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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.