I have always admired the incredible courage shown by the Dutch – some, not all – when, in World War Two, their “neutral” country was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. This museum has documented this period from 14 May 1940 to 5 May 1945 – and it’s a prime example of a population of slowly boiling frogs.
Amongst the stories are many of bravery and resistance. But the ones that caught my eye were stories of complying, trusting, betrayal. The parallels to what’s happening today are uncanny – and chilling.
Read some excerpts:
The first measures taken against the Jewish population seemed fairly mild. In October 1940, all civil servants had to declare their parents’ and grandparents’ religion in a special ancestry form. It was clear that the aim was to register all Jewish civil servants. The traditionally obedient Dutch filled out the form in great numbers. One month later, all civil servants of Jewish origins were fired. In January 1941, everyone of Jewish origins was forced to register. They too obeyed.
Registration? Reaction to that dilemma
Milo Anstadt says:
“I tried to convince my father not to have us registered as Jews. Others believed we should be proud of our origins. Loyalty to our origins was the deciding factor in the end.”
Jo Spier, a typographer from Amsterdam, says:
“When the compulsory registration for Jews was introduced, we didn’t see any other way out except to comply. Sure, you might say we were just following orders. Of course, we had no idea what was awaiting us. I don’t think anybody suspected that this road would lead to the extermination camps.”
The German Advance slows down
The Dutch began to believe that the war would be over soon. In the meantime, the Germans were doing everything they could to turn the Netherlands into a national-socialist society. In the course of 1941, the occupying forces introduced the compulsory identity card to help them monitor the population and fight illegal activities.
Propaganda in the cinema
It was impossible to escape German propaganda in the cinema. Sometimes it was obvious, other times more subtle. Resistance workers called on people to boycott cinemas and theatres, but visitor numbers actually increased. People really needed entertainment and distraction during the occupation, and they accepted propaganda as part of that entertainment.
Schools and universities
The materials around the school desks show how members of the Dutch Nazi party were given precedence in the appointment of teachers. Some schoolbooks were heavily edited or banned.
Shortage of rubber and fuel
Rubber imports stopped, which is why the bicycle has a wooden back tire … you can see a bus with a gas generator. It converts wood or coal into gas to fuel the engine. A shortage of fuel meant there were very few cars on the roads. Trams and trains ran less frequently and became more and more crowded.
The occupying forces introduced their anti-Jewish measures gradually. They also set up a Jewish Council of prominent Jewish people, which was meant to help with the orderly implementation of the German decrees. The Jewish Council also issued certificates of deferment. In the display case to the right, you can see an identity card with a deferment stamp. But even people who had been declared exempt were eventually deported, too.
Persecution of Jews
From the summer of 1942 until the autumn of 1944, freight trains left transit camp Westerbork in the east of the Netherlands carrying Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. Their names would be read out the night before their departure. The uncertainty was incredibly stressful: who would be on the list, and who not?
During the first years of occupation, the Germans used colourful posters to recruit people to work in Germany. The poster with the full shopping bag carries the slogan: Welfare for your family through work in Germany. In May of 1943, all men aged 18 to 35 had to report for work in Germany: the forced ‘labour effort’.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know how bad it got. And it sure as hell wasn’t a conspiracy theory.
Thankfully, this shameful era in history did produce incredible resistance efforts which you can also read at izi.TRAVEL.
Make sure you’re on the right side of history.