government in exile and set up a chain of command. She immediately soke to her people by radio. She dimissed de Geer and appointed another prime-minister Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy who would serve through the War. De Geer would return to the Netherlands and colaborate with the Germans. After the stunning German victory, many Dutch people assumed that they would have to accept the Germans. But as the British held (1940) and the Soviets and Americans entered the War (1941), attitudes began to change and the Queen's defiant tone turned her into a national heroine. The Queen was primarily centered in Britain, but the family lived in Canada. The Queen spoke to the American Congress to a standing ovation--the first queen to do so (1942). While the Netherlands was occupied, there were colonial possessions, especially the Dutch East Indies (DEI). The DEI was one of the most important oil producers at the time. And oil was a major concern of the Axis--especially Japan. The Queen threw her support behind the British and hoped for eventual American entry into the War. Her decisive action impressed Churchill who called her 'the only man in the Dutch government'. Queen Wilhelmina broadcast messages to the Dutch people throughout the War on Radio Oranje. She called Adolf Hitler 'the arch-enemy of mankind'. She broadcast late at night so the Dutch people could listen in the safety of their homes. Listening was illegal and severly punished by the NAZIs. She retuned to the liberated areas of the southern Netherlands (March 1945). She visiting the region of Walcheren and Eindhoven where she received a jubilent welcome. Yhe wole family retuned (August 1945).

American Diplomacy

President Roosevelt engaged in a great deal of personal diplomacy and for a time relied on Summer Welles who he appointed Under-Secretary of State. He sent Wells on a diplomatic mission to Europe before the War (August 1938). He spent 5 days in the Netherlands which was besiged with refugees from NAZI oppression. The Embassy and Consulate General wanted nothing to do with the refugees. The Consul General in Amsterdam was Frank C. Lee. It was the Consulate in Rotterdam that was given resoonsibility for issuing visas to the United States. The State Department sent U.S. Foreign Service Inspector O. Warren to the Consulte General to assist with refugee cases. He then went on to Cologne, Germany. The State Department put obstacles in place for refugees. Especially Jewish refugees. Emigration visas were limited by law. There was some flexibility for temporary visas, but the State Department created obstacles. The applicants had to prove that they could return to their country of origin once the temprary visa expired. This of course was impossible for Jewish applicants who were mostly German. It was obvious at the time, especially after Kristallnacht (November 1938) that they could never return to NAZI Germany from which they had fled. Germany invaded and the Dutch Army surrenderd (May 1940). The Queen and some Dutch officials escaped to Britain and set up a Goverment-in-exile (GIE). The United States was at the time still neutral. American diplomats stayed on 2 months. Unlike France, there was no attempt to deal with the Dutch Government under German occupation. The difference was that the French signed an armistice with the Germans and American diplomats saw some value in working with the resulting Vichy regime. The United States closed its legation to The Hague (July 15, 1940). American diplomats quickly reopened the legation in London near the Dutch GIE (August 15, 1940). The Japanese after Pearl Harbor targeted the major Dutch colonial possession, the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (April 1942). British and american aid proved inefectual. The U.S. legation to the Netherlands was elevated to the status of an embassy when Minister Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr. presented his new credentials as Ambassador to the GIE in London (May 8, 1942). The United States during the War supplied over $250 million (much larger in current dollars) to the Dutch in Lend Lease aid. This was the fourth largest amount to European countries after Britain, the Soviet Union, and France. The amount was relatively small because as the Netherlands was occupied, there was no way of forming a substabtial military force to fight the Germans. The U.S. Embassy was reopened in The Hague (August 1945). The new Ambassador Stanley Hornbeck oversawthe transition from London.

