What happened after the war in the Netherlands?
This is a primer on my next novel, called The Dutch Nazi Lover (in development).
On April 30, 1945 Hitler committed suicide. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the allied forces. In total an estimated 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 deaths were incurred, making World War II the bloodiest conflict in history.
World War II became the great watersheds of 20th-century geopolitical history, resulting in the extension of the Soviet Union’s power to nations of eastern Europe, enabling a communist movement to eventually also achieve power in China.
It instigated the European Community to become economically united and set aside tribal wars. It marked the decisive shift of power in the world, away from the states of western Europe and toward the United States and the Soviet Union.
Although not known until after the war, about 107,000 individuals out of a total of 140,000 Jewish Dutch were deported from the Netherlands during the war; 102,000 Jewish Dutch were killed in the most inhuman and industrialized manner in extermination camps: over 72 % of the Dutch-Jewish population perished. Yes, Sean Spicer, with poisonous gas. In December 1944, a total of 750,000 Dutch people were locked up in nazi concentration camps. By the date of the liberation by the Allied in April 1945, 450,000 of those were still alive.
The camp in the novel was modelled on camp Erika, probably named for the heather growing around the town of Ommen, the village that inspired Overdam. After the liberation, the camp was called Erica with Latin spelling instead of German.
One of the prisoners with experiences of other infamous camps in Poland and Germany stated about camp Erika: “Nowhere was I so systematically physically abused as in camp Ommen, namely each and every day.” Many men suffered tremendously and died without reason under the hands of the sadistic, Dutch guards. They died as results of abuse, executions, poor living conditions, malnutrition, and the heavy physical labour.
Many of the prisoners were men dedicated to helping the victims of the nazi-German occupiers, who had become victims themselves, due to their protective actions (hiding people, or helping in other ways). As well, those that resisted the occupation were arrested and locked up, innocent of the so-called ‘crimes’ they had committed: out after curfew, not wearing an ID, not reporting for labour in Germany, or suspected of sabotage actions, etc. In any case, nobody deserved the punishments that were in no proportion to their crime and often without any form of justice.
Near the end of the war during the last period, after the German army lost the Ardennen Attack in 1944 and it became clear that Germany would lose the war, the Dutch guards’s treatment of the prisoners at camp Erika improved somewhat.
On April 10, 1945, the First Polish Tank Division together with the local resistance group took control, and released the prisoners of camp Erika that had not yet escaped or transferred out.
From then on, the camp was assigned as camp Erica to hold the arrested Dutch collaborators and political enemies for further investigation. In October, 1945 about 1,400 prisoners were still housed at camp Erika; on December 31, 1946 it was closed.
German Kommandant SS officer Werner Schwier, Superintendent of the prison camp, was never convicted by a Dutch court; he managed to escape to Germany after having been kept emprisoned in a Belgian holding camp. He led the Dutch guards and his special commando called the KK all Dutchmen, who were extraordinarily cruel and sadistic to their fellow countrymen.
The novel’s camp boss, the Dutchman Charles Nauwaard’s character, was built on information taken from history about a real person, named Lagerführer (camp leader) and ex NSB member Karel Diepgrond. He was convicted to 20 years in prison and completed eight years, due to clemency by the Queen’s order.
Unterführer (deputy leader) Jan de Jong was shot to death in the Eelde forest, some weeks after he escaped from camp Westerbork together with others detained there, among which was Karel Diepgrond.
Most of the criminal actions within camp ERIKA were executed under the camp’s leadership: German SS officer Schwier, and the Dutch hires: captain Diepgrond and ex-marinier lieutenant Jan De Jong.
The original Kontroll Kommando gang that hunted for victims in the region, were: Jaap de Jonge, Freek Kermer, Toon Soetebier en Herbertus Bikker. The latter obtained the nick name ‘the butcher of Ommen’. During the last four months of 1944, at least ten prisoners were executed by this KK gang.
The novel’s Norbert Bakker character was taken from information known about Herbertus Bikker. He was convicted to death, converted to a life sentence. In 1952 Bikker escaped from the prison in Breda. He was arrested again in Germany, but because his status as a former member of the Waffen-SS, he had German citizen rights and Germany, still honouring that nazi commitment, did not extradite him to the Netherlands for trial. In 1993 the Dutch TV program KRO ‘Reporter’ tracked him down again; in 2003 he finally appeared before a German court for the murder on Dutch resistance fighter Jan Housman. In 2004 the case was closed, because of Bikker’s poor health. He died in November 2008.
The next-worst perpetrator of Bikker’s gang was arrested and escaped in 1952 to Germany from the prison in Breda: Johnny Boxmeer was arrested by the British army in the Ruhr area of Germany (occupied by the British after the war); he was extradited to the Netherlands and got a life sentence, which was converted later to 24 years minus the time spent in jail.
Dutch SS-officer Toon Soetebier was sentenced in absentia to death, later converted to life in prison in 1949. He was arrested later and emprisoned in Breda, from where he also escaped in 1952 to Germany, where he lived until he died in 2006. Jaap de Jonge was convicted to a life sentence.
Purging the Dutch police force from criminal and nazi-collaborative elements was a massive undertaking, whereby each suspect got a dossier; in total 7500 employees received an investigative file, including administrative and executive staff. Almost half of all staff in the police force (40-45 %) were subjected to an investigation. From those police officers still working by the end of the war, in total 81% did not have any disciplinary consequences.
