The Kingdom of the Netherlands During the Second World War
Deel 1: Voorspel
No event shocked twentieth-century Dutch society so deeply as the German invasion on 10 May 1940. It put a sudden end to a long history of intransigent neutrality. The First World War had passed the Netherlands by, but the Second World War the country was entangled in until the German capitulation on 5 May 1945. The fate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945 has been recorded by Lou de Jong, for many years director of the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, in a major work running to twelve volumes, which became an unprecedented bestseller.
Most of the volumes give a continuous account, virtually day-by-day, of how the Dutch people were affected by the German occupation. Only the volumes dealing with prisoners and deportees, and the government-in-exile in London and the Dutch East Indies are independent parts. The same is true of Volume I, Voorspel (Prelude), which presents the antecedents of the occupation in a broad panorama going back to the nineteenth century.
Anyone wishing to learn more about twentieth-century Dutch history before it was changed radically by outside intervention can do no better than turn to De Jong. With his compositional skill, his great narrative powers and thorough knowledge of the historical sources, he brings the past vividly to life. The First World War and its consequences, the abortive 1918 attempt at revolution, the typically Dutch phenomenon of verzuiling, denominational segregation, the economic crisis of 1929 and unemployment, the mutiny on the cruiser ‘The Seven Provinces’ which caused such great consternation in 1933 - all are included.
A large part of the book is devoted to an in-depth discussion of the protest by right-wing authoritarians against verzuiling and conservatism. The Netherlands had its native variety of fascism in Anton Mussert’s nsb and a number of smaller parties, with leaders who modelled themselves on Mussolini or Hitler. The final chapters are devoted to the tense relations with Germany, to the state of the Dutch defences and to the frantic attempts by the Dutch government to maintain the country’s traditional neutrality in the face of the increasing threat of war.
Despite his vast canvas, De Jong succeeds in keeping his story under strict control, without overlooking a host of colourful and characteristic details. In particular, his portraits of the historical protagonists, big and small, are impressive. A case in point is his portrait of Martinus van der Lubbe, the Dutch worker who is alleged to have set fire to the Reichstag in 1933 as a protest against the Nazi regime - Hitler’s excuse for settling scores with his Communist opponents in parliament. For De Jong, historiography is not about isolated structures and great outlines, but always the story of the people who actually make history.
The State Institute for War Documentation has made a selection of five chapters from Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog on the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies from 1942-1945. No subject covered by De Jong’s work has aroused so much controversy, both among general readers and also among historians. No reliable English studies of the fate of Dutch and East-Indian Dutch people during the Japanese occupation have been published to date.