1. World War I
Two days after declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary the Kingdom of the Netherlands announced its neutrality, which both countries of Entente and the Central Powers tried to, at least formally, respect. Both sides wanted to have a neutral territory for secret talks. But this does not mean that the Netherlands missed the war. The British occupied the Dutch ships suspecting them of contraband, German submarines sank them, and the Americans requisitioned. Some minor conflicts with both fighting sides had place. It was not well received when the Netherlands gave asylum for the former Kaiser Wilhelm (he used it to his death on 3 June 1941).
After the war the Kingdom of the Netherlands had to make a decision on joining the League of Nations, whose membership was contrary to the principle of neutrality. It was decided to join this organization (1920), but a policy of peace and disarmament was continued, with public support. To prevent an inheriting the throne by the German relatives of the House of Orange, in 1922 succession was limited only to the descendants of Queen Wilhelmina, along with limiting the powers of the ruler. Another internal problem absorbing Dutch society at that time was the reopening of the school dispute that let in 1927 to the equalization of the rights of private schools (religious) with the state ones. On the picture: queen Wilhelmina.
The October Revolution in Russia had not influenced the Netherlands much and did not lead to any revolutionary actions, but influence of fascism was evident. Since 1923 various fascist organizations and parties began to appear, of which the most important were the National Socialist Movement and the Dutch Nazi National Socialist Workers Party, modeled on NSDAP.
Celebration of the 10th anniversary of NSM in Utrecht, December 10,1941.
Meanwhile the colonies, before the outbreak of World War II, experienced a period of great prosperity. More and more Dutchmen used to go to the Dutch Indie, the number of joint-stock companies there increased and there was a big concentration of capital. Revolutionary or national liberation movements were ruthlessly suppressed.
In 1937 the daughter of Queen Wilhelmina Princess Juliana married German prince Bernard Lippe-Biesterfeld, what by the growing threat from Germany caused a lot of controversy in the Netherlands. (At the time of honeymoon young the couple spent few lucky weeks in Poland, as is discussed in the article The royal visits, (at www. polenvoor nederlanders.nl.) After the German invasion of the Netherlands Prince Bernhard, who learnt to be pilot in the German army (he was also an SS officer, what was already known in 1941), served as a pilot in the British RAF, and in 1944 took over supreme command of Dutch military forces. On the picture: Juliana and Bernhard.
3. World War II
After the outbreak of World War II the Kingdom of the Netherlands failed to maintain the neutrality for long and from the very beginning its airspace was violated and its vessels were melted. Direct German attack on this country took place on May 10, 1940. The defense lasted only five days, becouse the barbaric bombing of Rotterdam, which was virtually razed to the ground, accelerated the surrender. Then Queen Wilhelmina and her government left to London, where this energetic ruler used to give speeches to the nation on Radio Oranje.
Old Rotterdam destroyed
In exile Wilhelmina took over the power and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that she was the only real man among the representatives of the governments-in-exile. But this led to some frictions with the then Prime Minister Dirk Jan de Geer, who did not believe in the victory of the Allies and accepted a deal with Germany, for which he was dismissed. In the occupied Netherlands Queen was a very popular person, and the celebration of her birthday and keeping her picture was a symbol of resistance.
World War II showed two faces of the Netherlands: part of the Dutch collaborated with the Nazis, some of them heroically resisted. German occupation policy was much softer there than in Eastern Europe, as the Dutch were considered representatives of the pure German race. Nazis even allowed keeping Dutch government, created by the fascists. Germany was favored by some significant Dutch politicians, including de Geer and former Prime Minister Hendrikus Colijn, so it is hardly surprising that the pro-Fascist sympathies demonstrated, at least in the beginning of the war, a large part of the population of the Netherlands. As many as 800 000 Dutch people joined the Dutch Union (the most massive organization in the history of this country) that evoked visions of the glorious future in the New Europe under German hegemony, promoted authoritarian system of government, did not tolerate Jews in their ranks and even cooperated with Nazis. The reason of such popularity of the Union was success of the Germans and lack of faith in their loss. The Dutch Union did not support the anti-Bolshevik crusade however, which led to its dissolution in 1941. On the picture: Hendrikus Colijn.
Another example of the collaboration was demeanor of the Dutch railway directors, supporting Germans. Dutch railway workers deported in Dutch trains Dutch Jews (to death camps) and Dutch slave laborers (to work in Third Reich), as well as stolen Dutch property. The railway authorities cared much to avoid strikes, but that happened in the final phase of the war. Also big companies Philips and Unilever cooperated with Germany but at the same time provided services to Allies.
