Holland At War
The German invasion of Holland began on May 10th 1940. It was a complete surprise: Holland expected to remain neutral as it had done during the First World War. The occupation was swift. In a few days all the important areas of the country were seized. The prime minister and his cabinet flew to England and set up a government in exile. After fierce fighting near Arnhem, and the bombing of Rotterdam, Holland was forced to surrender.
Nazi rule in Holland brought many changes: identity cards were introduced, food rationing began, a blackout was enforced.
The Dutch Jews began to suffer persecution. The Jewish population in Holland in 1940 was about 140,000 of whom 24,000 were refugees. The Dutch government, which had not been convinced of the need for German Jews to flee their country, had restricted the number of immigrants, like Anne Frank and her family, allowed into Holland.
Amsterdam had the largest Jewish community of 90,000. Most were poor and did semi-or unskilled work; a minority were professionals. Between May 1940 and the summer of of 1941 there was a gradual removal of Jews from public life. Jews were excluded from hotels and restaurants, they had to register with the Nazi authorities, and Jewish-owned land was appropriated and sold to non-Jews. Prominent Jews were forced to form a council which would administrate Jewish affairs as the Nazis wanted.
Although Jews had lived reasonably freely in Holland for several centuries, anti-Semitism was by no means unknown. A Dutch Nazi party developed and thrived in the 1930s, and its members were ready to welcome their German counterparts when they invaded in 1940. As many as 45,000 Dutch men and boys volunteered to assist the German occupiers in various ways - Waffen SS, army and police. Such contingents were particularly active on rounding up the Jews, and were often as brutal as the Germans. (Most occupied countries had collaborators of various kinds, and it is certain that Britain too would have done so, had we been invaded. Indeed, many years after the war it was discovered that British citizens in the occupied Channel islands had collaborated with the Nazis in their anti-Jewish extermination program.)
The first mass arrests of Jews began on February 1941. Jewish areas were being raided and the inhabitants had organized groups to defend themselves and their property. Heavy fighting ensued. On the 22nd of February, 400 Jewish men and boys were grabbed - from the streets, their homes and cafes - beaten and taken away. No one knew where they had been taken. In June, another 230 Jews, mainly refugees, suddenly disappeared. To protest against this round-up, a general strike was immediately organized, primarily by the Communist party. In and around Amsterdam thousands joined in a two day strike, making it one of the most significant acts of West Europeans resistance during war. Nazi troops moved in to restore order.
As well as pitched battles with the Nazis and actions such as the general strike, there were many other forms of resistance. Underground newspapers were produced and acts of sabotage carried out. Resistance of any kind was always fraught with terrible danger, often resulting in capture, torture, and execution.
Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
Jewish young people were now being excluded from state schools and colleges. By April 1942, all Jews were compelled to wear the yellow star to identify them
From July 1942 unemployed Jewish men were being deported, so they thought, to work under supervision in Eastern Holland. In fact they were being taken to Nazi concentration camps. Soon whole families were being summoned and this was when Anne Frank's family decided to go into hiding. Anne wrote in her diary:
Anne's father, Otto Frank, had prepared a house in the two upper floors of his workplace, and with the help of some very loyal friends the escape was possible. These brave people, by helping to hide the Frank family, were embarking on one of the most dangerous ways of resisting and defying the Nazis. To hide Jews was considered a terrible crime by the Nazis, and yet almost every day of the period that the Franks and their friends spent in hiding, Mr. Kraler, Elli, Mr. Koophius and Miep risked their lives by taking food and supplies to the "Secret Annex."
Anne writes in her diary about the resistance movement in Holland:
A few days after settling into the hiding place the family were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan and their son Peter, friends of the Franks. Later Mr. Dussel, a dentist, moved into the "Secret Annex" bringing the total to eight.
Life was difficult for the people in hiding. They had to be very careful not to be seen or heard during the day and could no go out. They had stopped existing to the outside world.
Anne tried hard to keep herself busy. She read mainly, as she loved books and studying. Keeping her diary became a great past-time, and she even apologized to it when she missed a few days.
And as the others received reports of the outside, from the radio and from the people that helped them hide, Anne wrote:
Despite the constant horrific reports, Anne was always hopeful. She thanked God for taking care of them and looked towards the future with joy.
She longed to be outside, but instead could only gaze at the sky through windows.
Life for non-Jewish Dutch people was becoming harder as well. Many were taken to Germany to work on the the Nazi war effort. Families were left without fathers and sons. There was a particularly intensified labor draft in 1943.
Everything became scarce - even ordinary household goods like soap and fuel. Living conditions were crowded and more people had to share the same meager fires. Transport was made difficult; trains were overcrowded and buses and trams infrequent. When bicycle tires wore out, they could not be replaced. Such luxuries as alcohol and tobacco were rare. But people tried to go on as normal, turning to comforts and escapes. Film going, for example, doubled between 1941 and 1943 and there was an increase in the sale of books. Anne, in hiding, wrote,
From October 1942 onwards there were thorough searches of homes in an attempt to find all Jewish families in hiding.
By the middle of 1944 there was almost a complete breakdown of services in Holland: there was no transport, telephones were cut off and gas and electricity were intermittent or cut off altogether in some areas. People in the cities cut down trees and stole any wood they could find. Diseases, including tuberculosis and diphtheria, became widespread and the death rate increased. In Amsterdam there were too many corpses to bury.
The Hiding Place
After two years in hiding the Frank family were tracked down, arrested and, in August 1944, taken to the Auschwitz camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Auschwitz was both a labor camp and an extermination center where the mass slaughter of Jews, Poles, Gypsies and other groups was carried out. Ann's mother died there. And and her sister Margot died from typhus after being moved to another camp at Bergen-Belsen.
The war and occupation caused the deaths of 240,000 Dutch people, 106,000 of whom were Jews. In the whole of Europe nearly 17 million people had died as a result of acts of war, nearly 20 million of them Russians. Another 11 million - political opponents, homosexuals, at least 250,000 Gypsies, and six million Jews - had been systematically and coldbloodedly murdered. It was this, and the acts of genocide against the Jews and Gypsies, which were classified by the Allies War Crimes trials as "crimes against humanity."