The February strike
February 26, 2013 12:01 AM   Subscribe

On 25 February 1941, less than a year into the nazi occupation of the Netherlands, communist union leaders called for a general strike against the increasing persecution of the Jews. The resulting two day strike in Amsterdam and various other cities in North Holland, the February Strike was the first and only massive public protest against the persecution of the Jews in occupied Europe.

Amsterdam had long been a Jewish city, with a large Jewish neighbourhood in the centre and south of the city. Even before the Germans had conquered Holland, there had been clashes between Jewish people and sympathisers against the indigeneous Dutch fascists of the NSB, the National-Socialist Movement. After the occupation the latter became bolder and started systematically harassing Jewish Amsterdammers, who in turn defended themselves, often with the help of their non-Jewish neighbours and friends. This culminated in a street battle at Waterlooplein on 11 February, when a group of NSB thugs attacking Jewish owned businesses were themselves attacked by a communist strike team of Jewish and non-Jewish residents. As the smoke cleared, one NSB man was left mortally wounded, who died on the 14th.

This incident, as well as similar one when the German SD tried to raid a Jewish-owned icecream parlor and got their asses kicked, was the excuse the nazis needed to institute the first razzias, driving together several hundred Jewish men, beating and torturing them, before sending them off to the concentration camps. This razzia took place on February 23-24, with the communist appeal for a general strike following the next morning.

Though the strike in the end was largely futile, it did serve to rip the mask off the nazi occupier. After its brutal repression it was no longer possible to believe things could continue as usual. In Amsterdam the strike is still remembered each year with a march past the Dokwerker, the statue created in remembrance of the strike in 1951, located on the Jonas Daniel Meijerplein, a centre of the old Jewish neighbourhood.

The Dutch National Archive has a large collection of images from the Februarystrike and its aftermath. The Anne Frank Museum of course also has some information on the strike.
posted by MartinWisse (26 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I've been past there many times, but I had no idea the statue was there. Next time I'm down in Amsterdam I'll have to swing by. Nice post!
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:22 AM on February 26, 2013

This kind of outrage and resistance wasn't omnipresent of course. L.E. Visser, the first Jewish justice there, was compelled to resign his position as president of the Hoge Raad without comment or protest from his fellow justices.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:48 AM on February 26, 2013

This is such serious subject matter, and I wish history would have played out differently, but I can't help but see a Dr. Who episode here.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:09 AM on February 26, 2013

Oh god no. For the most part the harassement of Jews (and others), especially after the brutal repression of the strike, went without much nominal public resistance.

Worse, quite a few people, in Amsterdam and elsewhere, made quite a good living out of the deportations as Jewish business people were forced to sell their businesses, houses were sold cheaply, or where plundered during deportation.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:18 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thank you for posting. As it happens, I just watched Schindler's List for the first time two days ago (I was too young for an R-rated movie when it came out) and am still reeling emotionally from it. To hate a people so terribly... the kids were so scared they were hiding in the toilet troughs... Of course I have read about the Holocaust before and seen films about Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but Schindler's List really made more of an impact on me.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:30 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

the February Strike was the first and only massive public protest against the persecution of the Jews in occupied Europe

I think you mean "mass protest" as the Danish general resistance to the deportation of the Jews to the camps and the subsequent hiding and rescue of Danish Jews was rather massive in scale. The Lutheran church in Norway actively and publicly protested the deportation of Norwegian jews, but the Quisling government was not willing to go as far as the Danish occupation government. On June 17, 1941, priests took to the streets in Lyon, France to protest the round-up of Jews, later a bishop would publicly plead that at the very least for the children of French Jews be allowed to be adopted by Christian families.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:15 AM on February 26, 2013

I knew about Denmark. But I was surprised to learn that the Italians under the Fascists were one of the more reluctant Axis-allied or controlled countries to deport Jews. I don't know if Mussolini considered them to be essentially "Italians", not "Jews", and hence worthy of protection, or if he just didn't have much use for anti-Semitism beyond a little red baiting, or if he was just playing games by not doing what Hitler wanted (I don't think he liked being the also-ran dictator very much). While there was anti-Jewish persecution, mass deportation and killing of Italian Jews didn't start until the Germans actually invaded Italy in 1943.
posted by thelonius at 6:32 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There were also protests from Lutheran churches in Germany itself, weren't there? Pastor Niemoller and such?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:43 AM on February 26, 2013

...made quite a good living out of the deportations as Jewish business people were forced to sell their businesses, houses were sold cheaply...

Attending estate sales is not quite the same thing as murder.
posted by DU at 6:46 AM on February 26, 2013

Ratting out your Jewish neighbours so you could get their house cheaply though...
posted by MartinWisse at 6:49 AM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Quite a few coppers suddenly lived in surprisingly decent houses for their salary after the war.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:50 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thanks, MartinWisse. This is really interesting. It's upsetting to realize how many big European cities used to have large Jewish neighborhoods. Like Berlin, which had the largest synagogue in Deutschland when the Neue Synagoge was built in 1866.
posted by colfax at 7:14 AM on February 26, 2013

Nice post. Thanks.
At the time of Holland's capitulation, approximately 140,000 Jews resided in the Netherlands. By the time of the war's end, the Nazis had deported 107,000 Jews out of Holland. Of these, only 5000 survived to return home following the war and 30,000 managed to survive in hiding or by other means. Thus,over 75% of Holland's Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis. This represents the largest percentage of Jews to die from a particular country with the exception of Poland.