The initial passivity against the occupier gradually began to escalate in the reluctance, which contributed to the looting of the country, economic exploitation, deteriorating living conditions and diminishing food rations, with increasing persecution of members of the resistance and growing terror (especially since 1943). Not without its significance was anti-Jewish policies of Hitler, which met opposition of usually tolerant Dutch people. The catalyst for the birth of the Dutch resistance were the riots in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, provoked by the fascists. They led up to the outbreak of the strike in Amsterdam and neighboring cities (in occupied Poland it would be unthinkable because of the repression). On the picture: Jewish teenager Anna Frank, who wrote her famous diaries. She managed to hide in Amsterdam for 2 years, then finally was sent to a concentration camp with her family and died in the Bergen-Belsen camp. Read also: Anne Frank and Rutka Laskier.
Very common was grabbing Dutch bikes by German soldiers, which gave rise to the popular saying after the war: Germans give us our bikes back!
Due to the nature of the country – lack of woods, the flatness of the terrain, the high degree of urbanization – Dutch Resistance could not take the form of guerrilla. Its activity was mainly focused on helping people at risk of forced labor in Germany or deportation to death camps. Resistance also forged documents, destroyed the records, produced false food coupons, searched for shelter, carried out acts of sabotage, run intelligence activity, distributed underground newspapers (about 1200 titles!) and leaflets. Death sentences were carried out on collaborators and police bosses (an example are Utrecht and Nijmegen). In June 1944 forty four prisoners were released from the prison in Arnhem. On the picture: a false document created by the Resistance.
The specificity of the Dutch resistance was the strong fragmentation, also for religious divisions. The biggest formations were the Order Service (Ordedienst), composed of professional officers, but not very popular because of its strong anti-Communism, National Organization for Assistance to Divers (diver = stealth person) and her military unit National Militia, which organized military actions. Fragmentation of resistance made it difficult to be controlled by authorities in exile, as was the case in Poland. It was only in September 1944 when the government in exile set up Internal Forces (Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten), which included all structures mentioned above. On the picture: Internal Forces.
The Dutch resistance created the National Aid Fund (Het Nationale Steunfonds), whose money was spent on help for the people in hiding, and since 1944 also for the striking railwaymen. (Railway workers decided to strike under pressure of the resistance – it lasted until the end of the war.) An interesting fact is that meticulous bank employees exhibited a receipt for each payment!
3.2 Dutch India
The Dutch Indie maintained the independence for two years more after the surrender of the Netherlands, German men and members of fascist organizations were even interned. A few hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) Dutch-Indie government declared war on Japan, but the Dutch army was not able to stop the imperial army, which gradually conquered Indië, island for island.
Japanesh invasion on Java
A dramatic sea battle took place on February 27, 1942 in the area of Java with participation of the Dutch, the British, the American and Australian fleets commanded by the Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman. Unfortunately, the combined naval forces were unable to resist the better trained Japanese fleet and the battle was lost, with great loss for the Allies. Doorman himself lost in his life and the Dutch Indian navy virtually ceased to exist. The capitulation was signed on Jave on March 9, 1942.
On the picture: Dutch Royal cruiser “De Ruyter” in the battle of Java.
During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, Dutch people were persecuted, many were imprisoned in special camps, and some soldiers of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army were sent to the construction of the famous Burmian Road – most of them did not survive it. This sealed the fate of the colony, which has never got back under the full control of the Dutch.
The first attempt of the liberation of the Netherlands was taken by the Allied forces in the spring of 1944 as part of the Operation Market Garden (September 17-25), with participation of the Polish 1st Independent Airborne Brigade under the command of General Stanislaw Sosabowski, but the operation failed. In the autumn only the southern Netherlands were liberated (in October 29 – Breda, in November 9 – Moerdijk), with a significant help of the 1st Armoured Division of General Maczek (more in: Liberators of Holland). The offensive stopped however befor the winter season on the line of Meuse River. That last winter of occupation proved to be very dramatic for Dutch people, because the Germans blocked the supply of food from rural areas of the Netherlands, as well as the supply of fuel. Hungry people ate the bulbs of tulips, but around 15 000 people died. Next Allied offensive took place in the spring of 1945. The Netherlands has been liberated by the Canadians and it was the Canadian General Foulkes who accepted the surrender of the German troops on May 5. The Dutch unit taking part in the liberation was named the Princess Irene Brigade, which consisted of 1,500 soldiers. On the picture: queen Wilhelmina visiting a Guard of Honor, on the liberated land near Eindhoven.
A dark time of the German occupation of the Netherlands has been shown by the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven in his thriller “Black Book” (Zwart Boek). Black Book, trailer.
4. Post-war period
After the war the traditional policy of neutrality had been replaced by a policy of political, economic and military European integration, strongly favoured by the Netherlands. There were few reasons of this change, among others economical and the need of cooperation to maintain world peace and oppose communist expansion. What happened in post-war years was as follows: 1945 – becoming a member of the United Nations; 1949 – joining NATO; 1948 – creating along with Belgium and Luxembourg a customs union called the Benelux; 1957 – creating European Economic Community (EEC). At the same time the Netherlands also joined other structures of economic and integrative character, like EURATOM and the European Coal and Steel Community. Since 1993 the Dutch kingdom is a founder member of the European Union.
