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The city of Rotterdam after the German terror bombing during the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940

The involvement of the Netherlands in World War II began with its invasion by Nazi Germany on 10 May 1940. The Netherlands had originally hoped to stay neutral when war broke out in 1939, but this was ignored. On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered. Subsequently the Dutch government and the royal family went into exile in London.

Following the defeat, the Netherlands was placed under German occupation, which endured in some areas until the German surrender in May 1945. Active resistance was carried out by a small minority which grew in the course of the occupation. The Germans deported the majority of the country's Jews to concentration camps, with the cooperation of the Dutch police and civil service; the Netherlands saw one of the highest levels of collaboration during the Holocaust of any occupied country. 75% of the country's Jewish population were killed during the conflict; a much higher percentage than comparable countries, like Belgium and France.[1]

Most of the south of the country was liberated in the second half of 1944. The rest, especially the west of the country still under occupation, suffered from a famine at the end of 1944, known as the "Hunger Winter". On 5 May 1945, the whole country was finally liberated by the total surrender of all German forces.


A bunker of the Peel-Raam Line, built in 1939.

Dutch governments between 1929 and 1940 were dominated by Christian and center-right political parties.[2] From 1933, the Netherlands were hit by the Great Depression which had begun in 1929.[2] The incumbent government of Hendrikus Colijn pursued a programme of extensive cuts to maintain the value of the Guilder, resulting in workers' riots in Jordaan and a naval mutiny between 1933 and 1934.[2] Eventually, in 1936, the government was forced to abandon the gold standard and devalue the currency.[2]

Numerous fascist movements emerged in the Netherlands during the Great Depression era, inspired by Italian Fascism or German Nazism. Nevertheless, they never attracted enough members to be an effective mass-movement, though the pro-Nazi movement, supported by the Nazi Party which had taken power in Germany in 1933, att vcncn c n c mpdn c d djjsmmscnempted to in 1935. Nazi-style racial ideology had limited appeal in the Netherlands, as did its calls to violence.[3]

The interwar period also saw a significant increase in civil infrastructure projects and land reclamation, including the Zuiderzee Works which led to the final draining of seawater from the Wieringermeerpolder and the completion of the Afsluitdijk dike.[2]


In World War I, the Dutch government under Pieter Cort van der Linden had managed to preserve the Netherlands' neutrality throughout the conflict.[4] During the inter-war period, the Netherlands had continued to pursue its "Independence Policy", even after the rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933.[5] The conservative prime minister Colijn, who held power from 1933 until 1939, believed that the Netherlands would never be able to withstand an attack by a major power, so military spending remained a low priority.[6] Even though military spending was doubled between 1938 and 1939, amid rising international tension, it was only 4% of national spending in 1939 as opposed to nearly 25% in Germany.[6] The Dutch government believed that it would be able to rely on its neutrality, or on the informal support of foreign powers, to defend its interests in event of war.[6] The government did, however, begin to work on plans for the defence of the country.[7] This included the "New Dutch Waterline", an area to the east of Amsterdam which would be flooded, and, from 1939, fortified positions, including the Grebbe and Peel-Raam Lines, protecting the key cities of Dordrecht, Utrecht, Haarlem and Amsterdam and creating a Vesting Holland (or "Fortress Holland").[7]

In late 1939, with war already declared between the British Empire, France and Germany, the German government issued a guarantee of neutrality to the Netherlands:

The new Reich has endeavored to continue the traditional friendship with Holland. It has not taken over any existing differences between the two countries and has not created any new ones.

—German guarantee of Neutrality, 6 October 1939[8]

Nevertheless, the Dutch military was gradually mobilized from August 1939, reaching its full strength by April 1940.[7]

German invasion

Dutch soldiers guard the border with Germany shortly after mobilization, 1939.

Despite its policy of neutrality, the Netherlands was invaded on the morning of 10 May 1940, without a formal declaration of war, by German forces moving simultaneously into Belgium and Luxembourg.[9] The Germans intended to draw Allied forces away from the Ardennes and to lure British and French forces deeper into Belgium and pre-empt a possible British invasion in North Holland. The Luftwaffe was also reliant on seizing Dutch airfields on the Dutch coast to launch raids against the United Kingdom.

