The Netherlands in WWII : The End


Photo: sg7cz6o.edu.glogster.com

This is the tenth 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.

About a week before the end of the war, planes from Britain began food drops. They were a drop in the bucket, but they gave hope. And on May 5, 1945, after five years of German occupation, the Netherlands was liberated.

Photo: gemeentearchiefveenendaal.nl

Canadian tanks rolled into the towns and were welcomed by jubilant crowds. The soldiers handed out chocolate and cigarettes to the kids that climbed on the tanks.

My 9-year-old dad dutifully took the chocolate home to his mom, but he kept the cigarettes for himself, so he could be just like the cool liberators. He was a chain smoker right up to his first heart attack at age 55. Not that I’m complaining.

Photo: dbnl.org

So as the Canadians rolled into town, the Germans left on the other side. Most Germans left peacefully, but one incident briefly soured the liberation festivities.

On the Dam in Amsterdam, a large square in the center of town, people were coming together on May 7, two days after the liberation, for a celebration.

Photo: flickr.com

Unbeknownst to them, a few German soldiers were still in a room on a top floor of one of the surrounding buildings. They waited until the Dam was full of people, and then opened fire with two machine guns. A Dutchman and an German officer eventually found them and talked them into surrendering.

Photo: flickr.com

After the Germans left, the people turned on the collaborators. Men were arrested and women had their heads shaved and then tarred in public.

There were trials held for alleged war crimes by collaborators, but the courts were backed up and it was a chaotic time. Some people were killed by people who knew them to be collaborators who helped the Germans do terrible things, while in reality they were deep undercover resistance fighters.

Photo: nlwikipedia.org

In 1939, the Netherlands had a population of 8,729,000. During the war, 2.32% of the population died, 198,800 people. More than half were Jews: 102,000. 7,900 Dutch soldiers died, most of them during the first five days of the war, before the occupation. 88,900 other citizens died, of which some 20,000 during the hunger winter.

Following is a comment by a student:

“Something I found interesting but didn’t quite understand is why the women had to have their heads shaved for humiliation.”

The next post is about the effects of the war on Dutch society.

14 responses to “The Netherlands in WWII : The End

  1. Good stuff! To add details to the picture. I remember the food drops and eating the cookies and chocolate. I don’t remember getting ill soon afterwards, but my mother, who kept “baby books” for my brothers and me, dutifully recorded that all of us threw up. We were unused to the fat and sugar!

    You mention Canadian and American tanks. No US units were involved in the 1945 campaign in the Netherlands, although they were in the liberation of the south in the fall of 1944, as were Canadian, British, Polish and Dutch units. (I wrote a book about this in 1980, so I know.) During the last couple of weeks of the war in Europe, 1st Canadian Corps, which was charged with the liberation of the central and western provinces, consisted of the 1st Canadian Division and the 49th (W.R.) Division of the British Army. My hometown, Baarn, was liberated on May 7 by the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment of the 49th division. We didn’t see Canadians until the British were transferred to Germany and were replaced by the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, who remained among us for several months. For a five-year old it was an exciting time, and the day of liberation I am unlikely to forget as long as I live.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Thanks, Michiel. I will delete the Americans from the tanks. My bad.And thanks for the details. The more the better.

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  2. Marie-Jacqueline

    First of all, may I comment you on this balanced and informational blog!
    I’m Dutch, Limburg province.
    I will write in English, so non-Dutch people can read this too.
    I hope, I think, you will forgive me if I make mistakes in grammer and spelling in English.

    I want to react to the following:
    You category WWII is very interesting and explains a lot of that time in history to someone who does have a limited knowledge about it.
    However I have to correct you on one issue.

    It is a mistake often made, by Dutch in The Netherlands too, predomently the ones living above “the dikes”.
    You state that the South was liberated in 1944, after Market Garden.
    This isn’t correct. The river Meuse was the division between the liberated part in the west and the still occupied part in the east. In facto a frontline.

    A lot of terrible things have passed till all of Limburg was free.
    It goes to far to mention those events here in all detail.
    I write this to you because I’m a daughter of parents that experienced a lot of hardships in that time.

    I know, that they, I and a lot of Limburgians are irritated by this misinterpretation of that part of our province history.