The big challenge was the reconstruction of war-devastated economy becouse the Netherlands had lost 1/3 of the national wealth, more than any other country in Western Europe. The loss of the colonies meant loosing the sources of raw materials and agricultural products, which were the basis of Dutch export. This forced then major changes in the structure of the economy. Its most important element remains agriculture (the Netherlands is currently the 3rd largest producer of food), but the Dutch also built a powerful and modern industry. This was possible thanks to preserving her sizeable domestic capital, the Marshall Plan and good condition of the largest compagnies with Dutch capital as: the Royal Dutch-Shell, Unilever, Philips and Akzo. Not without its significance was the discovery of rich deposits of oil and natural gas, which in the late 60-ties greatly improved the financial situation of Dutch society. In the picture: a country of contrasts – pasture next to the big city.
Other factors were talent and diligence of Dutch people, who with very high costs and effort started implementing ambitious plans of rebuilding dikes and creating new polders by drying water reservoirs. (More on this in Forever and ever water). It had not prevent however a huge disaster – on February 1, 1953 the dam broke and sea water rushed into the country at a distance of 75 km, killing 1,835 people and tens of thousands of heads of cattle. Drying of flooded areas took more than 10 months. On the picture: construction of a dam and Vrouwen polder, Plan Delta.
A major change has been applied to the Dutch society. The war experiences strongly weakened the traditional system of social pillars and religion gradually stopped to play a significant role in politics, especially since the 60s., following the process of secularisation. It did not prevent however that Dutch Prime Ministers represent governments of a religious character. Since 1945 the Netherlands had 11 prime ministers of the Catholic People’s Party, Christian Democratic Appeal, 4 of the Labour Party, and only 1 of the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (the present Prime Ministry Mark Rutte). Big changes in the social structure were influenced also by losing the colonies, as many of its inhabitants immigrated to the Netherlands, mainly from Indonesia and Suriname. Since the opening of the labor market to Polish workers in 2007 Poles are a significant part of the Dutch national landscape. On the picture: participants of the street celebration of the Day of the Queen, Amsterdam 2010.
The modern Netherlands remains a kingdom in which the royal power (practically very formal) is exercised by King Willem-Alexander from April 30, 2013. This happened after the abdication of his mother, Queen Beatrix, who assumed the title of Duchess (read: April 30, 2013).
King Willem-Alexander takes the oath next to his wife Queen Maxima at Nieuwe Kerk or New Church in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, during the inauguration, Tuesday April 30, 2013. POOL/PETER DEJONG
4.1 the loss of the East Indies and other colonies
On August 17, 1945 the Indonesians proclaimed the independent Republic of Indonesia, which had not been considered by the Netherlands. The Dutch wanted to maintain authority over the former colony and organized three military interventions there (1946, 1947 and 1948). They succeeded even temporarily (outside Java and Sumatra) in 1946 but withdraw under the influence of the UN Security Council. Simultaneously various political concepts emerged in talks with Indonesians. The last agreement from November 2, 1949 provided for creation of the United States of Indonesia and personal union with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with a big limit of the sovereignty of the new state. The Union was broken up in 1954 by the Indonesians, who in 1957 nationalized Dutch property (state and private). The last disputed area in the region was the western part of New Guinea, being in 1961 annexed by the Indonesians and in 1963 incorporated into Indonesia as West Irian. In the photo (a still from Joris Ivens’ “Indonesia Calling”): a Dutch ship sent to Indonesia in 1946 as a part of the military intervention.
On November 25, 1975 the Dutch Guyana gained independence and adopted the name of Suriname. Its inhabitants have kept the Dutch nationality however, and nearly a quarter of them immigrated to the Netherlands. (The mutual relations are presently cold for the criminal past of the present president Desi Bouterse.) The longest remaining Dutch colony were Dutch Antilles, which ceased to exist (as a colony) on 10 October 2010. Anyway those islands did not want the full independency and voted for staying in the structures of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (what the Dutch people surprised and made them a bit proud). Their status is various. Presently to the Kingdom of the Netherlands belong only Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, which granted status of special municipalities. Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten (half French) were granted autonomous status of countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On the picture: Dutch Caribbean Islands.
The modern Netherlands
The day of the King, Amsterdam 2014
Sources: Jan Balicki, Maria Bogucka: Historia Holandii, Ossolineum 1976
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, Eppo Nottenbaum, Joris Ivens: “Indonesia calling”, www.anp-archief.nl, public domain, koninlijkhuis.nl