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The decisive Month of February 1941 in the Netherlands

Last Update 29 July 2005

The Dutch army capitulated on 14 May 1940, after a resistance lasting 5 days. Anti-Jewish measures were taken almost from the start of the occupation of the country, gradually segregating the Jews from the rest of the population. How did that "rest" react?

In some newspapers and churches in October 1940 words of protest were heard. The German authorities forbade further publication of matters concerning Jews. At some universities protest arose from students when Jewish professors were fired in November 1940. As a reaction, the Technical High School of Delft was closed by the Sipo. At the University of Leiden, Professor R.P. Cleveringa objected to the exclusion measure in an impressive speech. But that was about all.

In February 1941 anti-Jewish riots were provoked in Amsterdam by Dutch Nazi sympathisers, protected by the German authorities. This started the first - and only - massive protest against the anti-Jewish measures in the Netherlands. The ostensible reason for these riots was a show, on 9 February, by Jewish artists in the Alcazar Cabaret on the Thorbecke-Plein. Members of the WA ("i>Weer Afdeling" a uniformed and lightly armed section of the Dutch Nazi Party, NSB) together with German soldiers, threw bicycles through the windows of the building and smashed the interior to smithereens. Then they moved into the nearby Jewish quarter (mostly referred to as the “Jodenhoek” (Jews Corner)), molested people and rifled their houses. Heavy fighting occurred on the Waterloo-Plein, the centre of the Jodenhoek. Because no protection was provided by the police against these WA gangs, the Jews in the Jodenhoek initiated the formation of fighting squads to protect themselves. In addition, non-Jewish neighbours and workers from the nearby neighbourhoods of Kattenburg and the Jordaan participated in these squads. They carried primitive weapons such as canes and iron chains.

On the evening of 11 February 1941, WA men again entered the Jodenhoek. New fighting in the streets occurred. A WA man Hendrik Koot, was severely injured. From the testimony of a Jewish participant in this fighting, it is known that Koot was hit with an iron chain and subsequently repeatedly kicked in the face. He died three days later from his wounds. The Germans and the NSB used this dramatic event for propaganda purposes, for did it not prove how dangerous these Jewish terrorists were? In the NSB newspaper Het Nationale Dagblad (The National Daily) a picture was shown of three of these “terrorists”, armed with canes and axes. In fact these were just arbitrarily arrested boys, who were posed for the photographer with the weapons in their hands.

On 12 February 1941, using fences and barbed wire, the Jodenhoek was cut off by the Orpo. The well known signs "Judenviertel / Joodsche Wijk" were fixed in place. Jewish houses were searched for weapons. That same day a diamond dealer, Abraham Asscher, was ordered to form a "Joodsche Raad voor Amsterdam" (Jewish Council for Amsterdam), to help restore peace in the city.
On 17 February 1941, Koot was buried with great ostentation. A photograph exists of the funeral procession, consisting of horse drawn coaches and numerous WA men dressed in their black uniforms, parading by the Amstel River.

Two days later another violent incident occurred. A unit of the "Grüne Polizei" (Green Police) patrolled in the Van Woustraat and entered an ice cream shop named Koko (or Koco). The Jewish owners of the shop sprayed a burning liquid into the faces of the policemen. Several people were arrested. This incident made a great impression on the German occupiers. Rauter wrote a report to Himmler about the incidents in the Jodenhoek in the most vivid terms.

An "adequate" answer was given to these "provocations" on 22 and 23 February 1941. A massive round up, the first of its kind in Holland, was held at the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein and the surrounding streets. 600 men of the Orpo, armed with machine guns, humiliated Jews and beat them up. Eventually 389 men were arrested, transported to the police camp (Internierungslager) in Schoorl, 50 km north of Amsterdam, and a few days later were sent from there to KZ Buchenwald, where many of them died. After 4 months the survivors were deported from Buchenwald to KZ Mauthausen. There all but one of them died from torture and exhaustion.

"Protest against the awful persecution of Jews!!!" was the title of a pamphlet, issued on 25 February 1941, in which workers of all kinds of enterprises were encouraged to go on strike:
Organize a protest strike in all enterprises!!!
Fight unanimously against this terror!!!
Require immediate freedom for the arrested Jews!!!
Require the dissolution of WA terror groups!!!
Organize self-defence in enterprises and neighbourhoods!!!
Show your solidarity with the severely hurt Jewish part of the working people!!!
Protect Jewish children from the Nazi violence by taking them into your families!!!

The initiative was taken by illegal left wing opposition groups like the former Dutch communist party. The appeal was honoured by thousands of workers in Amsterdam, but also in towns nearby such as Zaandam, Haarlem, Hilversum, Weesp, and in other places. No trams were seen in the streets of Amsterdam, but workers assembled and marched up to the Dam Square and the Northern Market in the city centre: a unique manifestation of solidarity. The German occupying troops were completely surprised. But they made several charges to disperse the crowds, and by 7:30 p.m. the situation in the city centre returned to normal. Some 200 people were arrested and mistreated at the Lloyd Hotel. By 27 February the strike was over.

On 13 March 1941, together with 15 members of an illegal resistance group "De Geuzen" (the Beggars), three of the strikers were executed by a firing-squad after a show trial. A Dutch poet, Jan Campert, wrote a poem about this execution, "De achttien dooden" (The 18 dead). Campert died later in KZ Neuengamme, in unclear circumstances.

The news from Buchenwald, and especially from Mauthausen, of so many dead during the following months, had an enormous impact on the Dutch population. No massive national resistance was shown after the dramatic events of February 1941.

J.C.H. Blom e.a., Geschiedenis van de Joden in Nederland, ed. Olympus, Den Haag, 2004
Dr J Presser, Ondergang, ed. Staatsuitgeverij, ’s-Gravenhage, 1965
J. Dankers & J. Verheul, 39/45, Bezet gebied dag in dag uit, ed. Het Spectrum B.V., Utrecht / Antwerpen 1985
Wolf Kielich en Jacob Zwaan, Aanzien 40-45, ed. Amsterdam Boek BV, Amsterdam 1975
Dr L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, deel 8, Gevangenen en gedeporteerden, ed. Martinus Nijhof, ’s Gravenhage 1978
Jerry Meents, USA, Testimony from his father who took part in the fighting in Amsterdam on the night of 11 February 1941

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