Dutch East Indies

The Dutch East Indies (DEI) figured prominently in Japan's decession to launch the Pacific War. The Netherlands itself was invaded and occupied by the NAZIs (May 1940). The Dutch royal family and the Dutch government fled to London and established a government-in-exile. The Dutch DEI colonial administration in Batavia recognized the government-in-exile. The DEI figured prominently in Japan's decession to launch the Pacific War. The DEI was one of the principal colonies the Japanese wanted for their empire because of the petroleum resources, primarily located on Sumatra. Japan had virtually no petroleum and had been importing American oil which the United States embargoed after the Japanese moved into French Indo-China. The Japanese demanded that DEI officials export oil to them and DEI officials complied. Even so the Japanese after the dall of the British bastion at Singapore (Fenruary 1942) invaded the DEI (March 1942). Parchute landing seized the oil fields intact. The Japanese in fact benefitted little. The American submarine campaign by 1943 was making it difficult to ship raw material from the DEI and other occupied territories to the Japan Home Islands. The American destruction of the Imperial Fleet and reconquest of the Philippines (October 1944) made it virtually imposible. The Japanese in the DEI committed terrible attrocities. An estimated 4 million civilians perished during the Japanese occupation.

NAZI Occupation

The NAZIs occupied the Netherlands for 4.5-5.0 years, depending on wher you lived in the Netherlands. The Dutch for racial reasons were not one of the occupied countries 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 system. 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]

Displaced Children

The term displaced children is not the best term to used to describe what Dutch children expeienced during World War II. We have, however, tended to use this section as a general assessment of the situation faced by children during the War. Jewish children were among the Jew which found refugee from the Germans before the War. As a result the number of Jews in the ciuntry invresed substatially. Theywere the children most affected by the German occupation. Sone 75 oercent of the Jews in the Netherlands were killed ny the Germans as part of the Holocaust. Jewish children deported were almost all killed in the death camps. Dutch children for the mot part were not endanger during the Germanoccupation. The Germans considered them valuable genetic material and intended to annex the Netherlands to the Reich after they won the War. As the war contnued and rationing became more severe, children were affected. Food was the greatest problem. Some individual children were affected by the arrest of family members or the conscription of brothers and fathers for work. But for the most part the vast majority of children were not terribly affected until after D-Day when Allied armies began liberating the Netherlands. When the Allies were stopped at the Rhine, half of the country were ledt in German hands. Because of the Dutch support for the Allies, Hitler decided to punish them by curring off food supplies to the cities. The result was the Hunger Winter. Here the children and he elderly were the groups most affected. People starved as a result abd Dutch children were permanently affected. After the War, orphanages were opened. The British estabkished a special programfor at risk Dutch children.


The Netherlnds was a have for anti-NAZIs and Jews before the advent of World war II. The Dutch language is similar to German and Dutch authorities did not turn over refugees who crossed the borderly illegally. As a result, large bumber of German Jews sought refuge in the Netherlands. With the outbreak of the war 34,000 refugees sought safety in the neutral Netherlands. Many were still there when the Germans invaded (May 10). Tragically the people who had not moved on were trapped. As the Germans also invaded Belgium, there was no where to flee, there were few Dutch refugees. A few Dutch citizens were able to get to Britain by boat, including the Queen, but not very many. The Dutch were surounded and hemmed in by the Reich, German occupied Belgium, and the North Sea. The Dutch surrendered after only 3 days of fighting. The only way out was by boat and because of the nature of the North Sea a very substantial boat was needed. This mean that the German authorities could prevent the escape of any substantial number of people. The flat Dutch countryside and absence of any wilderness area meant that there were few places to hide inside the country. Rather than escape, the Dutch had to hide--the 'onderduikers' (under-divers). The people included anti-NAZIs, Jews, resistance fighters, labor conscripts, and eventually downded Allied airmen. The Allies after D-Day finally reached the Dutch (September 1944). The only refugees at first were the Germans and their Dutch collaborators headed toward the Reich. The Allies were, however stopped at the Rhine and the Northern Netherlands remained in German hands untill the end of the war. Hitler punished the Dutch with the Hunger Winter starvation program. Some of the Dutch may have escaped the Germans, but the Rhine was not easy to cross, especially during the Winter. Conditions were difficult even in the liberated areas of the country. We note the British taking in Dutch refugee childtren (March 1945).

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.

