Dutch resistance

Dutch resistance
Members of the Eindhoven Resistance with troops of the US 101st Airborne in Eindhoven during Operation Market Garden, September 1944

Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II can be mainly characterized by its prominent non-violence, summitting in over 300,000 people in hiding in the autumn of 1944, tended to by some 60,000 to 200.000 illegal landlords and caretakers and tolerated knowingly by some 1 million people, including German occupiers and military.[1]

Dutch resistance developed relatively slowly, but the event of the February strike and its cause, the random razzia and deportation of over 400 Jews, stimulated resistance greatly. The first to organise themselves were the Dutch communists, who set up a cell-system immediately. Some other very amateurish groups also emerged, notably De Geuzen set up by Bernard IJzerdraat and also some military-styled groups started, such as the Ordedienst ('order service'). Most had great trouble surviving betrayal in the first two years of the war.

Dutch counterintelligence, domestic sabotage, and communications networks eventually provided key support to Allied forces beginning in 1944 and continuing until the Netherlands was fully liberated. Some 75% (105,000 out of 140,000) of the Jewish population perished in the Holocaust, most of them murdered in Nazi death camps.[2] A number of resistance groups specialized in saving Jewish children.



The Dutch themselves, especially their official war historian Dr Lou de Jong, director of the official State Institute for War Documentation (Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, RIOD, now NIOD) distignuished between several types of resistance. Going into hiding, at which the Dutch appeared to excel, was generally not categorised by the Dutch as resistance because of the passive nature of such an act; helping these so-called 'onderduikers' ('under divers') was, but more or less reluctantly so. Non-compliance with German rules, wishes or commands or German condoned Dutch rule, was also not considered resistance. According to official publications, sabotage on an extensive scale must have appeared at those companies in Holland that kept on working during the war (collaboration was rife in the country), but until lately this was not seen as resistance.

Public protests of individuals, political parties, newspapers or the churches were also not considered to be resistance. Publishing illegal papers - at which the Dutch excelled, with some 1100 separate titles appearing, some reaching circulations of more than 100.000 on a population of 8.5 million - was not considered resistance per se.[1] Only active resistance in the form of spying, sabotage or with arms was what the Dutch considered resistance.

Nevertheless, from all the 'non-resisting' categories participants were arrested by the Germans and often subsequently jailed for months, tortured, sent to concentration camps or killed. Up till the 21st century, the tendency existed in Dutch historical research and publications, not to regard passive resistance as 'real' resistance. Slowly, this has started to change, also because of the emphasis the RIOD/NIOD has been putting on individual heroism since 2005. The unique Dutch February strike of 1941, protesting deportation of Jews from Holland, the only such strike ever occurring in nazi-occupied Europe, is usually not defined as resistance by the Dutch. The Dutch generally prefer to use the term 'illegality'('illegaliteit') for all those activiteities that were underground and unarmed.

After the war, the Dutch created and awarded a Resistance cross ('Verzetkruis', not to be confused with the much lower ranking 'Verzetsherdenkingskruis') to only 95 people, of whom only one was alive when receiving the decoration, a number in stark contrast to the hundreds of thousands of Dutchmen en -women that performed illegal tasks at any moment during the war. That the Dutch also obtained records in the field of collaboration, is a reality they are slowly coming to terms with in the new century.


Prior to the German invasion, the Netherlands had adhered to a policy of strict neutrality. The country had narrow bonds with Germany, and less so with the British, especially because of the history of the Boer War and the loss of Dutch territory in South Africa to the English. Few Dutch spoke English. The Dutch had not engaged in war with any European nation since 1830.[3] During World War I, the Dutch were not invaded by Germany and anti-German sentiment was not as strong after that war as it was in other European countries. The German ex-Kaiser had fled to Holland in 1918 and lived there. The German invasion therefore came as a great shock to many Dutch people.[4] Nevertheless, the country had ordered general mobilisation in September 1939. Already in November 1938 during the Kristallnacht, many Dutch received a foretaste of things to come, when even from Holland German synangogues could be seen burning, such as the one in Aachen. An anti-fascist movement started to gain popularity - as did the fascist movement, notably the NSB. Despite strict neutrality, even going so far as shooting down British as well as German warplanes over Holland, the country's large merchant fleet was severely attacked by the German after September 1, 1939, the beginning of World War II. The sinking of the passenger liner SS Simon Bolivar in November 1939, with 84 dead, especially shocked the nation.[5] It was not the only vessel.