The total number of police staff fired after investigation was 12 %, while 7 % was put on disciplinary measures. Nine officers were sentenced to death and were executed. Dozens of officers got prison sentences, in particular those in leadership positions who had joined the SS and the special political units, and proven to be involved with hunting and arresting Jewish Dutch and illegal workers (including resistance fighters). Membership in the NSB, the SS and the WA led to immediate dismissal from the force without exemption.
WINTER HELP fundraising party of Dutch Policemen of the Marechaussee Corps.
Special Courts were formed post-war for the purpose of judging the war actions of the police force and others civil servants. During the trials, many police officers defended themselves that they were merely following the orders of superiors, but the Special Courts did not accept that defence.
The judges considered in their judgments that their very position as a member of the police force entailed they must use common sense and have the ability for sound decision-making; judges held fast to the expectation of police officers to act according to the correct Dutch norms and values. They must be held to a higher standard than civilians, because of their profession. The lack of correct conduct by police officers severely weighted against them.
Marechaussee Corps police officer with a German Marine.
At the time, the mere fact of police officers were exposed to many traumatic situations in which they were powerless, was not considered in the trials, nor the need for psychological treatment for the survivors after the end of the war.
Fifteen years after the liberation, by 1960, all prison terms for police employees had ended, due to the completion of their sentences, or by the Queen’s clemency who felt that the Dutch society needed to move on, reconcile, and forgive.
However, for many more decades after the end of war, the police force’s reputation remained severely damaged and caused a split among the old and new officers within the force. In encounters with a police officer, the question whether this officer had been faulty (fout) in the war—on the wrong side—was on everybody’s thoughts. Most did not want to talk about their war-time experiences, afraid for harsh or easy judgements by those who weren’t there.
Between 1946 and 1950 in total around 60.000 Dutch citizens were investigated for collaboration and criminal acts, of which 20,000 received a sentence.
JEWISH DUTCH POPULATION
In 1940 the total Dutch population was about 9,5 million of which 154,887 citizens stated “Judaism” as their religion on the last Dutch census form; most lived in the province of North Holland (including 79,410 in Amsterdam). Five years later in 1945, only about 35,000 were still alive, about 22%. Many important sectors, such as the diamond industry, were completely wiped out and whole neighbourhood emptied.
The nazi German occupiers only needed to employ a relatively limited number of their own personnel, as many Dutch policemen (in special, political units) readily rounded up the Jewish families, to be sent to their deaths in Eastern Europe, while the well paid Dutch Railway Company, staffed by Dutch employees, without fail transported the Jewish Dutch to camps in the Netherlands, transit points on their deportation towards camp Auschwitz, Sobibor, and other death camps. With respect to Dutch collaboration, Eichmann is quoted as saying “The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see.” Many other Dutch did not see much wrong with betrayal of fellow citizens to the SS or SD.
In the Netherlands, relatively few resistance actions with use of weapons and other violence took place, but a very successful underground movement was established that led to elaborate organizations to feed those in hiding—under-grounders—by falsifying documentation to obtain the needed food stamps. A total estimate of 350.000 Dutch including 25.000 Jewish Dutch went underground. This meant that many more (hundreds of thousands) Dutch citizens were involved in this support. Passive resistance, such as refusing to abide by the German orders or reporting for labour, is not considered active resistance in Dutch war documentation and thus not counted, although frequently severe repercussions were the result, for instance, if caught in hiding or harbouring someone in hiding.
Labour strikes were another successful action, most successfully organized by the communist-led resistance groups and the unions, in which then other, non-members joined.
Important and dangerous work was the support to allied pilots who had crashed above occupied territory and were then smuggled through the Pyrenees in northern Spain/south of France, to England, or to Switzerland.
Marechaussee police and other personnel attending at a plane crash. The Allied pilot and other survivors of this crash hopefully were already saved and hidden by the resistance. fighters.
Another important role was provided by the illegal media and the collection and distribution of important information. After possession of radios became illegal, the illegal radio and printed media became even more important.
As the nazi occupation became more harsh, attacks on known traitors, members of the NSB and the German army brass increased. These resistance actions were generally followed by severe retaliatory reactions from the occupier, in which an inordinate number of innocent people were killed.
In post-war Dutch society, the value of resistance activities was frequently questioned by some sectors of post-war commentators and researchers and judged as less desirable, and overall having been ineffective. The value of resistance that most Dutch agreed on as mostly significant, was its effect to renew hope in the Dutch citizens, encouraging them to combat apathy and desperation, and to instil moral resistance to the German occupation.
Beyond those that died in the war years, many more Dutch suffered physical and emotional injuries to themselves or to family members at the hands of the nazi occupiers and Dutch police. Although emotional trauma from war was the subject of research by Dr. Jan Bastiaans (1917-1997), professor in Leiden, and the worst cases of PTSD received some treatment after the war, many families kept silent and suffered in silence. Avoidance of what could trigger trauma experiences are often indicators of untreated trauma.
Many years later, the nation as a whole started to openly deal with the trauma of the war years with a new generation coming to power in the seventies. At that time the national discussion about the clemency of the so-called Three of Breda (emprisoned in the Netherlands on a life sentence) was a hot button issue in the country during 1972. The then-minister of Justice, Van Agt, proposed to free the three German war criminals (Fischer, Aus der Fünten en Kotälla). The proposal was hotly debated and ultimately rejected by parliament. Many war victims—still alive—were triggered, and treatment for trauma became available to those that pursued it.