The horror that happened during World War II has brought about a spread of suffering across Europe. The Netherlands, however, is the only country that commemorates the victims on two separate days. On May 4th we pay a tribute to the lives we lost due to wartime violence (Remembrance day) and on the consecutive day, May 5th, we celebrate our regained freedom. May 5th 1945 is the day on which the German army capitulated. Members of the Dutch resistance found it was inappropriate to combine the remembrance of the people who died, and the celebration of our freedom on the same day. This is why the Dutch government decided, just years after the war ended, to use two separate days. They felt like the emotions that went along with both events were incompatible. We agree, which is why we will use this blog to inform you on the Netherlands during wartime, and the remembrance of those who passed. If you want more info on Liberation day, and the accompanying events, check out our recent blogpost.
The Netherlands during wartime (1940 – 1945)
During the first World War the Netherlands maintained a status of neutrality. Despite the neutral status, the country was pressured extensively due to its geographical position between the German Empire, occupied Belgium and the UK. After the start of World War II, the Netherlands proclaimed neutrality again, however this time, the neutral status ended quickly when Hitler decided that Nazi Germany should invade the Netherlands.
A German attack on the Netherlands on the 10th of May 1940 announced the beginning of the second World War in the Netherlands. On May 14th Germany demanded capitulation of Rotterdam, one of the most important transportation ports in the continent. Even though the city agreed to capitulation, the Germans nevertheless bombed the city. The people of Rotterdam had nothing they could do, but to seek a place to hide from the violence. Around 800 to 900 people were killed, and big parts of the city (an estimated 30.000 buildings) were completely ruined during this horrific night.
Life in the occupied Netherlands
After its occupation by the Nazi’s, the Royal family and government managed to flee the country, and they became a government-in-exile in the UK. However, for the civilians of the Netherlands life got worse… The Germans had imposed forced labor on the country. All men between the age of 18 – 45 had to work in German factories or at German farms. Many tried to hide or flee. Soon after the war started, the persecution of Dutch jews, sinti and disabled people began. The Jewish Council (Joodse Raad) was installed, an organization with a board of Jewish men. The Council served as an indirect instrument for the organization of the deportation of Jews. The board was convinced by the Germans that they were helping the Jews. However, due to the orderly measures it was a lot easier for the Germans to track down Jewish families. Its effectiveness shows in the terrible amount of people who were taken and brought to concentrations camps. At the time, the Netherlands was the home of around 140.000 Jews, at the end of the war only 38.000 survivors returned home.
Next to the help of the Jewish Council, there were people that deliberately collaborated with the occupier. Some people joined the German army (Waffen-SS), other were actively involved in capturing Jews in exchange for money. Approximately 8.000 Jews were denounced to the Germans, and sent to death camps. The Dutch nationalistic movement (NSB) had its headquarter in Utrecht. This political party was also actively involved in the persecution of Dutch Jews and Sinti.
Despite the many people who helped the Germans in order to exterminate the Jewish population in the Netherlands, there were likewise people who fought against the Germans in order to protect their compatriots. The Dutch resistance started slowly, but eventually played a crucial role in the liberation of the Netherlands by the Allies. Throughout the war many small and independent resistance groups helped the Jews by falsifying food stamp cards, collecting intelligence, publishing underground newspapers and sabotaging phonelines and railways. One of the biggest accomplishments of the Dutch resistance was the hiding of Jews. They helped families to cover up hiding places and by sheltering people in need. In total, the Dutch resistance was able to seek shelter for around 25.000 Jews. Many times the resistance was able to save the lives of young children by smuggling them to the North of the country, where they would stay with Dutch farm families until the end of the war. In addition, a secret mission succeeded and around 600 Jewish children were saved from deportation.
Commemorate those who lost their lives
The horror that took place in the Netherlands between 1940 – 1945 should never be forgotten. That is why we commemorate the lost lives on the 4th of May. On this day we honor the victims of the Second World War. However, we are aware that elsewhere in the world people are still suffering from violence and war. This day is also about them. Every year on the 4th of May at 08.00 pm the Netherlands is two minutes silent for the victims of war in the Netherlands, and around the world. Make sure you remain silent for those two minutes, as it is very important to us Dutch to be respectful towards the survivors and victims of the war. The National Committee of May 4th and 5th organizes a national memorial on the Dam square in Amsterdam, which is very impressive to attend. Additionally, many municipalities host their own memorial events.
Hopefully this blog has given you a peek in the history of war in the Netherlands. The terrible things that happened should never occur again. Show your companionship to the Dutch by standing by our side during this important day.