German invasion

On 10 May 1940, German troops started their surprise attack on the Netherlands without a declaration of war. The day before, small groups of German troops wearing Dutch uniforms had entered the country. Many of them wore 'Dutch' helmets, some made of cardboard as there were not enough originals. The Germans employed about 750.000 men, three times the Dutch army, and some 1100 planes (Dutch army: 125) and six armored trains, managed to destroy 80% of the Dutch military aircraft on the ground in one morning mostly by bombing. Although the Dutch army was inferior in nearly every way, consisting mostly of conscripts, poorly led, poorly outfitted and with poor communications, the Germans lost over 500 planes in the three days of the attack, a loss they would never replenish. Also the first large scale paratroop-attack in history failed, the Dutch managing to recapture the three German-conquered airfields near the Hague within the day. Remarkable was the existence of privately-owned anti-aircraft guns.[1] Not less amazing may be the fact that the Dutch army owned only 1 tank.[1]

Major areas of intensive military resistance were

  • the Grebbelinie, a north-south line some 50 km east of the capital Amsterdam, from Amersfoort to the Waal, fortified, with field guns, with extensive inundations; the Dutch had to surrender after heavy losses
  • Kornwerderzand, with a bunker-complex that defended the east end of the Afsluitdijk connecting Friesland to North-Holland and was successfully defended until the capitulation
  • Rotterdam, the bridges over the Waal, successfully defended until the capitulation by the Dutch Marines.

After four days it seemed as if the Dutch had stopped the German advance, although at that time, the Germans had already invaded some 70% of the country, excluding only the urban areas in the west. Hitler, who had expected the occupation to be completed in two days (in Denmark in April 1940 it had taken only one day), ordered Rotterdam to be annihilated, leading to the Rotterdam Blitz on 14 May that destroyed much of the city center and killed nearly over 800 people and left some 85,000 homeless, to be followed by every other major Dutch city if the Dutch refused to surrender. The Dutch, having lost the bulk of their air force, realized they could not stop the German bombers and surrendered.[6]

The 2000 Dutch soldiers who died defending their country, together with at least 800 civilians who perished in the flames of Rotterdam, were the first victims of a Nazi occupation which was to last five years.

Initial German policy

The Nazis, who considered the Dutch to be fellow Aryans, were less repressive in the Netherlands than in other occupied countries, at least at first. Their main goals were the Nazification of the populace, the creation of a large scale aerial attack and defense system, and the integration of the Dutch economy in the German economy. As Rotterdam already was Germany's main port, it remained so and collaboration with the enemy was widespread, stimulated by the flight of all the government ministers who had instructed their secretaries-general to carry on as if nothing happened. The open terrain and dense population, the densest in Europe, made it difficult to conceal illegal activities unlike, for example, the Maquis in France, who had ample hiding places. Furthermore, the country was surrounded by German-controlled territory on all sides, offering few escape routes. The complete coast was forbidden territory for all Dutch.

The very first German round-up of Jews in February 1941 led to the first general strike against the Germans in Europe (and indeed one of only two such throughout occupied Europe).

If the Germans discovered people were involved in the resistance, they were often immediately jailed. It was the social democrats, Catholics, and communists who started the resistance movement.[7] Membership of an armed or military organized group could lead to prolonged stays in concentration camps, and after mid-1944, to immediate death (as a result of Hitler's orders to shoot resistance members on sight, the Niedermachungsbefehl). Also the increasing attacks on Dutch fascists and on Germans led to large scale reprisals, often involving 10s or even 100s of randomly chosen people, who were executed, or deported after which they died, what happened to most adult males in the village of Putten in one go, some 600.