    (Duch)
    http://www.roermond1939-1945.nl/
    (English)
    http://irs.ub.rug.nl/ppn/123909783

    Thank you for reading this comment!
    Marie-Jacqueline

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Hi Marie-Jacqueline,
      Thanks for the information and thanks for writing in English. You did fine. I’m sorry that I made a mistake. I didn’t know about Limburg. So I suppose part of the south was liberated. Because Eindhoven and Tilburg and thereabouts were liberated in 1944.If you’d like to write some anecdotes about Limburg in comments, that would be great.
      Thanks for visiting my blog.

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  3. Marie-Jacqueline

    Thank you for you quick, speedy and nice answer!
    Writing about Limburg, I would like that!
    I’m just asking myself what you would like me to write about?

    Marie-Jacqueline

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      I meant that you could write personal stories or facts you know about the war in Limburg. I had read that the south being liberated in 1944 was the reason the north couldn’t get any fuel, because the coal supply from Limburg had been cut off. (though it would have been difficult anyway, without the trains taking the coal north.) So what was the situation in Limburg in 1944? What did your grandparents and parents experience? Also, you could write any personal experiences as comments on the post that is most relevant. For instance, if your grandfather was a soldier, you could write about that in the post about the Dutch soldiers, etc.

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  4. Marie-Jacqueline

    Telling some personal history in combination with the historical facts of that time, I would like to do that!
    The next few weeks I don’t have time to do it, but you will be hearing from me soon!

    Small introduction:
    My parents didn’t know eachother yet!
    They would meet eachother in 1947.

    They both were living in a town, rich in history, in Middle-Limburg
    .
    My father became 16 in June 1940.
    My mother became 17 in January 1940.
    So they were both still very young when Nazi-Germany invaded The Netherlands on May 10, 1940.

    The war took their youth away.
    It gave them fear, bombing and a lot of hardships and suffering in return.

    When the war was over it left my father scarred in body and soul!

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  5. Hello Barbara,

    I just finshed reading some of this stuff on your blog as I am following the footsteps of my father during the time from Normandy untill the end of the War. And I just found out that he spend the last days of October 45 near the village where I now live.. UNBELIEVABLE.

    And somewhere high up on this page I read about this student who did not understand about women getting a shave at the end of the war. Just ask the student male or female what he/she will feel after an unwanted shave to baldness. You just feel BAD and that was the price you had to pay for having been WRONG.

    OK, have a nice day in Austin, too hot there. I used to live in Brooklyn, San Fransico and Boston. Better temperatures there.

    Now so long

    all the best from Bob

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for visiting my blog. Yes, the idea of simple, temporary humiliation as punishment for being traitors to the country is totally alien to American high schools students. I only gave one 1-hour presentation to that class. There was no time for questions or discussion afterward. I covered a lot of ground in that hour; after all, it took me over ten posts to cover the same material on my blog. I’m sure the students would understand if it was explained to them. The main purpose of the presentation was to make them aware of World War Two from the perspective of the people in the countries they only know on the map. I think several of them will read more about the issue at some point in their lives; they were quite impressed.

      And yes, Austin gets pretty hot in the summer, but it’s a lot cooler than the Rio Grande Valley, where I lived before!
      Groeten,
      Barbara

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  6. I am interested in Baarn and the artist Escher who lived there throughout the war. How was it possible that he kept on making his art during that time?

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  7. So you knew all along that Ploeg was really a deep undercover GRU agent.
    You were just pulling my leg when you claimed that you did not see what I saw in the story. We both know that Mulisch would not do a simple story about the assassination of a colaborator near the home of a family hiding Jews. No his book would have to be much more clever, a book about someone who everyone thought was colaborator but who had fooled everyone. Even almost everyone who read Mulisch’s book as Mulisch only left subtle clues as to the real role that Ploeg played in the war. I suspect that Mulisch did not want to undo the consequences of Ploeg’s work. Had he spelled out the truth in his book it might have resulted in a witch hunt for Soviet sympathizers occupying sensitive positions in the Dutch government in the 1980s. By being coy about purpose he could give hope to those who were waiting and have been waiting to make contact with a legitimate authority with which to work with for a better future.
    Were you pretending that you did not see what I saw so that you would not blow your cover as a deep cover agent for a legitimate authority?

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      Again, Kurt, you have to base your ideas on the text and on other texts by Mulisch written during or about that era. You could argue that any of the characters were actually Martians in disguise, but without any evidence in the text, an idea really has nothing to do with the book being discussed.

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