Why was loss of life so high in the Netherlands? Were the Dutch particularly anti-Semitic or callous? The answer to both is "no". More Dutch have been honored by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, as "righteous gentiles" than from any other country. However, several factors, some of which made escape during those five days impossible, are responsible for this tragic loss of life , primarily, the Netherland's unique geographic and cultural features.

Attempts at escape from the Netherlands under Nazi control were virtually impossible. First, countries bordering on the Netherlands were under German control. Thus, flight across the Dutch border only meant entrance into another Nazi controlled country. Second, the west and north borders of the Netherlands consist of North Sea coastline. Safe passage through German patrolled waters was highly dangerous.

Additionally, the Netherlands in 1940 was a densely populated country. The land mass is approximately one and a half time the size of Massachusetts. Yet, it was home to over nine million individuals. The land was flat providing little forested, mountainous terrain suited for partisan activity or refuge. In essence, the geography of the Netherlands provided no place to run and few places to hide.

Culturally, Dutch society was stratified largely on the basis of religion. Thus, close friendships between Jews and Christians were uncommon in war-time Holland. This made it difficult for Jews to find a place of hiding within the homes of Gentile neighbors - individuals that they did not know. For those Jews with Christian friends, to accept shelter carried with it the knowledge that discovery placed their friend's lives into jeopardy. Additionally, most Jews who went into hiding did so as individuals. Rarely, were entire families hidden as in the case of the Franks. Thus, to go into hiding not only endangered the well-being of one's Gentile benefactors but often meant abandoning other family members including elder parents, spouses, siblings, or children.

One survivor has argued that a higher percentage of Dutch Jews died within the concentration camps than any other national group as their decency was their undoing. This could also be applied to life in the Netherlands as well. Failure to hide almost assured deportation to Auschwitz or the death camp of Sorbibor. Sixty thousand Jews were deported to Auschwitz; only nine hundred and seventy-two survived. Thirty-four thousand Jews were deported to Sorbibor; only two - two out of thirty-four thousand - lived to return to the Netherlands.

posted by zarq at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

Now you mention it, I'd never quite made the leap between the stratification (or rather, pillarisation, as it was divided between vertical pillars more than horizontal strata) of Dutch society would be such a barrier to Jews and others seeking help. Not sure how much an impact it had, though it is true that before the war it was entirely possible to live your life as a catholic, or protestant, or socialist without ever coming into other than casual contact with people not of your pillar, as everything from the radio to the school system was divided between them.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:32 AM on February 26, 2013

This is a bit off the topic of Amsterdam, but this is related to zarq's quote.

Last year, my PhD adviser was visiting Groningen (in the north, where I work) during Passover. He is Jewish and wanted to celebrate the holiday since he was going to be away from his family. We are not Jewish, but we arranged with the local synagogue to come to their Seder and they said my wife and I were welcome. So the three of us went.

The synagogue is a beautiful building built in the late 19th century in a north African style. It has a spacious interior, and could seat many hundreds of people. When we arrived for the Seder, there might have been 40 people there. Many of them weren't even from Groningen - the three of us are all American, and some of us weren't even Jewish.

The massive loss of Jewish lives in Groningen during world war two -- over 90% -- is something I knew, from reading, but it isn't something you really feel until you attend an event like that. There was one woman there that had lived through the war, and told us how she and her family hid from the Nazis. One striking thing was that we were celebrating one of the most holy Jewish holidays in this spacious room and our group only filled a small part of it. Almost none of the younger people were local. The local community was simply decimated. It all seems like history, but the effects on the present are very real.

By the way, after the war, the synagogue was turned into a laundromat. My understanding is that there weren't enough Jews after world war two to support the synagogue, until it was restored in the 1980s. If you're ever in Groningen, visit the synagogue.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:40 AM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

"Ratting out your Jewish neighbours so you could get their house cheaply though..."

Every occupied territory had people who profited from the occupation, and it's difficult to argue against the general view that pre-war Europe was a pretty anti-semitic place anyway. But to repeat claims this does little, I would argue, to furthering our understanding of what went on.
posted by lucullus at 9:04 AM on February 26, 2013

Wow. That synagogue is gorgeous.
posted by zarq at 9:18 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thus, over 75% of Holland's Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis.

The Belgian Jewish population was a lot smaller - 66,000 compared to 140,000, but apparently 60% of them survived. Belgium is also small and densely populated, so I'm curious as to what made the difference there.
posted by Azara at 9:26 AM on February 26, 2013

There were several interlocking reasons why the Holocaust in the Netherlands was so much more severe than elsewhere:

Holland had a civil occupation as opposed to the military occupation of Belgium, led by fanatical, Austrian nazis like Seys Inquart, who'd had experience through the Anschluss of how to subjugate a newly conquered country. Holland was also destined to become part of Germany proper, hence the nazis were extra fanatical.

