The Netherlands in WWII : Forced Labor


This is the fifth post in a series about American high school students’ impressions on a presentation about the Netherlands in World War Two. Click here for the introduction to said presentation.

The Germans were fighting a war on two fronts and they needed every able-bodied German man to join the military. So they needed workers from elsewhere for their war factories, where materials from uniforms to aircraft were made.

Dutch men were forced to work in these factories, which were prime bombing targets for the RAF, Britain’s Royal Air Force.

The order on the left is for all men between certain ages to report for transportation to Germany, unless they can show proof that they are exempt. It also promises that families would be taken care of, and that the workers would get good meals, cigarettes and 5 guilders a day. In reality the men often weren’t paid anything and they were fed very meagerly.

But for many men, the main reason not to go if they could avoid it, was so they wouldn’t be aiding the Germans in their war effort and their suppression of, well, just about everyone.

So men went into hiding to avoid the roundups, despite the warnings that men who resisted or tried to escape would be shot. My grandfather on my mother’s side hid from roundups several times in the empty space beneath a built-in daybed in an alcove in their living room.

Following are some comments by students.

“The part I found most interesting were her words on forced labor. Men would have to go work in factories that were probable bombing targets and stay to work for lengthy periods of time. They were told that their families would be kept safe, that they would receive pay, smoke breaks and food. These promises were rarely kept.”

“I never knew that this was something that had happened during WW2. I always assumed that if people were sent away, it was to a camp or to war. It also made me think about how the men must have felt, having to abandon their families during such a tough time and going to work in an unfamiliar factory with questionable work conditions. If it were I, I would constantly be worrying about whether or not my family would be taken care of. It was a good experience to be able to learn about this piece of WW2.”

“I also thought it was interesting how they talked about the men hiding and the women going out and getting food. I find this almost stereotypical because the women were always the ones doing the work. I would also think that it would be very challenging because I think Mrs. Gray mentioned something about the bike tires being stolen so they only had metal tires and so they wouldn’t get very far with tires like that. The women were so desperate for food that they would walk miles just for food.”

The next post in this series is about the Resistance.

I would love to know what you think, even about old posts.

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