The Dutch military, with insufficient and outdated weapons and equipment, was caught largely unprepared.[7] Much of its weaponry had not changed since the First World War,[10] In particular, the army did not have comparable armoured forces, with no tanks and a limited number of armoured cars and tankettes.[11] The air force had only 140 aircraft, mostly outdated biplanes.[12] 65 of them were destroyed on the first day of the campaign.[13]

The German forces advanced rapidly but faced significant resistance. A German parachute assault on the first day, aimed at capturing the Dutch government in The Hague and the key airfields at Ockenburg and Ypenburg, was defeated by Dutch ground forces with heavy casualties.[14] During the raid, the Dutch succeeded in destroying significant numbers of transport aircraft that the Germans needed for their planned invasion of Britain. Nevertheless, the Germans succeeded in crossing the Maas river in the Netherlands on the first day, allowing the German army to outflank the nearby Belgian Fort Eben-Emael and forcing the Belgian army to withdraw from the German border.[15]

In the east, the Germans succeeded in pushing the Dutch back from the Grebbe Line, but their advance was slowed by the Dutch fortifications on the narrow Afsluitdijk Causeway linking north-east and north-west Holland.[16] Nevertheless, the Germans advanced rapidly and, by the fourth day, were in control of most of the west of the country, though not the major cities in the east.[16]

For the Dutch, however, it became increasingly clear that British and French troops would not be able to reach the Netherlands in sufficient numbers to turn the tide of the fighting, particularly given the speed of the German advance into Belgium.[16]

Bombing of Rotterdam

Fighting in Rotterdam had been going on since the first day of the campaign, when German soldiers in seaplanes landed on the Maas river and captured several bridges intact; however the Germans were uneasy about risking a tank attack on the city and feared heavy casualties. Instead, the German commander presented an ultimatum to the Dutch commander in the city, demanding the surrender of the Dutch garrison and threatening to destroy the city from the air if it did not accept.[17] The ultimatum was returned by the Dutch commander on a technicality, as it had not been signed by the German commander,[17] but as a corrected ultimatum was being resubmitted German bombers (who had not received the news that the negotiations were still ongoing) arrived over the city.[17] During the so-called "Rotterdam Blitz", 800-900 Dutch civilians were killed and 25,000 homes were destroyed.[17] The bombers' target was the civilian areas of Rotterdam, rather than the town's defenses.[17] The commander of the garrison in the town, under pressure from local officials, surrendered the town and his 10,000-strong force on the evening of the 14th with the permission of Henri Winkelman, the Dutch commander-in-chief, opening up the German advance into "Fortress Holland".[17]

Dutch surrender

Henri Winkelman (centre), just after signing the official the Dutch capitulation, 15 May 1940.

The Dutch high command was shocked by the Rotterdam Blitz. Knowing that the army was running low on supplies and ammunition, and after receiving news that the city of Utrecht had been given an ultimatum similar to that of Rotterdam,[13] Winkelman held a meeting with other Dutch generals who decided that further resistance was futile. In the afternoon of 14 May, Winkelman issued a proclamation to his army, ordering them to surrender:

This afternoon Germany bombarded Rotterdam, while Utrecht has also been threatened with destruction. In order to spare the civil population and to prevent further bloodshed I feel myself justified in ordering all troops concerned to suspend operations ... By great superiority of the most modern means [the enemy] has succeeded in breaking our resistance. We have nothing wherewith to reproach ourselves in connection with this war. Your bearing and that of the forces was calm, firm of purpose and worthy of the Netherlands.

—Proclamation of General Winkelman, 14 May 1940.[18]

On 15 May, the Dutch officially signed the surrender with Germany, however Dutch forces in the province of Zeeland, which had come under French control, continued fighting alongside French forces until 17 May, when the bombardment of the town of Middelburg forced them to surrender also. The Dutch Empire, in particular the Dutch East Indies, remained on the Allied side and were unaffected by the surrender. Many ships of the Royal Dutch Navy in Dutch waters also fled to the United Kingdom.[19]

During the four-day campaign, 2,300 Dutch soldiers were killed and 7,000 wounded, while over 3,000 Dutch civilians were also killed. The German army lost 2,200 men killed and a further 7,000 wounded. In addition, 1,300 German soldiers captured by the Dutch during the campaign, many around The Hague, had been shipped to Britain and therefore remained POWs.

Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government succeeded in escaping from the Netherlands before the surrender, where they formed a government-in-exile.

German occupation

Life in the occupied Netherlands

Following the refusal of the Dutch government to return, the Netherlands was controlled by a German civilian governor, unlike France or Denmark which had their own governments, and Belgium which was under German military control. The civil government, the Reichskommissariat Niederlande, was headed by the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart.

The German occupiers implemented a policy of Gleichschaltung ("enforced conformity"), and systematically eliminated non-Nazi organizations. In 1940, the German regime more or less immediately outlawed all Socialist and Communist parties; in 1941, it forbade all parties, except for the NSB.

Gleichschaltung was an enormous shock to the Dutch, who had traditionally had separate institutions for all main religious groups, particularly Catholic and Protestant, because of decades of pillarisation. The process was opposed by the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and in 1941 all Roman Catholics were urged by Dutch bishops to leave associations that had been Nazified.

Another aim of the Nazi occupiers was to incorporate the Netherlands into the Greater Germanic Reich.[citation needed] Adolf Hitler thought very highly of the Dutch people,[citation needed] who were considered to share the ethnic and racial characteristics of the Aryan "master race".[citation needed]


The Luftwaffe was especially interested in the Netherlands, as the country was designated to become the main area for the air force bases from which to attack Great Britain. The Germans started construction of 10 so-called Fliegerhorste, major military airports, on the day after the formal Dutch surrender, 15 May 1940. They had at least 2 or 3 hard surface runways, a dedicated railway connection, major built-up and heated repair and overhaul facilities, extensive indoor and outdoor storage spaces, and mostly housing and facilities for 2000 to 3000 men. Each Fliegerhorst also had an auxiliary and often a decoy airfield, complete with mock-up planes made from plywood. The construction work was performed by Dutch contractors and Dutch workers on a totally voluntary basis[citation needed]. The largest became Deelen north of Arnhem (12 former German buildings at Deelen air base are now national monuments). Adjacent to Deelen, the large central air control bunker for Belgium and Holland, Diogenes, was set up.

Within a year, the attack strategy had to be altered to a defensive operation. The ensuing air war over the Netherlands cost almost 20,000 airmen (Allied and German) their lives and 6,000 planes went down over the country - an average of 3 per day during the five years of the war.

The Netherlands turned into the first line of western air defense for Germany and its industrial heartland of the Ruhrgebiet, complete with extensive flak, sound detection installations and later radar. The first German night-hunter squadron started its operations from Holland.

Some 30,000 Luftwaffe men and women were involved in Holland throughout the war.[20]

Forced labour and resistance

The Arbeitseinsatz — the drafting of civilians for forced labor — was imposed on the Netherlands. This obliged every man between 18 and 45 to work in German factories, which were bombed regularly by the western Allies. Those who refused were forced into hiding. As food and many other goods were taken out of the Netherlands, rationing increased (with ration cards). At times, the resistance would raid distribution centres to obtain ration cards to be distributed to those in hiding.

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

Atlantic Wall

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


Anne Frank's diary has been translated into some sixty languages since its publication

Shortly after it was established, the military regime began to persecute the Jews of the Netherlands. In 1940, there were no deportations and only small measures were taken against the Jews. In February 1941, the Nazis deported a small group of Dutch Jews to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. The Dutch reacted with the February strike, a nationwide protest against the deportations, unique in the history of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although the strike did not accomplish much—its leaders were executed—it was an initial setback for Seyss-Inquart as he had planned to both deport the Jews and to win the Dutch over to the Nazi cause.

