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Essay: German occupation of the Netherlands

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  • German occupation of the Netherlands
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On 10th May 1940 German troops invaded the Netherlands and, after five days of fighting, the Dutch officially surrendered on 15th May 1940. In so doing, the German occupation of the Netherlands began (Romjin, 2006, pp.33-35). Having initially thought about installing a Militarverwaltung (Military administration), as had been done in Belgium, Hitler opted for a Zivilberwaltung (civilian administration) under the command of Reichkommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart (Foray, 2010, p.769). The government-in-exile was replaced by a regime of Secretaries-General, the highest-ranking public servants in their departments, and their duty was meant to be strictly administrative and apolitical (Wouters 2006, p.225). Seyss-Inquart also utilised native parties such as Nederlandse Unie and the Dutch National Socialist Party (NSB) to help pursue the German policies. The essay will assess three of the major policies pursued by the occupying Germans and will establish whether each was a success from the German’s perspective. The first section of the essay will examine the success of the German policy in utilising the Dutch economy to help in their war effort. The second section will evaluate how successful the German occupation was at implementing Nazification, mainly assessing their use of the native parties in pursing this policy. The final section will consider the German occupation policy of deportation and execution of Jewish citizens and whether the Germans achieved their objective in this context. The essay will conclude that the policies were of varying success. However, the German’s broadly achieved their objective in relation to the extermination of the Jews, as no other Nazi occupying force achieved such a low survival rate of Jews.

First, a policy which was a top priority for the Germans was the utilisation of the Dutch economy to help the German war effort (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.69). Initially the Germans had exerted an indirect economic control on the Netherlands and its other conquered territories and left the day to day economic policies in the hands of the natives, whilst keeping general supervision (Hirschfield, 1988, p.182). Goering had said that he intended to leave Holland sufficiently independent as to manage their own economy, but still connected closely enough to the Reich, so that German influence on the economic sphere would be significantly strengthened (ibid., p.28). Despite this, the Germans still used their power to plunder from the Dutch, raw materials as well as over 50,000 machines including 18,096 electric motors and 2,375 sewing machines (Klemann, 2008, pp.473-74), and 100,000 bicycles; all of which helped the German war effort (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.71). However, more significantly, the German occupation helped utilise the economy for the Reich’s benefit through the harnessing of Dutch industries. The success of the German’s utilisation of the Netherlands can be seen in the fact that by 1944, 50% of Dutch industry worked exclusively for the Germans (Moore, 1991, p.115). Moreover, Dutch industries were the most productive of all the occupied European states. By the end of 1943, Dutch industry had delivered on 84% of all orders placed by the Germans since 1940, compared to 70% in France and 76% in Belgium (De Jong, 1990, p.37). The Germans were also able to use Dutch industries to produce the V2 rocket propulsion systems without the factory owners even realising what they were used for, further helping their war effort (Hirschfield, 1988, p.191). With the help of the appropriate authorities the economic exploitation of the Dutch industries by the German administration was a successful policy as they were able to export a large amount of raw materials and foodstuff (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.262).

This mobilisation of labour with the Reich Labour Service (Arbeitsdienst) was another way in which the German occupation managed to utilise the Dutch economy. 60,000 labourers from Holland initially settled in Germany after the invasion of their own free will after the Reichsmark was able to be converted once again (Klemann, 2008, p.458). The occupying powers were also able to use the threat of being sent to a labour camp as a way of keeping business owners and employees productive and co-operative (Mazower, 2008, p.265). Between 1942-43 when Germany was again struggling with labour, 120,000 labourers a year left from the Netherlands to Germany, most of them were forced (Klemann, 2008, p.476). However, the reduction in skilled labour brought about by the labour draft led to the total quantity of industrial production in 1944 dropping to half of what it was in 1939 (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.71). This follows the argument, suggested by scholars such as Klemann, that whilst the policies were a success for the Germans, they were extremely detrimental for the Dutch economy. Goering had claimed in 1940 that the standards of living would be maintained at the same levels as in Germany (ibid., p.69). However, this was not the case as the plundering of all of the Dutch resources led to the “hunger winter” of 1944 in which 20,000 people died (Hirschfeld, 1988, p.52) and, by the end of the occupation, national income had fallen by 20% since 1938, demonstrating how ineffective the Nazis were in maintaining the Dutch economy (Klemann, 2008, p.470). In summary, Seyss-Inquart achieved significant success in integrating the Dutch economy into the war time economy of Nazi Germany. However, from a Dutch perspective, this policy was very detrimental to their economy and greatly affected their standard of living. Indeed, had the occupation lasted longer, the Dutch economy would not have been able to maintain the German’s policy demands, proving that the German’s policy was not sustainable.

