The Military Museums

Liberation of Holland

We Dutch will never forget-the deception and bombing of our cities, Arbeitseinsatz, forced labour, work camps, the awful hunger and starvation of our children.

Liberation of Holland

We Dutch will never forget-the deception and bombing of our cities, Arbeitseinsatz, forced labour, work camps, the awful hunger and starvation of our children.

Liberation of Holland

We will also never forget the Jewish friends who had cleaved to our once peaceful, neutral country. We thought ourselves lost with the tragedy of Arnhem, and the Hongerwinter, but the British dropped food, and then the Canadians came-Canadians, British, Polish, and Americans-but mostly our brave Canadians.

They fought in vital roles, liberating our cities and small towns, until in May 1945 we raised our glorious flag after five full years of fear and war. There never has been such a love between two countries. When they ask who freed us, we will never forget.

In late 1944, the Canadian Army began the Liberation of Holland by clearing the approaches to the Belgian port of Antwerp along both sides of the Scheldt estuary and opening up the supply route to the north through Arnhem. The 1st Canadian Corp arrived from Italy in March 1945 to join the Canadian Army in Holland and continue the push to drive out and isolate German forces.

The Dutch had suffered badly during the winter, and so the Canadians made a tremendous effort to provide relief supplies to the Dutch people. When hostilities finally ceased, the Canadians were welcomed as Liberators and the joyous "Canadian Summer" began, forging long-lasting bonds of friendship between the Dutch and Canadian peoples.

Dutch Resistance

The War Begins

On the morning of May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Dutch army and air force fought back, stalling the attack by the German 18th Army at The Hague, a Dutch city located on the country's west coast an hour-an-half drive from the German border.

In a bid to end the stalemate, the German air force, the Luftwaffe, bombed the 600-year-old city of Rotterdam on May 14. The Luftwaffe threatened to bomb the city of Utrecht next if the Netherlands did not surrender. The Dutch government capitulated the following day.

In the five days that the Netherlands attempted to defend itself from the German invaders, 2,200 members of its military and 2,560 civilians were killed.

Now that Germany had control of the Netherlands, it set out to strengthen its hold on the country by installing Dutch fascists, the National Socialist Party, into power. Germany hoped that if a Dutch government continued to govern the Netherlands the people would fall in line making it easy to exploit the Netherlands's resources.

Jewish Oppression

The Dutch, however, had other ideas. They did not accept fascist rule as the Germans hoped; instead, they immediately began to resist German rule. The first act of resistance was a letter writing campaign that warned Dutch citizens of what was to come under Nazi rule and to be prepared to act. From there, Dutch acts of resistance eventually grew to include assassinations of corrupt officials and sabotage of critical infrastructure, such as bridges.

Meanwhile, the Germans quickly introduced harsh anti-Jewish measures. Government officials had to state they were not Jewish, and any official who admitted to being Jewish was fired. At the same time, the Nazis required that Jewish business owners register with the government.

Building on its registration policies, the Nazis turned to violence. In December 1940 German-backed Dutch Nazis began assaulting Jews, ransacking their businesses, and burning synagogues. Dutch Jews began fighting back in February 1941, killing a Dutch Nazi. This orchestrated violence and the expected outcome gave Nazi officials an excuse to begin arresting and deporting Jews. After the death of the Dutch Nazi, police arrested 425 male Jews and deported them to the Buchenwald concentration camp; many of those Jews were later sent to an extermination camp.

In response, Dutch workers in Amsterdam took to the picket line with a general strike. The three-day strike ended when troops opened fire on the protestors, killing nine. By July 1941, the Nazis set out to deport all Dutch Jews. The occupiers also began deporting male workers under the age of 50 to work camps in Germany.

The deportations caused many people—both Jews and non-Jews—to go into hiding. With few natural places to hide, given that the Netherlands is flat and open, many Dutch citizens went underground, taking refuge in dugouts beneath the floors of houses. Others turned to disguises and fake identification cards so they could hide in plain sight. With well over 300,000 people in hiding throughout the Netherlands, including 25,000 Jews, the hiding places quickly grew in number and complexity to include secret rooms and complexes. Anne Frank, the young Jewish student whose diaries tell the story of her family's experience during the war, hid in a secret annex in a house in Amsterdam.

Acts of Defiance

As a movement, the Dutch resistance at first grew slowly, but the persecution of Jews and Dutch workers led Dutch citizens to engage in more direct action against the Nazis, including general strikes in 1941 and 1943.

Dutch doctors, meanwhile, refused to join a German doctors' guild that would have compelled them to follow Nazi racial profiling. Similarly, most Dutch university students refused to declare any loyalty to the Germans, and the Dutch Reformed Church and the Roman Catholic Church reminded their members that it was their duty to resist Nazi rule. And then, in 1944, railway workers went on strike in the hopes of keeping the Nazis from deporting more Jews while also slowing Germany's ability to move troops in the face of the Allied invasion.

Along with public acts of defiance by Dutch citizens, many resistance groups and cells began working covertly, actively resisting German dominance from the shadows. Unlike other European nations that had resistance movements, the Dutch resistance largely operated with little connection to British intelligence organizations designed to support the resistance throughout Europe. German security in the Netherlands was so effective that British agents were unable to effectively infiltrate the Netherlands.

Dutch Organization

As a result, the Dutch resistance created its own system and structures with separate groups taking on specific roles. One group built a network of radio transmitters, while another conducted raids, sabotage, and executed traitors. A third group supported both the resistance and those hiding underground. Of all the resistance activities, however, the Dutch were particularly skilled at hiding people, including Allied airmen shot down over the Netherlands.

But those actions, especially acts of sabotage and assassination, came with swift and deadly reprisals from the Germans which typically included mass executions. For example, after members of the resistance shot and wounded Hanns Rauter, an Austrian-born general who commanded the police force, officials executed 263 prisoners.

Some 45,000 Dutch citizens served with the resistance, many of whom were Jewish. In all, 35 percent of Dutch resistance members were captured, and of those people 22 percent died in concentration camps or were executed. Treasonous Dutch Nazi collaborators resulted in Nazi forces capturing many resistance members. The only defence the resistance had against traitors was to kill them, despite reprisals which were certain to come.

When the Netherlands was finally liberated in May 1945, over 102,000 of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands at the start of the war had died in German camps. Of the 25,000 Jews who had gone into hiding, 9,000 were discovered and arrested. Most of those individuals, including Anne Frank, died in the camps, as well. But without the Dutch actively opposing German oppression in any way they could, including strikes and sabotage, the death toll would have been much higher.

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