Before the February strike, the Nazis had installed a Jewish Council: a board of Jews, headed by Professor David Cohen and Abraham Asscher, who served as an instrument for organising the identification and deportation of Jews more efficiently,[citation needed] while the Jews on the council were told and convinced they were helping the Jews. In May 1942, Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David badges. Around the same time the Catholic Church of the Netherlands publicly condemned the government's action in a letter read at all Sunday parish services. Thereafter, the Nazi government treated the Dutch more harshly: notable Socialists were imprisoned, and, later in the war, Catholic priests, including Titus Brandsma, were deported to concentration camps.

In 1942, a transit camp was built at Westerbork by converting an existing internment camp for immigrants. Concentration camps were built at Vught and Amersfoort as well. Eventually, with the assistance of Dutch police and civil service, the majority of the Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps.[21]

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

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


Recruitment poster for the SS with the slogan "For your honour and conscience! Against Bolshevism! Enlist in the Waffen SS."

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

The Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (NSB) was the only legal political party in the Netherlands from 1941 and was actively involved in collaboration with the German occupiers. In 1941, when Germany still seemed certain to win the war, about three percent of the adult male population belonged to the NSB.

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

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

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

In September 1940, the Nederlandsche SS was formed as "Afdeling XI" (Department XI) of the NSB. It was the equivalent to the Allgemeine SS in Germany. In November 1942 its name was changed in Germaansche SS in Nederland. The Nederlandsche SS was primarily a political formation but also served as manpower reservoir for the Waffen-SS.

Between 20,000 and 25,000 Dutchmen volunteered to serve in the Heer and the Waffen-SS. The most notable formations were the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland which saw action exclusively on the Eastern Front and the SS Volunteer Grenadier Brigade Landstorm Nederland which fought in Belgium and the Netherlands.[22]

The Nederland brigade participated in fighting on the Eastern Front during the Battle of Narva, with several soldiers receiving the Nazi Germany's highest award for bravery.

Dutch Resistance

Members of the Dutch Resistance, identified by their cloth armbands, with American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Eindhoven, September 1944.

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

The country's terrain, lack of wilderness and dense population made it difficult to conceal any illicit activities, and it was bordered by German-controlled territory, offering no escape route, except by sea. Resistance in the Netherlands took the form of small-scale, decentralized cells engaged in independent activities. The communists CPN however organized resistance from the start of the war. So did the circle of liberal democratic resisters who were linked through Professor Dr. Willem or Wim Schermerhorn to the Dutch government-in-exile in London, the LKP ("Nationale Knokploeg", or National Force Units, literal translation "Brawl Crew"). This was one of the largest resistance groups, numbering around 550 active participants; it was also heavily targeted by Nazi intelligence for destruction due to its links with England. Some small groups had absolutely no links to others. These groups produced forged ration cards and counterfeit money, collected intelligence, published underground newspapers, sabotaged phone lines and railways, prepared maps, and distributed food and goods. After 1942 the National Organisation (LO) en National Force Units (LKP) organized national coordination. Some contact was established with the government in London. After D-day the existing national organizations LKP, the OD and the Council of Resistance merged into the internal forces under the command of Prince Bernhard.[23]

Dutch Resistance group in 1944

One of the riskiest activities was hiding and sheltering refugees and enemies of the Nazi regime, Jewish families like the family of Anne Frank, underground operatives, draft-age Dutch, and others. Collectively these people were known as onderduikers. Later in the war this system of people-hiding was also used to protect downed Allied airmen. Reportedly, resistance doctors in Heerlen concealed an entire hospital floor from German troops.[24]

In February 1943, a Dutch resistance cell rang the doorbell of the former head of the Dutch general staff and now collaborating General-Lieutenant Hendrik Seyffardt in the Hague. Seyffardt commanded the campaign to recruit Dutch volunteers for the Waffen-SS and the German war effort on the Eastern Front. After he answered and identified himself, he was shot twice and died the following day. This assassination of the high-level official triggered a harsh reprisal from SS General Hanns Albin Rauter, who ordered the killing of 50 Dutch hostages and a series of raids on Dutch universities. On October 1 and 2, 1944, the Dutch resistance attacked German troops near the village of Putten, which resulted in war crimes on behalf of the occupying Germans. After the attack, part of the town was destroyed, and seven people were shot in the Putten raid. The entire male population of Putten was deported and most were subjected to forced labour; 48 out of 552 survived the camps. The Dutch resistance unintentionally attacked Rauter's car on March 6, 1945, which in turn led to the killings at Woeste Hoeve, where 116 men were rounded up and executed at the site of the ambush and another 147 Gestapo prisoners executed elsewhere.[25]

Dutch Army in Exile

A Dutch sailor depicted on an Allied propaganda poster, published 1943.

