The Nazis Invade
The Nazis viewed the Dutch as fellow Aryans and were prepared to allow a period where the nine million population was expected to fall into line and assimilate Nazi ideology. Indeed, there was not insignificant support for Nazi Germany in a country equally fearful of the Soviet Union’s expansive ambitions.
Despite high public hopes of remaining neutral, Nazi Germany still invaded the country.
Yet the “Rotterdam Blitz” on 14 May 1940, which brought Dutch military resistance to an end, was an example of what to expect from the Nazis’ extreme brutality. Almost the entire historic city centre was destroyed, leaving no-one in any doubt that resistance to the Nazi regime would be met with finality.
Communists who could be identified were immediately rounded up and murdered. Some of the worst acts of brutality were carried out by SS divisions made up of Dutch volunteers assisting the Germans. The Germans’ attitudes, meanwhile, were influenced by collaborators in the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands. A mildly successful party during the 1930s, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB) had been a fascist party that morphed into Hitler-worshiping subordinates as European history darkened and Hitler’s ambitions for world dominance became more and more pronounced. They were to be the only party legally permitted during Nazi occupation.
Dutch partisans training on the Parade Ground in the wood. Photo: Imperial War Museum
Forms of Resistance
Some historians and even activists have played down or even undervalued Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation. Many acts – like hiding Jews, going to live underground or taking industrial action – had not been recorded until recently as acts of resistance, even though such acts were punishable by death. Sporadic attacks on collaborators were met with brutal revenge. The Nazis meted out collective punishment to the Dutch. Thousands of Dutch citizens, sometimes whole villages, were murdered in revenge for resistance acts.
Furthermore, it should be noted that although Dutch military resistance was stretched, Dutch military personnel that could escape the country did contribute greatly to the Allied war efforts. On the subcontinent, where the Dutch had trade and military obligations, the invasion at home begun a race for survival. The Dutch navy began evacuations to avoid imminent confrontation with Japanese imperial forces, and made its way to Australia where it could re-enlist in the fight.
Back in the Netherlands, already operating an underground and split into cells in anticipation of Nazi invasion and or anti-communist government action, a rabbit warren of hidden tunnels and cellars were thrown open by the communists to those who wanted to fight the Nazis and form a resistance.
As a neighbour of the Reich, the Dutch knew only too well of the Nazis’ attitudes towards Jews. An estimated 70% of Dutch Jewry, 105,000 people, would perish in concentration camps as well as a quarter of a million Dutch gypsy and Romani.
In total, over a quarter of a million Dutch would ‘vanish’ into hiding.
The intricate network of safe houses and hiding places for Jews were sometimes betrayed, as the Nazi regime offered rewards for information leading to their capture. This was also exacerbated when hiding places had to be found for young men and women the Nazis wanted to move to Germany to fill a labour shortage caused by Nazi expansion into Europe.
In total, over a quarter of a million Dutch would ‘vanish’ into hiding. In an extension of the ‘cold politeness’ tactic which was used in other occupied nations, the Dutch displeasure at Nazi occupation came in the form of testing the curtailed freedom of the press and media.
The airwaves in the capital Amsterdam were soon filled with anti-Nazi propaganda and messages from the Dutch government-in-exile encouraging what they hoped would be their immediate liberation by London.
In return, the BBC broadcast Radio Oranje with messages and instructions from the exiled Dutch government and Royal family. With the inevitable banning of the wireless, the underground issued instructions on how to build crude homemade radio receivers, in the belief that liberation was imminent.
Thousands and thousands of illegal newspapers were also printed and distributed across the country. In all, there would be some 1,300 different newspapers printed and distributed throughout the occupation.
The Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) showed its hidden hand by organising industrial action against the proposed registration of Dutch Jews by the occupiers
At times the Dutch resistance appeared almost flimsy and archaic. The immediate non-arrival of British troops or any liberating force on the horizon was a bitter disappointment and further entrenched the idea that the Dutch had been abandoned, left isolated and to themselves.
Although this fed the popularity of the communists, early attempts at armed resistance were met almost immediately with betrayals, hanging and in extreme cases, beheadings.
Germany would later impose the collaborationist party NSB, and its leader Anton Mussert, on the population in an attempt to curtail the idea the Dutch were a leaderless nation. Mussert had been instrumental in the pursuit and persecution of communists. His party would grow to around 100,000 members during the occupation. Mussert and cohorts would be executed for high treason after the war.
In February 1941, the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) showed its hidden hand by organising industrial action against the anti-Jewish activities and proposed registration of Dutch Jews by the occupiers. It was the first of what would be four major strikes during the occupation.
It is estimated that over a quarter of a million Dutch joined the strike, but not only did it reveal key organisers of the CPN, the Nazis then set out to brutalise Jewish neighbourhoods. Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter was ransacked in a violent pogrom. Strikers identified as communists or as their supporters were also murdered.
Armed Dutch resistance started to pick up in 1942, but by then 2,000 members of the Communist Party and a smaller socialist group had been murdered after being identified or betrayed.
The Special Operations Executive (SOE) in London gave aid to the Dutch resistance, which was occasionally sporadic and split and led by a series of small groups organised by the communists. Their foremost hatred was reserved for collaborators, who were often targeted by assassins on bicycles. For those that could stomach knowledge of brutal reprisals, “brawl gangs” undertook sabotage and assassination. These small gangs rarely lasted and were less easy to infiltrate.
By the time of liberation, the Dutch resistance was a near common sight on the street, rounding up collaborators for arrest or execution. The amateur radio enthusiasts would also be integral in directing the Allied invasion.