In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. They came from the north, middle and south and they bombed Rotterdam to force the Dutch to surrender. The Netherlands was occupied for 5 years, from 1940 until 1945. In the first week of May, the Netherlands commemorates the dead and celebrates its liberation.

Why did the Netherlands have to capitulate in 1940?

In the Netherlands when you talk about the war, we are referring to the Second World War of WWII. This began for our country in May of 1940. Although the Netherlands had declared to be neutral, in the early morning of 10 May,1940 the Germans still invaded the country. The fighting lasted until 14 May and formed the start of a 5-year occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans.

Why did Germany attack the Netherlands? What were the reasons?

 Here are a few:

  1. The Germans wanted to secure their borders and northern flank. They wanted to make Europe into a closed fortress. That is why the Allied forces were unable to attack Germany from the air or over land.
  2. The Germans wanted to use the Dutch airfields to bomb France and England and to support their own troops.
  3. Germany could use the agricultural products from the Netherlands.
  4. The Germans could eventually make use of the Dutch professional population, as they did in the last years of the war.
  5. Germany used the NSB (a Dutch party with Nazi sympathizers who were loyal to Hitler). These people fought for Germany, also on the Eastern front.

The Dutch army was poorly armed and had fewer soldiers than the German army. The Dutch fought the Nazis on the ground. The hope of the Dutch was that the French and British would quickly come to help. But only after one day of fighting the Germans had already reached the Afsluitdijk and were by the Grebbelinie, in the provinces of Utrecht and Gelderland.

 At the same time the Germans carried out air attacks near The Hague and Rotterdam.  Those attacks were intended to take control of the Dutch royals (Queen Wilhelmina) and the command center. Nazi parachutists also wanted to take control of the airports in these two cities. In Rotterdam they tried to overtake the large and important harbor. The first goal was the bridge over the Maas River. But that plan failed. The Dutch army faced them and fought fiercely against the Germans. Hundreds of German aircraft were brought down. The pilots and many of the parachutists were taken as prisoners of war and sent to England.

On 13 May the Dutch commanders realized that the situation was critical. They were cut off from the allied troops in the southern Netherlands. They were unable to continue to properly defend themselves anymore. The fighting continued while the queen and members of the government left for London.

On 14 May the Germans bombed Rotterdam. This resulted in 800 deaths and 78.000 people being left homeless. The Germans were advancing on all fronts. After bombing Rotterdam, the Germans threatened to do the same to Utrecht. After the bombing of Rotterdam the Dutch army surrendered. On 15 May the Netherlands surrendered to Germany.

Following the Dutch defeat, Queen Wilhelmina established a government-in-exile in England. During WWII some 250.000 Dutch people lost their lives. More than 100.000 of them were Jewish.

What was it like for the Dutch people during the German occupation?

The occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans had various consequences for our citizens and our country. Here are a few examples:

1. Freedom

There was no freedom of the press and was a censuring of all information. The press was unable to write what it wanted. The German leaders determined what was and was not allowed in the newspapers.

2. Food
Due to a lack of food, clothing and other goods, a rationing system was created. Ration tickets were used to distribute food and goods fairly among the population. (photo: ration tickets)

3. Resistance
During the occupation there was passive and active resistance taking place.  The passive resistance included not listening to the Germans, but instead listening to the illegal radio (via the BBC), reading illegal newspapers and spreading the slogan Oranje Boven (Orange on Top)
Active resistance was life threatening. Think about: the printing of illegal newspapers, forging documents for the Jews, helping those in hiding, helping the allied forces and carrying out attacks against the Germans and the collaborators. A very famous example of active resistance was the Februaristaking (February Strike). More about the February Strike:

The February Strike of 1941

4. Jews
The Germans began to persecute the Jews and took anti-Semantic measures. Jews were forced to wear the Star of David on their clothing. They were no longer permitted to come to certain areas and could no longer live everywhere.

5. Collaboration
During the occupation some of the Dutch helped the Nazis. They were supporters of the NSB (National-Socialist Movement in the Netherlands). These were the Dutch citizens who supported Hitler and his government.

6. Hunger Winter
In the last year of the war, there was a very cold winter (1944-1945). Especially in the cities and in the west of the Netherlands food and fuel were very scarce. Between 15.000 and 25.000 people died from hunger during that time.

In this video you can see the life stories of people during the war. These eye witnesses talk about what life was like during the occupation.

How did the Dutch resist the Nazis?

During WWII the Dutch fought fiercly against the German occupiers. This happened in many ways.


The resistance groups gathered information about the Germans in the Netherlands and elsewhere.  The goal of the espionage was to provide allied forces with information from within the occupied territories. 


It was important to to prevent the crews of shot-down allied aircrafts from falling into the hands of the Germans. Saving them and sending them to neutral countries was a job for the resistance. Activists and Jews were also saved in this manner.


After the landing in Normandy and especially following the liberation of the southern part of the Netherlands in the fall of 1944 the resistance groups, under the leadership of Prince Bernhard, began to sabotage the railroads and other infrastructures. The goal was to limit the activities of the Germans. 

Killing of Germans and NSB'ers 

Members of the resistance carried out assasinations of Nazi agents and collaborateurs from the NSB.

What happened to Anne Frank during the Holocaust?

The Holocaust is another word for the persecution of the Jews. Nazi-Germany committed genocide (extermination of a group) during WWII.

Six million Europeanen Jews were killed by them. The victims included 1.5 million children. The Nazis not only killed Jews but also gypsies, communists, homosexuals, political dissidents and people with a handicap were all victims of the mass murders.


Anne Frank

One of the most famous victims of the Holocaust is Anne Frank. Annelies Marie (Anne) Frank (12 June, 1929 - February or March 1945) was a Jewish girl who was born in Germany. She fled from Germany with her family. They went into hiding in a house in Amsterdam due to the fear of the Nazis. From 1942 to 1944 Anne wrote her diary there, that was found after her deportation. It was published in 1947. Anne Frank's book has been translated into many languages. The Achterhuis (Secret Annex) in Amsterdam is now a museum.

Deze video's vertellen je over Anne Frank:

Operation Market Garden: Success or Defeat?

In September of 1944 allied forces from the United Kingdom and other countries under the leadership of General Montgomery attempted to liberate the city of Arnhem from the German occupation.

Under the code name Market Garden they wanted to retake the Rijn Bridge in order to use the bridge to head into Germany. The plan was to end the war by Christmas of 1944. They were unable to retake the bridge. The Germans were stronger than the Allied forces had thought.

How was the Netherlands liberated?

Every 5 May the Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day. That is to commemorate the end of the occupation by Nazi-Germany during WWII.

A large part of the Netherlands was liberated by the First Canadian Army. By the liberation of the Netherlands there were also other allied forces involved incuding the British, Americans, Polish, Czechs, the French and others. 

On 5 May the Canadian general and the German commander reached an agreement about the surrender of the German forces in Wageningen. A day later the agreement was signed. Liberation Day is a national holiday and is celebrated every year.

How do we remember our fallen?

An estimated 250.000 Dutch citizens were killed during WWII. On 4 May during the Commemoration Day for the Dead the Netherlands observes 2 minutes of silence to remember these victims and also all of the Dutch who have died since that time in other wars.