Several days before the surrender, Queen Wilhelmina, her family and the Dutch government left the country for the United Kingdom. Shortly after the German victory, the Dutch government, led by Prime Minister Dirk Jan de Geer, was invited by the Germans to return to the country and form a pro-German puppet government, as the Vichy government had agreed to do in France. De Geer wanted to accept this invitation but the Queen did not and dismissed De Geer in favour of Pieter Gerbrandy.

Dutch East Indies and the war in the Far East

The Dutch cruiser Java (right) comes under Japanese aerial attack at the Battle of the Java Sea, February 1942.

On December 8, 1941, Netherlands declared war on Japan.[26] On January 10, 1942 the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

Dutch naval ships joined forces with the Allies to form the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Fleet, commanded by the Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman. On February 27–28, 1942, Admiral Doorman was ordered to take the offensive against the Imperial Japanese Navy. His objections on the matter were overruled. The ABDA fleet finally encountered the Japanese surface fleet at the Battle of the Java Sea, at which Doorman gave the order to engage. During the ensuing battle the allied fleet suffered heavy losses. The Dutch cruisers Java and De Ruyter were lost, together with the destroyer Kortenaer. The other allied cruisers, the Australian Perth, the British Exeter, and the American Houston, tried to disengage but they were spotted by the Japanese in the following days and eventually all were destroyed. Numerous ABDA destroyers were also lost. According to legend, Admiral Doorman's attack order was Ik val aan, volg mij! ("I am attacking, follow me!"); in reality, the order was "All ships follow me."[citation needed]|date=September 2014}}

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

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

Indonesian youths being trained by the Japanese army.

Many Dutch Army and Navy pilots also escaped and, with airplanes provided by the U.S., formed the Royal Australian Air Forces' Nos. 18 and 120 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadrons, equipped with B-25 Mitchell bombers and P-40 Kittyhawk fighters, respectively. These squadrons helped to defend Australia from the Japanese; bombing raids from Australia to the Dutch East Indies were carried out, with both squadrons eventually also participating in their recapture.

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

The Dutch civilians who suffered greatly during their internment finally returned home to a land that had suffered greatly as well.[27]

The final year

British Sherman tanks liberate Valkenswaard during Operation Market Garden, September 1944.

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

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

At the same time, the Allies also advanced into the province of Zeeland. At the start of October 1944, the Germans still occupied Walcheren and dominated the Scheldt estuary and its approaches to the port of Antwerp. The crushing need for a large supply port forced the Battle of the Scheldt in which First Canadian Army fought on both sides of the estuary during the month to clear the waterways. Large battles were fought to clear the Breskens Pocket, Woensdrecht and the Zuid-Beveland Peninsula of German forces, primarily "stomach" units of the Wehrmacht as well as German paratroopers of Battle Group Chill. German units composed of convalescents and the medically unfit were named for their ailment; thus, "stomach" units for soldiers with ulcers.[28]

Canadian troops pass a windmill in Rijssen-Holten, April 1945.

By 31 October, resistance south of the Scheldt had collapsed, and the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division, British 52nd (Lowland) Division and 4th Special Service Brigade all made attacks on Walcheren Island. Strong German defenses made a landing very difficult, and the Allies responded by bombing the dikes of Walcheren at Westkapelle, Vlissingen and Veere to flood the island. Though the Allies had warned residents with pamphlets, 180 inhabitants of Westkappelle died. The coastal guns on Walcheren were silenced in the opening days of November and the Scheldt battle declared over; no German forces remained intact along the 64 mi (103 km) path to Antwerp.