The Nazis deported the Jews to concentration and extermination camps, rationed food, and withheld food stamps as a punishment. They started large scale fortificataions along the coast and constructed some 30 airfields, paying with money they claimed from the national bank at a rate of 100 million guilders a month (the so-calles 'costs of the occupation'). They also forced adult males between 18 and 45 to work in German factories or on public work projects. In 1944 most trains were diverted to Germany, known as 'the great train robberies', and in total some 550.000 Dutch were selected to be sent to Germany as forced laborers. Males over the age of 14 were deemed 'able to work' and females over the age of 15. Over the next five years, as conditions became increasingly harsh and difficult, resistance became better organized and more forceful.[8] The resistance managed to kill high-ranking Dutch officials, such as general Seyffardt.

In the Netherlands, the Germans managed to exterminate a relatively large proportion of the Jews.[9] The main reason was that before the war, the Dutch authorities had required citizens to register their religion so that church taxes could be distributed among the various religious organizations. In addition, the country was occupied by the oppressive SS rather than the Wehrmacht as in the other Western European countries, as well as the fact that the occupying forces were generally under the command of Austrians who were keen to show that they were good Germans by implementing anti-Semitic policy.[10] The Dutch public transport organization and the police collaborated to a large extent in the transport of the Jews.


Plaque honouring the Dutch resistance fighters executed by the Germans at Sachsenhausen

On 25 February 1941, the Communist Party of the Netherlands called for a general strike, the February strike, in response to the first Nazi raid on Amsterdam's Jewish population. The old Jewish quarter in Amsterdam had been cordoned off into a ghettos and as retaliation for a number of violent incidents that followed 425 Jewish men were taken hostage by the Germans and eventually deported to extermination camps, just 2 surviving. Many citizens of Amsterdam, regardless of their political affiliation, joined in a mass protest against the deportation of Jewish Dutch citizens. The next day, factories in Zaandam, Haarlem, IJmuiden, Weesp, Bussum, Hilversum and Utrecht joined in. The strike was largely put down within a day with German troops firing on unarmed crowds, killing 9 people and wounding 24, as well as taking many prisoners. It was significant because opposition to the German occupation intensified as a result. The only other general strike in Nazi-occupied Europe was the general strike in occupied Luxembourg in 1942. The Dutch struck four more times against the Germans: the students' strike in November 1940, the doctors' strike in 1942, the April–May strike in 1943 and the railway strike in 1944. No other country showed such overt refusal to cooperate with the occupiers.

The February strike was also unusual for the Dutch resistance, which was more covert. Resistance in the Netherlands initially took the form of small-scale, decentralized cells engaged in independent activities, mostly small-scale sabotage (cutting phone lines, distributing anti-German leaflets, tearing down posters). Some small groups had no links with others. They produced forged ration cards and counterfeit money, collected intelligence, published underground papers such as De Waarheid, Trouw, Vrij Nederland, and Het Parool, sabotaged phone lines and railways, produced maps, and distributed food and goods.

One of the most popular 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, allied polits and crew-members. Collectively these people were known as onderduikers ('people in hiding' or literally: 'under-divers'). Later in the war this system of hiding people was also used to protect downed Allied airmen. Corrie ten Boom and her family are among those who successfully hid several Jews and resistance workers from the Nazis.[11] The total amounted to over 300,000 people per September 1944, tended to by some 60,000 to 200,000 landlords and carers.

In February 1943, two operatives of a Dutch resistance cell called CS-6 (for their address, 6 Corelli Street, in Amsterdam) rang the doorbell of a 70-year-old Dutch collaborator, retired Lieutenant-General Hendrik A. Seyffardt, in The Hague. After he answered and identified himself, they shot him twice in the abdomen. He died a day later. This assassination of a lower-level official triggered a cruel reprisal from SS General Hanns Albin Rauter, the killing of 50 Dutch hostages and a series of raids on Dutch universities.[12] By accident the Dutch resistance attacked Rauter's car on 6 March 1945, which in turn led to the killings at De Woeste Hoeve, where 117 men were rounded up and executed at the site of the ambush and another 147 Gestapo prisoners executed elsewhere.[13] A similar war crime occurred on 1–2 October 1944, in the village of Putten, where over 600 men were deported to camps to be killed in retaliation for resistance activity.[14]


