- What was the Holocaust?
- Memories of pre-war life
- The Nazi rise to power
- The Nazification of Germany
- The Nazi impact on Europe
- The Nazi camp system
- The Final Solution
- How did the world respond?
- Survival and legacy
In July 1942, the Germans began rounding up Jews, sending them to Westerbork on their way to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor in occupied Poland, where they were murdered.
The Dutch police actively collaborated and assisted the German authorities in rounding up of Jews on the streets or in their homes.
Dutch railway workers administered and operated the rolling stock in which Jews were deported to and from Westerbork. The last train left Westerbork for Auschwitz-Birkenau on 3 September 1944, by which time 107,000 Jews had been deported. Of this number only 5,200 survived.
Whilst the geography of the Netherlands made escape difficult, between 25,000-30,000 Jews managed to go into hiding assisted by the Dutch underground. Remarkably, of this total, two-thirds of Dutch Jews in hiding managed to survive.
After Hitler came to power many German Jews began to move to the Netherlands as they believed that it’s neutrality during WWI, would mean it would be a safe place to escape the Nazi’s antisemitic policies. Many of those who entered the country did so illegally. The Dutch governement set up a series internment camps including one in the north-east at Westerbork. After the outbreak of WW2, Westerbork would play a significant role in the transportation of Dutch Jews to the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor.
On 10 May 1940, the German Army invaded the Netherlands. Within four days, after witnessing the bombing of Rotterdam and receiving a threat of the same in Amsterdam, the Dutch army surrendered. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands fled to Great Britain, where she established a government-in-exile. Very soon, Hitler ordered the establishment of a German civil administration in the Netherlands under the command of the SS. Many Austrian-born Nazis supervised the work of the Dutch civil service.
The Netherlands had a Jewish population of 140,000; 75,000 of whom lived in Amsterdam. Many Jews attempted to escape the country. However, a series of anti-Jewish measures made this extremely difficult. In September 1940, Jewish newspapers were closed down. Then, during November, Jewish civil servants were sacked and the assets of all Jewish businesses were registered.
In December 1940, the Jewish community in the Netherlands established the Jewish Coordinating Committee as a defensive measure against the Nazis. Two months later, the Nazi regime set up a Judenrat; the Joodse Raad, to administer orders of the SS concerning the lives of Jews in the Netherlands.
In January 1941, all Jews living within the Netherlands were ordered to register. A total of 159,806 persons registered, including 19,561 born of mixed marriages. The total included some 25,000 Jewish refugees from the German Reich.
A confrontation in a cafe between Jews and the German police resulted in 389 young people being sent to Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps. Many Dutch citizens, publicly criticized the Nazi measures. In response to the deportations, Dutch workers called a general strike on 25 February 1941. These strikes brought factories, public transport and public services to a standstill. However, the Germans brutally suppressed the strike within three days. Whilst Nazi policy hardened, they realised that it would not be easy to convert the whole of the Dutch population to Nazism.
Whilst some opposed the Nazis, many sympathised and actively collaborated with their antisemitic policies. During the early 1930s, whilst the Nazi Party was gaining power in Germany, antisemitic, right-wing movements, were prominent in the Netherlands. These groups resented the influx of Jewish refugees. The Nazis drew on these groups for support. The German authorities and their Dutch collaborators soon began segregating Jews from the general population. Some 15,000 Jews were sent to forced-labour camps.
Throughout 1941, the situation for Jews in the Netherlands deteriorated. As had been the case in Austria, Germany and the Czech lands, Reinhard Heydrich set up a Central Office for Jewish Emigration. Jews were banned from public places, subjected to nighttime curfews and travel restrictions. Jewish students were also thrown out of schools and universities. Then, during late 1941, the Joodse Raad was tasked with providing lists of workers as the Germans opened a number of forced labour camps.
During January 1942, the Germans ordered the concentration of Jews in Amsterdam. Foreign or stateless Jews were sent to Westerbork. Then, in March 1942, the German administration started confiscating Jewish property. A month later, on 29 April 1942, Jews were ordered to wear a yellow Star of David containing the word Joad (the Dutch word for Jew). Many non-Jews protested against this decree, and some wore yellow stars in solidarity.