There's also the very thorough division of Dutch society as mentioned before, leaving the Jewish population more isolated than perhaps elsewhere

Just less proper wilderness to hide in, surrounded by occupied territory, the sea and Germany, so just less room to flee.

A population that, especially after the strike, was inclined to remain passive and in general had some of the German spirit of following orders, combined with a compliant civil administration.

Most of all perhaps, just the sheer efficiency of the Dutch bureaucracy, which also had handily registrered people of Jewish origin (as well as Roma, amongst others) making it easier to actually find everybody who was Jewish.

As mentioned above, in Denmark there was widespread public resistance against Jewish persecution, as led by the king. As our own queen had fled the country, she could not play the same role. Nor in fact did she do much to draw attention to the Jewish plight in her broadcasts from London.

In short, most of the population, Jewish or non-Jewish remained passive throughout most of the war, with active resistance only really getting started after most of the Jewish population had already been sent to the camps.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:07 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

All of which is why the Februarystrike was so important and almost unique, the culmination of a long year of increasing persecution and resistance against it, but it was resistance that at its core consisted largely only of those already targeted by the nazis: communists and Jews. For two days it looked like these were enough to mobilise the general population, but once the strike was repressed through mass murder, mass arrests and deportation, most people just went back to keeping their heads down and getting on with their lives.

But can you blame anybody for doing so, when they didn't have our knowledge?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:12 AM on February 26, 2013

But to repeat claims this does little, I would argue, to furthering our understanding of what went on.

That's a bit too pious, I'm afraid. We cannot understand what happened if we are not willing to accept that there were actually people more than willing to drag their Jewish neighbours to the camps themselves, if it meant they could get to make a quick buck. Heck, it's actually one of the reasons listed at the Dutch wikipedia for why the persecution of the Jews was so much more successfull here than elsewhere: kopgeld, head money, paid per Jew delivered to the Germans.

It's also one of the enduring myths post-war Holland has kept telling itself that "we" were all in the resistance, that it was only the nazis and their small clique of evil Dutch fascists that did all those terrible things and the rest of us were innocent victims and it was a shame of what happened to the Jews, but we wre helpless.

In my more pessimistic moods I think more Dutch people profited from the deportations than tried to stop them. An impression that's not helped by the speed with which the returning Dutch government after the war confisquated formerly Jewish property from Germany without making much haste to return it to their rightful owners (or more often, their heirs). See e.g. what happened to Jacques Goudstikker's collection.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2013

I think you mean "mass protest" as the Danish general resistance to the deportation of the Jews to the camps and the subsequent hiding and rescue of Danish Jews was rather massive in scale.

I was going to suggest sneaking 8,000 or so people out of the country probably counts as not 'public' because sneaking is necessarily not public.
posted by hoyland at 11:59 AM on February 26, 2013

Dutch Youngsters on TV: "Too Bad Not All Jews Were Killed"
For over a week there was hardly any reaction in the Netherlands. Nine days later, one well-known columnist, Elma Drayer, published an article in the Dutch daily Trouw in which she wrote how scandalous it was that there had been no reaction.
She concluded that Jew hatred in the Netherlands is back where it had been before the Holocaust.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:00 PM on March 5, 2013

Due to its mistaken immigration policies of the past decades, the Netherlands – like many other European countries – has allowed, in an indiscriminate manner, one million Muslim immigrants into the country.

It's worth noting that this paragraph in particular sums up a great deal of Arutz Sheva's reporting style. They're a right wing, anti-Muslim voice for the Israeli settler movement, and their articles frequently show strong an overblown, fearmongering anti-Muslim bias. Incidents, large or small, are turned into Fear of Bloodthirsty, Antisemitic, Holocaust-denying Muslim Savage Hordes. 'If only the Netherlands had established quotas and kept the Muslims out of their country, this wouldn't be happening. Poor Dutch victims of a Muslim invasion. And no one will act out of fear of Muslim terrorism.' What bullshit. The Netherlands is not being held hostage by Muslims.

The video is nasty and offensive and appalling. But we can't trust the greater context and framing given by Arutz Sheva because they have an agenda.
posted by zarq at 4:31 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

All news services have agendas. I'm not a fan of Arutz Sheva, but they're no worse than Fox (or on the other side of politics, The Guardian). They're certainly not a hate site, and if you visit their front page as I did just now there are no other literally no other references to Muslims qua Muslims, or any tendentious articles implying that "they" are to blame for whatever the ills of the moment may be.

I tracked down the newspaper article that was referenced: Het taboe op Jodenhaat is verdwenen (Google Translate). I don't know anything about newspapers in The Netherlands, but it looks mainstream. The same broadcast was referenced by Nederlands Dagblad (Google Translate), which I understand to be a mainstream Christian newspaper - such things are more common outside the USA. It was then on the front page of De Telegraaf and attracted the attention of the Dagelijkse Standaard (Google Translate), which reports that the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles has asked the Prime Minister of The Netherlands to investigate.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:30 PM on March 10, 2013

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