About 2000 Dutch managed to escape to England and offered themselves to their queen Wilhelmina for duty against the Germans. They were called the Engelandvaarders ('England-farers', suggesting especially those who had travelled by boat across the North Sea). Two major figures are noteworthy: Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, who performed spy duties with some successful visits to Holland masterminded by Peter Tazelaar and whose life was made into a movie: 'Soldaat van Oranje' ('Soldier of Orange'), and Bob or Bram van der Stok, who became squadron leader of the Dutch 322-RAF squadron. He is the most decorated soldier in Dutch history. Van der Stok was one of only three surviving and successful escapees from Stalag Luft III ('the Great Escape').


A major role in keeping the Dutch resistance alive was played by the BBC and Radio Oranje, Radio Orange, the broadcasting service of the Dutch government in exile. Listening to either (and any other foreign, non-Nazi) program was forbidden and after about a year the Germans decided to confiscate all Dutch radio receivers. About half of all sets were taken, the rest went underground.


The Dutch managed to set up a remarkably large underground press that led to some 1,100 titles. Some of these never grew out of the hand-copied stage while others went on to print runs of tens of thousands of copies and still exist today, such as Trouw (loyalty), Het Parool (the watchword) or Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands), which last celebrated its 70th anniversary in September 2010 with a current print-run of 45,000 copies, almost the same number as its maximum during the war.


As early as 15 May 1940, the day after the Dutch capitulation, the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) held a meeting in order to organise their underground existence and resistance against the German occupiers. It was the first resistance organisation in the Netherlands. As a result, some 2000 communists were to lose their lives in torture rooms, concentration camps or by firing squad. On the same day Bernardus IJzerdraat distributed leaflets protesting against the German occupation and called on the public to resist the Germans.[15] This was the first public act of resistance. IJzerdraat started to build an illegal resistance organisation called De Geuzen, named after a group who rebelled against the Spanish occupation in the 16th century.[16]

A few months after the invasion, a number of Revolutionary Socialist Worker's Party (RSAP) members including Henk Sneevliet formed the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front. Its entire leadership was caught and executed in April 1942. The CPN and the RSAP were the only pre-war organisations that went underground and protested against the antisemitic action taken by the German occupier.

According to CIA historian Stewart Bentley there were four major resistance organizations in the country by the middle of 1944, completely independent of each other:

  • the LO ("Landelijke Organisatie voor hulp aan onderduikers", or National Organization for Help to People in Hiding); it became the most successful illegal organization in Europe, set up by Mrs Helena Kuipers-Rietberg (a.k.a. as 'tante Riek'- auntie Riek) complete with its own illegal social services 'Nationaal Steun Fonds' run by Walraven van Hall that paid a kind of dole on a regular basis throughout the war to all families in need, including relatives of sailors and hide-aways;
  • the KP ("Knokploeg", or Assault Group), with 550 members conducting sabotage operations and occasional assassinations;
  • the RVV ("Raad van Verzet" or Council of Resistance), engaged in sabotage, assassinations, and the protection of people in hiding;
  • and the OD ("Orde Dienst" or Order of Service), a group preparing for the return of the exiled Dutch government and its subgroup the GDN (Dutch Secret Service), the intelligence arm of the OD.

In addition to these groups, the NSF ("Nationale Steun Fonds", or National Support Fund) financial organization received money from the exiled government to fund operations of the LO and KP. It also set up large-scale scams involving the national bank and the tax service that were never discovered. The principal figure of the NSF was the banker Walraven van Hall, whose activities were discovered by chance by the Nazis and who was shot at age 39.[17] Because of Van Hall's work, the Dutch resistance was never short of money. Van Hall is considered the most important Dutch underground worker by national war-historian dr L. de Jong, and he finally got his monument in Amsterdam in September 2010.