After the Allied armies broke out from Normandy, the Polish 1st Armoured Division pursued the Germans along the coast of the English Channel. It liberated, among others, the towns of Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele. A successful outflanking manoeuvre planned and performed by General Maczek allowed liberation of the city of Breda without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944).

The Dutch government had not wanted to use the old water line when the Germans had invaded in 1940. It was still possible to create an island out of Holland by destroying dikes and flooding the polders, but this island contained the main cities. The Dutch government had decided then that there were too many people to keep alive to justify the flooding. However, Hitler ordered that Fortress Holland (German: Festung Holland) be held at any price.

Hunger Winter

German soldiers guarding food dump established in forward area, talking to one of the Dutch drivers who is to distribute the food in a Canadian truck. May 3, 1945

The winter of 1944–1945 was very harsh, which led to 'hunger journeys' and many cases of starvation (about 30,000 casualties), exhaustion, cold and disease. This winter is known as the Hongerwinter (literally, "hunger winter") or the Dutch famine of 1944. In response to a general railway strike ordered by the Dutch government-in-exile in expectation of a general German collapse near the end of 1944, the Germans cut off all food and fuel shipments to the western provinces in which 4.5 million people lived. Severe malnutrition was common and 18,000 people starved to death. Relief came at the beginning of May 1945.[29]


Member of the NSB and "moffenmeiden" being rounded up

After crossing the Rhine at Wesel and Rees, Canadian forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the eastern and northern provinces. The western provinces, where the situation was worst, however, had to wait until the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands was negotiated on the eve of May 5, 1945 (three days before the general capitulation of Germany), in the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. Previously the Swedish Red Cross had been allowed to provide relief efforts, and Allied forces were allowed to airdrop food over the German-occupied territories in Operation Manna.[30]

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

After being liberated, Dutch citizens began taking the law into their own hands, as had been done in other liberated countries, such as France. Collaborators and Dutch women who had had relationships with men of the German occupying force, called "Moffenmeiden" were abused and humiliated in public, usually by having their heads shaved and painted orange.


By the end of the war, 205,901 Dutch men and women had died. The Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe, 2.36%.[31] Another 30,000 died in the Dutch East Indies, either while fighting the Japanese or in camps as Japanese POWs. Dutch civilians were held in those camps as well.[32]

After the war

Dutch women who had sexual relations with German soldiers, await their fate after being arrested by the Dutch resistance.

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

The Dutch government initially developed plans to annex a sizable portion of Germany (Bakker-Schut Plan), either with or without German population — which in the latter case would have to be "Dutchified" — doubling the land area of the Netherlands. This plan was dropped after an Allied refusal (although two small villages were added to the Netherlands in 1949 and returned in 1963) . One successfully-implemented plan was Black Tulip, the deportation of all holders of German passports in the Netherlands and several thousand Germans were deported in this way.

The bank balances of Dutch Jews who were killed are still the subject of trials today, more than 65 years after the end of the war.