Another policy the essay will assess is the policy of Gleichshaltung (Nazification) which was implemented from the start of the occupation (Romjin, 2006, p.49). In his first report to Hitler, Seyss-Inquart laid out his objectives for the occupation which included the protection of the Reich’s interests by ensuring “no disturbance of peace and order would interfere with the prosecution of war” (Warmbrunn, 1963, pp.261-2). This would not be accomplished until National Socialism and the German Reich was accepted as an autonomous act upon the Dutch people, with the breakthrough of ‘self – Nazification’ (Hirschfeld, 1981, p.471). Seyss-Inquart intended to use the Nederlandse Unie to aid the self-Nazification policy, which although initially a success turned into an obstacle (Mazower, 2008, p.202). The occupation, like in Belgium with the use of Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV), had intended to use the establish elites, or those they perceived to have the most backing to help pursue their policies (Wouters, 2006, p. 229). The initial success of the Germans using the Unie is seen by their involvement in German schemes of labour service and “WInterhulp’ (food aid) despite the schemes exploiting the Dutch (Smith, 1987, p.266). The Unie then however began to serve as a platform for opposition and a symbol of national solidarity (Mazower, 2008, p.477). Seyss-Inquart’s strategy of Nazification turned out to be a serious miscalculation, as despite relative cooperation from the Unie, they refused to make the ideological adjustment required to become Nazis (Hirschfeld, 1988, p.35). The support for the strike of February 1941, in retaliation to the cruelty towards 400 Jews (De Jong, 1990, p.35), added to the reasons why the German occupation formally banned the Unie in December 1941 (Smith, 1987, p.267). By the end of 1941, therefore it could be argued that Seyss-Inquart had realised that the vast majority of the population would not embrace self-Nazification.

Further failure with the German policy of Nazification can be seen with the subsequent use of the NSB. After the ban of the Nederlandse Unie, Anton Mussert’s NSB was declared the only party still legal under German occupation (Hirschfeld, 1981, p. 481). The NSB, the Dutch equivalent of the Nazi party, had grown in prominence since the invasion and despite having a marginal pre-war presence swelled to include as many as 75,000 wartime members (Foray, 2010, p.775). As the only remaining party, this meant that it was generally either German officials or NSB members in high positions of office throughout the Netherlands (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.37). The German occupation had hoped not to utilise the party to such an extent as it was severely disliked by the majority of the Dutch public, being regarded as politically and morally corrupt (Hirschfeld, 1988, p.39). The Dutch public would not support any policy from such a disliked party, especially when some of the attempts to establish Nazi organisations came from the NSB rather than the German authorities (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.263). Furthermore, the growth of anti-German sentiment after 1941 is representative of the failure of the German Nazification policy. The anti-Nazi attitude manifested itself in 3 main strikes: the aforementioned February 1941 Amsterdam strike against the treatment of Jews; the Spring 1943 strike in retaliation to the reinternment of the Dutch armed forces; and 17th September 1944 strike ordered by the exiled government on Dutch railwaymen as the Allies attempted to invade (De Jong, 1990, p.34). In terms of the 1943 strike, Christiansen, the supreme commander of the German Wehmacht, ordered the members of the Dutch army that had previously been released in 1940 to report for reinternment. There was a large amount of resistance to this policy with few soldiers responding to the order and a general strike from workers and business owners taking place throughout the country, united against Nazification (Ibid., pp.34-35). This strike in particular showed that even after 3 years of German occupation, the Dutch people had retained their own identity and had not fallen victim to the Nazification propaganda (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.117). The initial motivation behind the order, to stop the veterans joining the resistance, and their reaction to it, shows clearly that the German occupation’s policy of Nazification failed.

