In 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. He was the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, the NSDAP, known in English as the Nazi Party which promoted anti-Semitism. The party profited from the discontent felt by many Germans about the humiliating way in which Germany had been treated after World War I. Hitler intended to make Germany the most powerful country in Europe. He first directed attacks on Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Subsequently he planned to neutralise Germany’s most stringent opponent in Western Europe: France. Both the Netherlands and Belgium were to be occupied in Hitler’s invasion of France.
On the morning of Friday, 10 May 1940, many Dutch citizens were awoken by the droning of aircraft, exploding bombs and the rattling of tanks. German soldiers had crossed the border. The war had started. The Dutch army was far too weak to stand up to the force of the German assault. Once the Germans had bombed the centre of Rotterdam into the ground and were threatening to treat other cities in the same way, the Dutch military command decided to surrender. The government and the queen had already fled to England.
Initially, the occupation did not seem too bad, but it quickly became clear what occupation really meant. Dutch men were forced to go and work in German factories. People were also taken away to prisons and concentration camps without any form of due process. The Jews in particular were persecuted. The occupying Germans transported over 100,000 Jewish men, women and children in freight trains from the Netherlands to concentration camps where most of them were put to death.
The Germans were assisted by members of the Dutch National Socialist Movement (NSB), who had a similar ideology, and by hangers-on and profiteers. On the other side was the resistance movement, that gained a lot of support towards the end of the war in particular. The large majority of the Dutch population was anti-German but passive.
In the autumn of 1944, the south of the country was liberated by allied troops. The area above the great rivers, however (particularly the towns in the western provinces), had to endure the “winter of starvation” before being liberated in their turn. An extreme food shortage weakened the population and tens of thousands died. In May 1945 the German commander signed the surrender and the whole of the Netherlands was liberated. At that time, the Dutch East Indies was still in the hands of the Japanese. Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945.