Adjust, Collaborate, or Resist: The Dutch Question

by Kenneth Rayman on March 10, 2019
I feel I can witness the character of a nation under any political narrative, that’s often the focal point, by understanding the experience of living during a time of immense distress. The Dutch Resistance Museum, or Verzetsmuseum in Dutch, was right up that alley. What was the Dutch character during a time when the world literally was at war fighting against the worst of mankind? I’d been to the Seige Museum in St. Petersburg discovering those who fought to survive another day, the Resistance Museum in Oslo discovering those who refused to lay down for their oppressors, and the Uprising Museum in Warsaw with those who fought to liberate themselves from their oppressors. What I discovered about the Dutch experience was a stark contrast for the narrative of the day and of those other museums.

Forgetting my camera in my jacket, leaving it in the cloakroom, honestly, was the best thing for me to do as it allowed me to fully immerse myself in the experience. I’ve told people before that as Americans we may have two events that defined times in which we lived, the 9/11 attacks or Pearl Harbor, but the last time we were physically invaded as a nation was 1812. So I enter with humility and an open mind, as I can not and do not have an example to compare or empathize with.

The museum is set into two paths to show the colonial and home experiences of occupation by the Axis Powers, the Dutch East Indies by the Japanese and the Dutch homeland nation by Nazi Germany. I mistakenly didn’t see the colonial path in the center until I started to leave the exhibit but I would later learn about the colonial experience at another museum. The story of invasion started off by discussing the influence of the Dutch Nazi party, the NSB, in the lead up to it.

Although a political outlier, they were a dangerous power broker through the support of the military machine on the Eastern border pre-invasion. The museum would introduce the overarching question around the occupation for the Dutch, here and throughout. Do they adjust and carry on? Do they collaborate? Or do they resist? After the Dutch surrendered, the question became about national pride. Government officials asked of themselves: Do they resign in protest, inevitably to be thrown in jail, only to be replaced by an NSB official? Or do they stay on to at least prevent the NSB a foothold on power?

What surprised me immediately was the reaction to the Dutch that the Germans had. Rather than ruthless suppression with previous invasions in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Austria, the Germans were lenient with the Netherlands. After 5 days of fighting the Dutch surrendered to minimize civilian casualties and alleviate the resulting homelessness of its citizens. After the Dutch royal family went into exile, the Germans released Dutch prisoners of war as a gesture of friendship and good faith. It was said that Germans viewed the Dutch as brothers in race and culture, so at first many citizens didn’t notice a lot of changes to daily life. Though that would soon change as Nazi policy would place more and more restrictions as the war progressed.

True resistance efforts, it seemed, were viewed as hard to achieve effectively; as the first roundup of Jews proved with the failure of a strike in response to it and the resulting violence, but the citizens found ways to silently protest the Nazis. The story of the Orange Baby was the most interesting as I learned more about the monarchy, and the Dutch themselves. The monarchy is of the Royal House of Orange-Nassau and near the beginning of the occupation, a new mother and father named their newborn after the queen and the monarchy, Irene Beatrix Juliana Wilhemina Niehot, all names of Dutch royal family members. The announcement of the birth and name in the local newspaper resulted in tributes, adulation, and donations being sent to the new parents. When their nanny, who suggested the “Orange name” placed a thank you note in the paper, she was arrested and sent to a prison camp in Germany. People viewed the wearing of orange and white as a silent protest and support for the monarchy. During a national celebration for the Crown Prince’s birthday, white carnations were pinned to men’s lapels as the Prince would wear his; after the celebration turned into a demonstration, any royal symbols were removed and outlawed. This however only strengthened the support for the royal family and people continued to wear the colors.

Dutch resistance at first seemed to be more about the ethical and moral part of what was taking place in their society. the German administration was wholly unprepared for Protestant resistance within the religious structure of society which hindered membership drives for the NSB, as churches called on followers to abandon membership in trade unions that were led by the NSB. The installation of teachers affiliated with the NSB resulted in increases of truancy and harassment of them and their families. Masses of people questioned whether they should register for identity cards, though German retaliation was rightly feared, so many registered regardless. Men were also hindered in avoidance measures of being recruited labor for German factories. Identity card resistance efforts were plagued by the prior government requiring registration that included religious affiliations, making it difficult for Jews to hide and the naturally flat country allowed for very few places to hide from labor recruitment. It was well known that Dutch laborers were often sent to factories in areas being bombed by the Allies but it was also known that the Germans had begun to be more suspicious of Dutch sympathies and began to threaten citizens, making hiding someone a dangerous prospect for themselves and their families.

By 1943, Germany had given up trying to win the Dutch over and started to intimidate more with violence and crackdowns. The Resistance began mass forgery operations for those in hiding and would carry out raids to gain access to supplies for the Resistance. The Nazis would start responding as they did with Resistance acts in other countries, with retaliation against the population and singling out prisoners as death candidates. The final year of the war saw the physical toll increase as a rail strike aimed at crippling the German army sort of backfired. It was successful for they hindered the advance of troops but ineffective as the Germans used their own transports, yet the strike was kept on as a matter of national pride. The unintended consequence was the lack of resources for the populace, especially in the winter of 1944 where people were forced to venture out into the countryside on so-called hunger expeditions to barter valuables for food with farmers.

After the Normandy landings in June 1944, the country would be gradually liberated from September 1944 to the total German surrender in May 1945. The collaborators would be imprisoned and people known to have had romantic relationships with Germans were subjected to public humiliation. As would happen in a lot of the conquered territories, those returning from prison and labor camps were often mistreated or misunderstood. Questions about this and other aspects of the war remain to this day and are key reasons why museums like this exist.

Visit the Museum here!