Boy Scouts

The Dutch Scouting movement was disrupted during the World War II by the German invasion in May 1940. The Netherlands was occupied until liberation by the Allies in the Spring of 1945. The NAZIs at first discouraged and then outlawed Scouting. The NAZIs tried to organize a rival the Jeugdstorm, a NAZI-approved organization for boys (and girls in their own department), but few Dutch boys joined. Some Scouting was continued clandestinely, but Scouts could not wear their uniforms. All Scout troops got an invitation to join the Jeugdstorm. In spite of this conciliatory design it is needless to say that very few Dutch Scouts joined the Jeugdstorm. Many Dutch Scouts were active in the Resistamce. A Dutch reader reports, "Once in a while you saw a Jeugdstormer in his blue uniform wearing a pair of brown corduroy shorts. Than you knew he was an ex-boy scout, a 'traitor'."


The NAZIs tried to organize a rival youth group, the Jeugdstorm--the NAZI-approved organization for boys (and girls in their own department), but few Dutch boys joined. All Scout troops got an invitation to join the Jeugdstorm. There were posters on trees and walls with the words: "Come and join the Jeugdstorm!" This youth (jeugd means youth in Dutch) movement was founded in the Netherlands by the the Dutch Nazi party (NSB) around 1934. It was something like the Hitler Jugend, but the uniform was different. The shirt was sky-blue of color, the shorts were black, If I remember correctly the scarf or neckerchief was also black or dark-blue, there was no swastika anywhere but instead some other not so offensive Nordic sign like a seagull. The most interesting thing of this uniform was the head covering. It looked like the black velvet "topi" Indonesian Muslims are wearing. They were black also, but the material was like angora wool with tiny black curls. On top vertically through the center was an opening that showed an orange-colored fabric, as shiny as silk, actually amazing, because orange was a very patriotic Dutch color, after all the royal family is the House of Orange-Nassau. In spite of this conciliatory design it is needless to say that very few Dutch Scouts joined the Jeugdstorm. A Dutch reader reports, "Once in a while you saw a Jeugdstormer in his blue uniform wearing a pair of brown corduroy shorts. Than you knew he was an ex-boy scout, a 'traitor'." Actually it proved dangerous for older boys to join the Jeugdstorm. It was organized like the Hitler Youth to recruit boys into the military. Many Jeugdstorm boys died on the Eastern Front in Dutch units fightening with the Wehrmacht.


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, HGerman air defenses in the Netherlands and Belgiium were an important part of the defense of the Reich. Here I am 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.

The Resistance

The Resistance had little possibility of armed oposition, but assisted the allies with relaying intelligence and assisting downed Allied airmen. The important resistance to the NAZIs didc not come from the Dutch Army. Rather it was conducted by civilians. The Dutch resisted in a variety of ways. There was sabotage of German equipment and vehicles. The Resistance stole food ration cards, essential to helping Jews in hiding as well as others hiding from the NAZIs. The Resistance was divided into two main groups, the sabotaging group and the communications group. The Dutch Resistance did not begin in earest until the NAZIs began intensified their persecution of theJews. Other than the actioins against theJews, German authorities in the Netherlands had behaved relatively correctly. Resistance intensified when the NAZIs began conscripting the Dutch for war work in Germany. The Resistance took many forms. There were fistfights in the streets with the Jeugdstorm, but this could be dangerous. Resistance members stole identification papers and ration cards. They also attempted to hide Jews. One group that helped save Jews were the Oranje Vrijbuiters. This was very dangerous work. Many Dutch people were sympathetic, but did not dare take in Jews because it put the entire family in danger. the Resistance did save some Jews and succeeded in keeping downed airmen out of German hands. The Resistance created a network of well organized codes and safehouses.