In contrast, the German occupation policy of deporting and then executing Jews from the Netherlands was extremely successful. Of the 140,000 people whom the Germans considered ‘Full Jews’ in 1941, only 38,000 survived the occupation (Croes, 2006, p.474). This was a drastically higher death rate than in other occupied states such as France, where 80,000 of the 320,000 Jews were killed (Griffioen & Zeller, 2006, p.437). There are a number of reasons why this was the case. The Nazis set up a Jewish Council of intellectuals headed by Abraham Asscher which served as the instrument by which the majority of Jews were identified and turned over (De Jong, 1990, pp.10-11). The German civilian administration was a major reason why the policy was so successful, the administration was ideologically and organisationally incredibly purposeful, with a very strong Nazi and SS presence, adding to the extreme anti-Semitic convictions (Blom, 1989, p.338). Seyss-Inquart was able to legally implement the policies of Jewish deportation after a judgment on 12th January 1942 from the Dutch supreme court “declared that Dutch courts had no power to decide whether these decrees were in accordance with the Hague convention IV of 1907” (Jansma, 1947, p.53). The German authorities also managed to use the Jewish Council extremely effectively by never stating that all Jews would be deported in order to reduce resistance and keep the Jews disunited (De Jong, 1990, p.10). Another reason why the policy was so successful was that the geography of the Netherlands favoured the Germans. The Jews were worse off geographically than Jews from Belgium and France as it was so difficult for them to flee, both because of the landscape and the need to cross two countries to get to safe ground (Blom, 1989, p.341).

The successful implementation of the policy was not just down to the role played by the Germans and the geography of the country, the administration was also able to use the Dutch Bureaucracy and population to enhance the murder of the Jews (Croes, 2006, p.474). The use of the NSB, whilst it failed in aiding the policy of Nazification, was successful in aiding their Jewish deportation policy. Having NSB members as provincial leaders, meant that, by September 1943, it was deemed that 8 out of 11 provincial leaders were reliable in carrying out the German’s anti-Jewish policies (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.37). The success of the policy from the Germans perspective can also be due to the failure of the Secretaries – General. They only protested in private, refusing to take any responsibility for what was happening and just resigned themselves to the fact that the Jews had been removed from their control (Griffoen & Zeller, 2006, p.449). A post war commission found that the Secretaries-General had “completely neglected the primary function of the leading civil servants laid down by the Aanwijzingen of 1937 which was to inform the population about the attitude they should take to the German occupying power and its administration” and had too easily complied with the German demands (Hirschfeld, 1988, p.142). As well as the leaders, the Germans were effective in using the Dutch police to help with the capturing of Jews, with 90% of the Amsterdam police co-operating in some way with Jewish detentions (Hirschfield, 1988, p.177). The Dutch population itself also assisted the German policy by helping capture Jews themselves, with more than 2,500 Dutch people being convicted after the war for their involvement (Bovenkerk, 2000, p.250). Whilst there was a proportion of the population that helped endorse the German’s anti-Jewish policies there was also a large amount of opposition to them. However, the opposition was successfully put-down as seen with the February 1941 strikes, which was ruthlessly stopped by the Wehrmacht, forcing the strike to end immediately (Foray, 2010, p.780). Large-scale resistance, as seen in Belgium and France, was not organised until later when most of the Jewish population had already been deported (Blom, 1989, p.342). Overall, from a German perspective, the policy of the deportation of the Jews in the Netherlands was very successful, on account of the effectiveness of the German administration and Dutch Bureaucracy as well as the physical geography of the Netherlands.

In conclusion, whilst the German occupation of the Netherlands differed from most other occupations in that the country was grounded by a civilian administration, this did not affect the successful implementation of a number of policies. The least successful policy of the German occupation was their failed attempt at Nazification of the Netherlands. Despite trying to use the national elites, other Nazi policies and the fact that national socialism had no historical roots in the Netherlands meant the Dutch did not accept Nazification into their way of life (Warmbrunn, 1963, p.263). The latter strikes exemplified further the anti-Nazi feelings within the Netherlands and thus Seyss-Inquart’s failure with this policy. In terms of the policy of utilising the Dutch economy for German war effort, the Germans were reasonably successful, using both Dutch industry and labour. However, the Germans did not pursue this policy in a sustainable way, which meant that the Dutch economy and its production suffered. The most successful of the German policies discussed was the deportation and subsequent execution of Jews from the Netherlands, a policy of huge importance for the Third Reich. No other German occupied state was as successful as the Netherlands in removing Jews and this was due to the effectiveness and efficiency of both the Germans and the Dutch Bureaucracy.

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