Both The Dutch Catholic and reformed churches (the latter in all its several forms) were agreed on their total but cautious denial of Nazism and the occupation. Both cooperated with many illegal organisations and made funds available, for instance to save Jewish children. Many priests and ministers were arrested and deported; some died, such as father Titus Brandsma, a professor of philosophy and an early outspoken critic of Nazism, who eventually succumbed to illness in Dachau. Monseigneur De Jong, archbishop of Utrecht, was a steadfast leader of the Catholic community and a clear but wise opponent of the German occupiers. The Catholic stance on protection of converted Jews, amongst others Edith Stein, a philosopher who was then also a nun in a Dutch convent, led to special prosecution of those Jews, sister Stein being deported. After the war, German documents showed that the Germans feared the role of the churches, especially when Catholics and Protestants worked together.

After Normandy

Dutch women who had sexual relations with German soldiers await their fate after being arrested by the Dutch resistance. Their heads were shaved and they were paraded through the streets of Grave.

Following the Normandy invasion in June 1944, the Dutch civilian population was put under increasing pressure by Allied infiltration and the need for intelligence regarding the German military defensive buildup, the instability of German positions, and active fighting.

Portions of the country were liberated as part of the Allied Drive to the Siegfried Line. The Allied paratrooper disaster of Operation Market Garden liberated Eindhoven and Nijmegen, but the attempt to secure bridges and transport lines around Arnhem in mid-September failed, partly because British forces refused to accept intelligence offered by the Dutch resistance regarding German strength of forces; unfortunately they were right in believing that the sources had been compromised. The Battle of the Scheldt, aimed at opening the Belgian port of Antwerp, liberated the south-west Netherlands the following month.

While the south was liberated, Amsterdam and the rest of the north remained under Nazi control until their official surrender on 6 May 1945. For these eight months Allied forces held off, fearing huge civilian losses, and hoping for a rapid collapse of the German government. When the Dutch government-in-exile asked for a national railway strike as a resistance measure, the Nazis stopped food transports to the western Netherlands, and this set the stage for the "Hunger winter", the Dutch famine of 1944.

Some 374 Dutch resistance fighters are buried in the Field of Honor in the Dunes around Bloemendaal. In total, some 2000 Dutch resistance members were killed by the Germans. Their names are recorded in a memorial ledger Erelijst van Gevallen kept in the Dutch parliament and available online since 2010 .

Figures in the Dutch resistance

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Dr L. de Jong: Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog
  2. ^ Stone, Dan (2010). Histories of the Holocaust. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780199566808. http://books.google.com/books?id=zKodTjtvRvEC&pg=PA42&dq=Dutch+police+deport+Jews+holocaust&hl=en&ei=L9ckTbD1CsL78AbTjOGHAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEoQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=dutch%20police&f=false. 
  3. ^ See Ten days campaign
  4. ^ A Forgotten Chapter, Holland Under the Third Reich, Lecture by Anthony Anderson at The University of Southern California on October 17, 1995. Retrieved 10 April 2008.
  5. ^ Duncan, George. "Maritime Disasters of World War II". http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/maritime-2.html. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  6. ^ The Netherlands and the beginning of World War II from Marketgarden.com. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  7. ^ The Dutch Resistance and the OSS — Central Intelligence Agency
  8. ^ Resistance from Holocaust and Resistance in World War II Netherlands. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  9. ^ Genocide from Holocaust and Resistance in World War II Netherlands. Retrieved 11 April 2008
  10. ^ The Netherlands from Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  11. ^ Corrie ten Boom from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  12. ^ The 'SILBERTANNE' murders from Niederlanders in de Waffen-SS. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  13. ^ The Hins' World War II Collection - Memorial Woeste Hoeve. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  14. ^ Brute force hit small Dutch town fifty years ago, from GoDutch.com, first published October 23, 1994. Retrieved 11 April 2008
  15. ^ Resistance in Western Europe, p. 145, ed. Bob Moore, Oxford : Berg, 2000, ISBN 1859732798.
  16. ^ Bernardus IJzerdraat from Erepeloton Waalsdorp (in Dutch). Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  17. ^ Biografie van Hall, Walraven van from Website Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  18. ^ Werner Warmbrunn, "The Dutch under German occupation, 1940-1945", Stanford University Press, 1963, pg. 229, [1]

External links

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