History of the Second World War, Volume 2

From the earliest days of the occupation of Holland there were attempts by various sections of Dutch opinion to come to terms with the new German overlords and to achieve a working arrange­ment by which the people would have some representation —how­ever in a d e q u ate -in the management of their own affairs. At first the leaders of the main political parties —Catholic Socialist and Liberal —and of several smaller Protestant parties tried to create a national organisation to give practical guidance to the Dutch people and still preserve their own essential ideals without clash­ing with the Germans. They were encouraged by early indications of an apparently tolerant outlook in the man the Germans installed over themas R eichskomm issar Dr Arthur Seyss-lnquart a m ild-m annered Austrian lawyer. Seyss-lnquart proclaimed at his inauguration on May 201940 th a the would respect the Dutch national character and would not press an alien ideology on the people. It sounded reasonable and tolerant and the Dutch leaders were encouraged -but not for long. Behind Seyss-lnquart lay a philosophy of power which allowed freedom to none let alone a conquered people. In these circumstances three —amen Catholic professor a police commissar and a provincial govern o r-fo u n d e d anew political movement which they called the ‘Dutch Union. Although anti-parliam entarian and in favour of an authoritarian form of government the founders believed that neither Nazism nor Fascism suited the Dutch mentality and that the Dutch would have to workout their own brand of strong government. Until they did so it was the Unions intention to represent the Dutch in practical matters and to bean alternative to Flollands own Nazi party whose voice would otherwise have been the only one to reach the German authorities. The Unions foundation manifesto invited the Dutch to: ‘Strive for anew Dutch solidarity through the use of our own strength and hard work. Recognition that conditions have changed and national co-operation on the widest possible basis are needed first of all. ...We want to obtain this in the Dutch manner respect­ing our traditional mental freedom and toleration. ...In the hope that it would be instrumental in spreading an idea close to Fascism Seyss-lnquart allowed the Union to continue, and hundreds of thousands of people hastened to join hoping that they would find someway of living with the Germans without sacrificing their integrity. Most of these new members did not take the anti-democratic part of the founders views very seriously. But the Unions relations with the Germans failed to flourish, for its leaders protested strongly against German persecution of Jews and in their turn the Germans grew impatient at the recal­citrance of the Dutch people against Fascist indoctrination. Then in March the editorial of the Union paper proclaimed: ‘If we feel that the Germans are trying to force us to become similar to the German Nazis then we will resist as we are peace­ful but also stubborn. The papers sale on the streets was promptly banned. In May 1941 the Union leaders were forced to admit: ‘We had hoped that we could peacefully collaborate with the Germans, but this has proved impossible. By this time enthusiasm among the rank and file had disappeared and it was obvious that the Unions days were numbered. Relations begin to breakdown But if in the political field attempts to protect Dutch interests were floundering at an administrative level most of the arrangements operating before the war continued with the result that for the ordinary Dutchman daily life at first went on in largely the same way. Seyss-lnquart was assisted in his work by four ‘General Commissars and under their supervision the Dutch ministerial departments carried on business as usual. High-grade civil servants felt justified in working on under the Germans in accordance with a Cabinet directive of 1937 which instructed them that in the event of enemy occupation ‘they must try in the public interest to carry on the administration as well as possible in the changed circumstances. The Geneva Conventions were quoted as giving an occupying power supreme authority but no right to interfere in internal matters except in an emergency. At a local level of government town councils were allowed to function normally until they were disbanded on March 11941 courts of justice also continued in the normal way except for certain crimes directed against the occupiers which the Germans themselves tried in military tribunals. But this atmosphere of co-operation was not to last. Gradually a perceptible change began to pervade the country as people got over their original indignation at seeing their royal family and government fleeing and also forgot their immense early relief at the decent behaviour of the German troops. Anti-G erm an senti­ General Christiansen military commander in Holland ment began to assert itself relations deteriorated with the in­evitable consequence that the occupying power set about strengthening the power and influence of the Dutch Nazi Party. The NSB (National Socialist Movement) founded in 1931 by Engineer Mussert was regarded by the Dutch people with a hatred compared with which their attitude to the German Nazis amounted almost to friendship. The Dutch were convinced that members of the NSB had attacked Dutch soldiers in the back and fought alongside the invading Germans during the invasion, though the truth was that those NSB members who had not been locked up had been too frightened to show their faces outside their houses until after the capitulation. Then however Mussert wel­comed the occupiers as liberators and protectors of the Dutch people. His personal ambition was to be given the leadership of both Holland and Flanders but this idea was soon dispelled as Hitler intended eventually to join Holland to the German Reich. Seyss- lnquart moreover well aware that Mussert and his movement were far from popular and not wanting to jeopardise his chances of peacefully indoctrinating the Dutch with Nazi ideas by subjecting them toM usserts direct rule wrote to Hitler saying that M ussert’s political capabilities did not compare favourably with those of an average German district leader. When Mussert met Hitler in Septem­ber 1940 he had been promised official authority only if he could obtain the loyalty of large groups of the Dutch population but he was forced to agree to the establishment of a Dutch SS under Him m lers direct orders and he himself had to swear an oath of obedience to Hitler. During the first months of the occupation the party did in fact attract 20000 new members many of them opportunists hoping for better jobs and higher social status others being working class wand hite-collar workers who had been unemployed before the war and were now grasping at the chance of a respectable job and a reasonable income. Still others were malcontents from the professional classes who thought that their qualities had not been appreciated or that they had been by-passed for promotion, and were prepared to join anything for a change. As the strength of the movement grew many mayors (appointed for life in Holland) provincial governors police officers and other senior civil servants who proved obstructive in carrying out Ger­man orders or who openly expressed anti-G erm an feelings were replaced by Dutch Nazis. 451 Associated Press
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