Air War

Antwerp was where the Rhine emptied into the North Sea. This was why the city developed as the largest port in Europe. The commerce from the industrial cuty if the Rhine werre shipped out into world commerce through Rotterdam. This made the port city an important strategic target when the Germans invaded (May 1940). Unlike World War I, neutrality was no impediment to Hitler's war making. The Germans struck (May 10). The small Dutch air force with any early warning system was desroyed on the ground or shot down. The Germans rapidly moved forward and tge Netherlands is a very small country. The Germans as they apprioched Rotterdam issued an ultimatum to the Dutch government. If the Dutch did not surrender Rotterdam and other cities, the Luftwaffe would oblitertate Them. The Dutch decided to capitulate. The Luftwaffe's bombers were, hiwever, already airborn and not all could be called back. The attack struck the center of Rotterdam. The resultung fire destroyed much of the city center. Some 900 people were killed and 25,000 houses destroyed. The Stadhuis (City Hall) and main post office were among the few public buildings to survive. For the most part, the Netherlamds escaped the rest of the air war. We note, however, that there were small British attacks on the port of Rotterdam and docks there. We are not sure what the Brutish were atatcking, perhaps servicing of U-boats and Kriegsmarine sufrace ships. The Britsh did not have bombers that could strike the Germans in any force during the first 2 years of the War. The RAF did launch one campaign--a Christmas candy drop to Dutch children, complete with leaflets identifying Hitler as Black Peter (1941). Soon after, serious bombing of the Reich became possible when Bomber Command began receiving the Avro Lancaster (February 1942). The USAF joined the camapign (August 1942). And many of the Anerican and British bombing flights overflew the Netherlands. The Resistance helped downed airmen to get back to Britain. The country became an important link in the German Kammhuber Line air defene line. Imprtant radar sites were set up in the Netherlands, butvthe fighter bases were mostlybin the Reich. There were few actual stikes on Dutch targets. American bombers accidentally bombed a residential area of Rotterdam while targeting the docks area, killing hundreds of Dutch civiliians (March 31, 1943). From that point on, Allied air actions were primarily focused on deliveing aid to the dutch peoole with vital food drops. Mobile V-2 launchers dired the missles at Britain wehich attracyed fighter attention, but few launchers were caught and sestroyed.

Dolle Dinsdag (September 1944)

The Dutch followed the D-Day landings and then the breakout from Normndy and the rapid liberation of France on radios hiden in their homes. Thus they anxiously awaited the arrival of the liberaring Allkied armies. What has become known as Dolle Dinsdag (Mad Tuesday) occured as Allied armies approached the Netherlands from Belgium (September 5, 1944). Prime-minister-in-exile Pieter Sjoerds Gerbrandy broadcast to the Duch people an announced the liberation of Breda, an historic city in the southern Netherlands. (In fact it would not be liberated for another 2 months when Polish troops entered the city.) Rumours quickly spread in the occupied Netherlands that liberation was finally at hand. The Allies had entered Antwerp, Belgium (Septenber 4) and it was believed that Allied armies were already advancing into the Netherlands. The Dutch began celebrating in the streets and expecting the Allies to arrive at any time. The people began retriving Dutch and Orange flags and pennants from hiding nd making new ones. Many workers left their jobs to await the arrival of the Allid armies. It was not just the Dutch that were affected. The German military occupation forces and NSB collaborators panicked. They began destroying documents and fleeing for the preceived safety of the Reich. A Dutch reader as a boy watched this unfold. [Stucek] The Dutch Nazis went to a country that was in ruins. Anne Frank mentioned the activity on the streets in Amsterdam. Her family had not yet been found by the Germans. Unfortunately the Allied armies could not sustain their advance. Supply was a major problem which is why the port of Antwerp was such a high priority for the Allies. The overextended Allies had to halt in the southern Netherlands. The railway strikes began (September 17). The code message from the Government-in-exile was, "De kinderen van Versteeg moeten onder de wol" (The children of Versteeg must 'under the wool/go to bed'). The strike despite fierce German reaction would continue until just before VE-Day. The Government in-exile was hoping that spreading rumors would panic the Germans and they would flee the Netherlands like they did much of Belgium. It worked--to an extent. The railway strike paniced the Germans even more. More Germans abd NSB families fled to the Reich. Shipments of supplies and industrial production to Germany ceased. And the inability to use the rail lines to suppy the German soldiers that continued to fight in the Netherlands.

