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The Liberation of the Netherlands: The Secret Heroes

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Did you want to go to our 75th Liberation of the Netherlands Anniversary Tour Page Click Here

When discussing the Liberation of the Netherlands one may recall the stories of Allied armies that came to the country in 1945. Although an important group of individuals who had been there since the original occupation in the 1940s are often overlooked and forgotten about altogether. They weren’t known for their large forces or their powerful weapons, yet still managed to save hundreds of thousands of lives with only a small amount of fighting being necessary. They were simply known as the Dutch Resistance!


Brief History

On May 10th, 1940, the German occupation of the Netherlands was underway. Over 750,000 German soldiers marched into the country with a force 3 times greater than the current Dutch army. With them, they brought 1,100 aircraft which greatly outnumbered the Dutch air force of 125 planes and within one day, 100 of those aircraft were to be destroyed.

At the beginning of the occupation, the Dutch army fought valiantly and was able to make headways with some successful defences along its rural areas, leaving urban areas unscathed by the battle. Although as the fight continued Hitler could no longer afford this costly endeavour with current amounting time lost and soldier causalities on the German side. Hitler was under the impression that this fight would have been over in 2 hours and at a maximum of 2 days like Denmark, which fell in one day. To bring a swift end to the fighting, Hitler had ordered the complete destruction of the urban city of Rotterdam and threatened to continue destroying every other major urban city until the Dutch surrendered. And within 4 days of the initial conflict, Rotterdam was bombarded by the German air force, destroying the city and leaving almost 100,000 individuals without a home. The Dutch royal family had fled the country and current Dutch military leaders knew they weren’t going to be able to defeat the Germans. The Dutch people were forced to surrender and begin negotiating the terms of occupation.

The aftermath of the Rotterdam Bombings A.K.A the Rotterdam Blitz, where 1,400 bombs were dropped, killing over 1,000 people.

Life after the Occupation

The German occupation of the Netherlands was organized by a Nazi Political Party rather than the military and was first portrayed by the Germans as “very mild” as they saw the Dutch as fellow Aryans. This was soon not the case as harsh conditions were rapidly brought upon the civilians with strict rules being applied and the denial of access to seaports, limiting escape attempts. In the city of Amsterdam, the same treatment of the Jewish civilians in France and Germany was being dealt to the Jewish families here. Anyone of the Jewish faith was ordered to wear identification symbols, most often arm patches displaying the Star of David.

The 1st image shows a crowded Jewish labour camp and 2nd image is an example of the patches Jewish individuals had to wear. The last photo is one of Anne Frank, one of the most well-known Holocaust victims.

Eventually, circumstances got even worse and the first raids were to be conducted in the homes of innocent citizens of Amsterdam, where many Jewish people would be taken away to labour camps, jails and relocated to the Jewish quarters of the city which was now turning into a Ghetto. Anyone who was caught helping Jewish families hide or disguise their public appearance would also meet the same fate.

Jodenbuurt, Dutch for the Jewish Neighbourhood, would soon become one of the largest Ghettos of WW2.

The Dutch Resistance

In the Netherlands, over 300,000 people were hidden by an estimated 60,000 to 200,000 individuals who assisted them illegally. These individuals were known to around 1,000,000 others, Jewish people, Dutch citizens and German traitors alike, and made up the underground society of the Dutch Resistance. There would be many different levels and factors that attributed someone as a resistance member, most commonly those who provided counterintelligence (Spies), conducted domestic sabotage and created illegal communications networks. Lesser-known activities would also assist the Resistance like printing informational newspapers, putting up resistance posters, cutting down phone lines, distributing anti-German information and stealing extra food rations.

Dutch Resistance forces, some of which are posing with Allied troops.

In 1941 a pivotal moment happened in the minds of the Dutch citizens which would excel in the growth of the Dutch Resistance movement. This event was known as the February Strike. The Communist Party of the Netherlands organized a strike as the people were very fed up by Nazi rule and were angered by the previous raids conducted on Jewish civilians. The strike started off generally small but soon grew and within the following day 7 major industrial factories joined in. The Germans quickly dealt with the soon occurring uprising by shooting upon the crowds, claiming over 30 causalities and arresting many others. This resulted in many underground groups to form, often unrelated to each other and would create programs to harbour Jewish children and even entire families.

Dutch citizens being arrested and beaten during the February Strike.

Throughout the year's many acts of bravery were committed on the behalf of the Dutch Resistance that would hamper the Germans and save countless lives. Many Resistance members would fight German soldiers in the streets in acts of protecting others as well as conducting assassinations of Nazi higher-ups. The Resistance group known as CS 6 was responsible for the most violent acts committed against the Germans and would usually be the ones physically fighting them. They were responsible for at least 20 high ranking collaborator assassinations. There was also a group known as the National Support Fund that would routinely run financial scams with local banks and tax institutions to supply financial aid to any Dutch Resistance plans. In later years the Dutch Resistance would also assist the Canadians during the Battle of the Scheldt’s, as well as the Americans and British during Operation Market Garden.

Hannie Schaft and Freddie Oversteegen were 2 members of the Dutch Resistance who joined at the age of 14 and would bear arms against Nazi's by the age of 16. After an incident of witnessing a Nazi officer killing a newborn child, Freddie shot and killed him and later became a well-known Assassin for the Dutch Resistance and lived till the age of 92.

During the incident, Freddie recalled, “He grabbed the baby and hit it against the wall,” “The father and sister had to watch. They were obviously hysterical. The child was dead.” And after shooting the Nazi Freddie said: “That wasn’t an assignment,”. “But I don’t regret it . . . We were dealing with cancerous tumours in our society that you had to cut out like a surgeon.”

One of the more well known Dutch Resistance members was Walraven Van Hall. Walraven was a banker in Amsterdam and later became the Dutch Resistance leader and founded the Bank of Resistance which was used to financially aid victims of the occupation. Throughout his time as the Resistance's leader, Walraven went by many names such as the Oilman and uncle Pete, this would ensure that his identity was always a mystery. Walraven also had many individuals act as messengers on his behalf and act as couriers. One such courier was Hanneke Ippisch, who was tasked with finding a meetup location every Friday. Hanneke would later write about her time with the Dutch Resistance in the famous novel "Sky". One day one of Walraven's accomplices was captured a gave away the meeting location, where Walraven, as well as other Resistance members, were caught and later executed.

The Resistance Memorial Cross & Dutch Cross of Resistance which was awarded to select Resistance members after the war.

Although not the most remembered Heroes of WW2 that come to mind straight away, the Dutch Resistance still played a vital role in the Liberation of their county of the Netherlands and will always be remembered by the cities they helped, and the soldiers there fought alongside with.


Commemorate With Us

With the 75th Anniversary of Canada’s Liberation of the Netherlands, let us join together in celebration and thanks for the Canadians who sacrificed so much for us. In their honour, we travel to Normandy and Holland for the 75th Commemorative events. Join us to remember the bravery and vigour of our boys on the battlefields during those fateful days. Embrace the Netherlands that we know and love today, and help us honour the sacrifice endured by keeping our Canadian story alive. If you would like to join us on the upcoming program commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Canadians in Holland, or if you would like more information in regards to the events taking place in France/Holland for the anniversary, Click Here

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