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

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

See also


  1. Anti-semitic stereotypes in Dutch paper spark anger
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "The Netherlands between the Wars, 1929–1940". History of the Netherlands. World History at KLMA. Retrieved 6 July 2013. 
  3. Hansen, Erik (1981). "Fascism and Nazism in the Netherlands, 1929–39". pp. 33–385. 
  4. Abbenhuis, Maartje M. (2006). The Art of Staying Neutral: the Netherlands in the First World War, 1914–1918. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. pp. 13–21. ISBN 90-5356-818-2. 
  5. Hirschfeld, Gerhard (1988). Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboration: the Netherlands under German Occupation, 1940–1945 (1st English ed. ed.). Oxford: Berg. pp. 12–4. ISBN 0-85496-146-1. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Wubs, Ben (2008). International Business and War Interests: Unilever between Reich and Empire, 1939–45. London: Routledge. pp. 61–2. ISBN 0-415-41667-1. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Dutch Army Strategy and Armament in WWII". Retrieved 6 July 2013. 
  8. TC-32 (6 October 1939). "Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression". Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
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  14. Amersfoort, Herman; Kamphuis, Piet, eds (2005). "Mei 1940 — De Strijd op Nederlands grondgebied". Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers. p. 192. ISBN 90-12-08959-X. 
  15. Various. Belgium: The Official Account of What Happened, 1939–40. London: Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. pp. 32–6. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Teeuwisse, Joeri (17 March 2006). "Life During The Dutch Occupation – Part 2: May 1940, The Battle For The Netherlands". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 "May 14 - Rotterdam". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  18. Ashton, H.S. (1941). The Netherlands at War. London. pp. 24–5. 
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  20. Vliegvelden in Oorlogstijd, Netherlands Institute for Militaruy History (NIMH), The Hague 2009
  21. Stone, Dan (2010). Histories of the Holocaust. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-19-956680-8. 
  22. Georg Tessin, Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen SS 1939–1945, Biblio Verlag, vol. 2 for Nederland, vol. 14 for Landstorm Nederland
  23. Abraham J. Edelheit and Hershel Edelheit, History of the Holocaust: a handbook and dictionary (1994) p 411
  24. Mark Zuehlke - 2010 On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, (2010) p 187
  25. Van der Zee, Henri A. (1998). The hunger Winter: Occupied Holland, 1944–1945 (1st ed.). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-8032-9618-5. 
  26. "THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS DECLARES WAR WITH JAPAN". ibiblio. Retrieved 2009-10-05. 
  27. Twomey, Christina (2009). "Double Displacement: Western Women's Return Home from Japanese Internment in the Second World War". pp. 670–684. Digital object identifier:10.1111/j.1468-0424.2009.01566.x. 
  28. Ryan, Cornelius (1995). A Bridge Too Far (First paperback ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 26, 39. ISBN 0-684-80330-5. 
  29. Banning, C. (1946). "Food Shortage and Public Health, First Half of 1945". pp. 93–110. JSTOR 1024809. 
  30. Goddard, Lance (2005). Canada and the liberation of the Netherlands, May 1945. Toronto: Dundurn Group. ISBN 1-55002-547-3. 
  31. See World War II casualties
  32. See World War II casualties#endnote Indonesia

Further reading

  • Diederichs, Monika. "Stigma and Silence: Dutch Women, German Soldiers and their children", in Kjersti Ericsson and Eva Simonsen, eds. Children of World War II: The Hidden Enemy Legacy (Oxford U.P. 2005), 151–64.
  • Foray, Jennifer L. "The 'Clean Wehrmacht' in the German-occupied Netherlands, 1940-5," Journal of Contemporary History 2010 45:768-787 doi:10.1177/0022009410375178
  • Friedhoff, Herman. Requiem for the Resistance: The Civilian Struggle Against Nazism in Holland and Germany (1989)
  • Goddard, Lance. Canada and the liberation of the Netherlands, May 1945 (2005)
  • Hirschfeld, Gerhard. Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboration: The Netherlands under German Occupation 1940–1945 (Oxford U.P., 1998)
  • Hirschfeld, Gerhard. "Collaboration and Attentism in the Netherlands 1940–41," Journal of Contemporary History (1981) 16#3 pp 467–486. Focus on the "Netherlands Union" active in 1940–41 in JSTOR
  • Hitchcock, William I. The Bitter Road to Freedom: The Human Cost of Allied Victory in World War II Europe (2009) ch 3 is "Hunger: The Netherlands and the Politics of Food," pp 98–129
  • Maas, Walter B. The Netherlands at war: 1940–1945 (1970)
  • Moore, Bob. " Occupation, Collaboration and Resistance: Some Recent Publications on the Netherlands During the Second World War," European History Quarterly (1991) 211 pp 109–118. Online at Sage
  • Sellin, Thorsten, ed. "The Netherlands during German Occupation," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 245, May, 1946 pp i to 180 in JSTOR, 18 essays by experts; focus on home front economics, society, Resistance, Jews
  • van der Zee, Henri A. The hunger winter: occupied Holland, 1944–1945 (U of Nebraska Press, 1998) excerpt and text search
  • Warmbrunn, Werner. The Dutch under German Occupation 1940–1945 (Stanford U.P. 1963)

External links

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