V-2 Attacks (September 6, 1944)

German researchers led by the brilliant Wener Von Braun who was later to play an important role in the American space program developed the revolutionary new weapn, the V-2 balistic missle in great secrecy at Penemunde along the Baltic coast. Reports from aerial recognisance and the Polish underground alerted the Allies to this new weapon. A British air rade delayed, but did not stop development of the weapon. The V-2 along with the V-1 and jet aircraft were the most innovative German weapns development. The German ME-262 could have had a major impact on the War if Hitler had not meddled in the program. The balistic missle was later to become a key military weapon. In World War II, the limited war head and imprecission in targeting meant that it no matter how innovative was not a weapon of great military significance. It was, however, a terrifying weapn that could be use to kill civilians. The Allies, after the break-out from Normandy (July) rapidly seized the German coastal facilities from which the V-1 buzz bombs were launched. The Allies liberated Belgium with its key port of Antwerp (September). This left the Netherlands as the only place that even V-2 rockets could be launched on London. The German began their V-2 offensive by firing two missiles at Paris (September 6). Hitler was, however, still fixated on London. The first launches targeting London followed 2 days later (September 8).

Operation Market Garden (September 17-26, 1944)

Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big push into Germany which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Markt Garden (September 17-26). While more attention is given to airborn opertions on D-Day, Market Garden was the largest airborn ope-ration of World War II. Over 30.000 allied paratroopers were employed in the operation. Eisenhower was a proponent of a broad-front offensive against Germany. His field commnanders, especially Montgomery and Patton, wanted to focus the offensive on specific sectors (their own) to pierce the enemy defenses. Available supply lines in September 1944 were inadequate for a general broad-front offensive against the Germans. If there was to be an offensive in Septmber against the Germans, Eisenhower had to chose a specific sector. He chose Montgomery in the Netherlands. Eisenhower has never fully explained this decission. Several factors were certasinly involved. The route through the Netherlands was the most direct and shortest into the industrial heart of Germany. The Germans were launching V-1 rockets from the Netherlands which were causing civilian casualties in London and other British cities. Montgomery's plan offered a key objective, the seizure of the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem. In addition, the liberation of Belgium had brought with it the port of Antwerp which meant that if Montgomery was successful, supplies to exploit the crossing of the Rhine could be brought in through Antwerp, instead of the long truck routres through France. The effort achieved some success, but failed at Arnhem. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached.The failure of Operation Market Garden left most of the country still in NAZI hands.

Liberation (1944-45)

The NAZIs finally surrendered to the Allies (May 7, 1945) ending World War II in Europe. The actual liberation of the Netherland is a little complicated. For most countries, liberation is mostly assiociated when when the capitals like Paris, Brussels, Oslo, and Copenhahen were liberated. There were two exceptions (Italy and the Netherlands). It is obious why Italy was different. The Allies had to fight their way up the very long, and mountaneous Italian Peninsula and the Allies prioritized the Cross-Channel invasion for men and materail. The Netherlamds were different. It is a tiny, flat country. What prolonged German resistance in yhe Netherlkands was the Rhine Rover which cut through the country, creating a substantial natural barrier. As a result the Nethelands was liberated in two stages. The Netherlands south of the Rhine was liberated soon after the Allied breakout from Normandy. The Allies reached the Dutch border (September 1944 and much cof the country south of the Rhine was librated as a result of Market Garden (October 1944), but they were stopped of the Rhine. The Netherlands north of the Rhine was not liberated for another 6 months during which the Dutch still in NAZI hands were subjected to the Hunger Winter. Finally the Netherlands was liberated from the east when the Allies crossed the Rhine further south. The country was liberated by American, British, Canadian, and Polish troops. with the Canadians playing the major role. More than 7,600 Canadians died in the 9-month campaign to liberate the Dutch. T They reached Amsterdam (May 5). There was riotous celebrations in Amsterdama nd other cities a the Allies arrived. German forces in the Netherlands surrendered on that day. Gen. Blaskowitz surrendered to General Foulkes cimmanding the Canadian forces at n Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. Some Germn troops remained in the Netherlands until May 8th. The Netherlands had a border with Germany so Germn troops mde for yh border, ;rgly on foot or on biycles, many stolen from the Durch people. Two days later, what was left of the NAZI regime surrndered to the Allies (May 7). Liberation Day (Bevrijdigingsdagin) the Netherlands is celebrated the day after National Remembrance Day (May 4). While Liberation Day was originally celebrated to commemorate the end of World War II, in recent years it has become celebrating the idea of freedom in general. There was a great deal to remember. The Netherlands suffered considerable destruction and loss of life. About 270,000 Dutch were killed, many of whom were Jewish.

Boy Scouts

Dutch Scouts appeared in uniform as soon as the Allies reached the southern Netherlands. Local groups began organizing informally soon after. The national organization did not reconstitute itself until after the Allies moved across the Rhine and liberate all of the Netherlands. The NAZIs surrendered ending the War soon after. Dutch scouting started immediately at the end of the war (May 1945). In those chaotic days scouts helped the Red Cross with the delivery of letters and packages in Rotterdam and other cities. They offered their help and services, also as translators and interpreters to the Allied Powers (in this case mostly Canadians). They used bicycles and sometimes a jeep to deliver the mail. They started May 10 until May 25 when the Dutch Postal Service could take over the job. On a given day like May 16 the scouts delieverd 5,800 letters and packages. The letters had a speccial stamp on the envelop: "Padvinders Post Dienst" ("Boy Scouts' Postal Service"). [Stueck]

Aftermath and Recovery

The Dutch were devestated by the War. Large numbers of people, especially children narroely escaped starvation as a result of German actions. Some of the Dutch wanted reparations. The Bakker-Schut Plan was formulated to demand a sizeable monetary compensation for the damage Germant inflicted on the country and even annexing part of northwest Germany. The Government decided not to pursue it aggressively because of American objections. Many German citizens living in the country were declared 'hostile subjects' and arrested as part of Operation Black Tulip overseen by Dutch minister of Justice Kolfschoten. They were held in concentration camp. The Government eventually deported 3,691 Germans. Conditions in the Netherlands were so difficult that several hundred thousand Dutch people emmigrated, primarily to Australia, Canada, and the United States. The Dutch like other Europeans countries received Marshall Plan assistance from the United States (1947). They Dutch received about $1 billion in Marshall Plan aid which included an incentive for regional planning. The Dutch joined neoghboring countries in both economic and security pacts. The Netherlands formed Benelux with neighboring Belgium and Luxenburg. They joined the Council of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Common Market. Recovery and expansion of trade and industry proceeded rapidly by 1950. Many Dutch people assumed that the loss of the Dutch East Indies would significantly impair the Dutch economy. This did not prove to be the case. Many economists credit the closer economic ties with neigboring countries as a major reason for the rapid Duch recovery. It mean that Dutch companies which before the War were limited by the small Duch msrket now had a much larger market available. As in Germany, the country had a reservoir of well educated people and an industrious population. he Dutch defying predictions, 10 years after the War had fully recovered. Industrial production was 60 percent above pre-War levels. Agricultural production was nearly 20 percent greater. The Dutch were able to sustain a continuous and fast economical growth making the country one of the most prosperous in the world.

Personal Experiences

We have collected a few personal experiences from Dutch people recalling their childhood experiences during the War. These personal observations containn all kinds of fascinating details about the war and living under NAZI occupation. Too often histories of war including World War II focus exclusively on the great figures and battles, important subjecrs to be sure, but we think the tories of ordinary people who experienced the War are also important historical topics. And in our website we are especilly nterestd in the experiences of children who experienced the War and participted in it. This is an important part of our World War II country pages and would welcome any additional experiences that Dutch readers could contribute to building this section.

Cold War

The Dutch dicarded the pre-War policy of neutrality as a result of the NAZI World War II occupation. Many Dutch believed before the War that war itself was the ultimate evil. The Belgian Wirld War I experience to the south was not enough to shake that attuitide. The NAZI occupation did irevocanly change Dutch attitudes. After the War that attutude was gone and the Dutch came to see that military defense was necessary in a world with agressor nations committed to political and and social programs in sharp contrast to liberal democratic traditions. The Netherlands was a charter member of the United Nations. It joined with Belgium and Luxembourg to form Benelux, a customs union that went into effect in 1948. The Dutch pparticipated in the Cold War. The Dutch also joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) created to stop Soviert expansion.


Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Goossens, Allert M.A "Dutch army strategy and armament in WWII, " War Over Holland Website (2021).

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, various messages.

Vandenberge, John. "A Silent Hero," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.

Wubs, Ben. International Business and War Interests: Unilever between Reich and Empire, 1939–45 (London: Routledge, 2008).


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Created: June 11, 2004
Last updated: 11:44 PM 5/21/2021