Resistance in the German-occupied Netherlands encompassed varied activities and thus drew different types of people with different motivations. Firstly, it is important to draw the distinction between those involved in hiding Jews and other potential deportees, and those involved in fighting the Germans. According to Hans Herstel of the South Holland Resistance Museum, these two groups were, for the most part, separate; most resistors were involved in one activity or the other. Estimates of numbers of people involved are difficultly obtained because many have not come forth to tell their stories. Some resistors were scared of being known for their activities, for being labeled as sympathetic to the Jews. Some have refused to come forth with their stories, feeling that they did nothing beyond what they dutifully should have done. Still, some were lost to anonymity in death when they were killed by the Nazis for their activities, merely contributing to the total number of wartime casualties.

Many historians break down the populace into more than just resistors and bystanders, but into outright collaborators, passive collaborators, passive resistors, and active resistors. While it is particularly difficult to quantify involvement in each of these categories, it is clear that the vast majority of the populace would fall in the “passive collaborator” category. One historian estimated that 70% of the Dutch did not actively aid the persecution of Jews, but followed all German measures and did nothing to aid those in need, allowing the Germans to do what they

would with the citizenry. Roughly 15% would fall in the “passive resistor” category—those who did not actively aid the Resistance but did not hinder their activities despite the potential to do this. Such people had information, or at least suspicions as to who was in the Resistance, or where Jews were hidden, but did not turn them in, most likely out of sympathy for the cause. Finally, only approximately 1% of the Dutch population was actively involved in resisting German measures. This was in large part due to the fact that punishment was stiff for those caught participating in the Resistance. Resistors were sent to concentration camps, or killed immediately upon capture. As the war dragged on, both sides grew more desperate and resorted to more extreme measures. As resources grew scarcer, and Nazi orders became harsher, more Dutch citizens were moved to resist. For example, the German call of able-bodied Dutch men for forced labor in German caused tremendous outrage among Dutch citizens. As resistance activities grew in scale and number, punishment became harsher for those caught. There are many cases of the Nazis making an “example” of one villager to scare the others out of resisting. Often, this only added to the tensions and the desperation of the Dutch.
Anne Frank Huis, today a museum—the most visited tourist site in the Netherlands (above); Monument to Jewish Resistors, Amsterdam (right)

Resistors involved in fighting the Germans took part in guerilla attacks, in stealing and trafficking supplies, in producing false documentation and food stamps for those who needed them, in destroying German records and in generally disrupting functions of the German army. One of the many functions of the Resistance was keeping communication open with the outside world despite Nazi propaganda efforts. Resistors kept in communication with the Dutch government-in-exile in London. The Dutch government broadcast war news to the Netherlands over BBC radio, and encouraged their people to resist. When Germans confiscated all radios in the Netherlands, the Resistance was involved in supplying citizens with their own sets. Many underground newspapers were circulated, spreading war news to the people. One of the most notable, Het Parool, is still in existence today.

As resistance networks sprung up from the grassroots and were based purely on trust, resistors were organized either in small groups or in chains of

communication where one individual may only know one or two other people involved. As one never knew who they could trust, and who might be captured and forced to give up information, all resistors understood that each person should know as little as necessary about Resistance activities. As one resistor described the chain of communication, messages were passed from one individual to another, and the only people one would know are involved in the Resistance are that from whom he receives his messages, and that to whom he passes messages. There were situations where two neighbors would each be involved in Resistance activities, but would not know the other is, or where nobody in a family would be aware that a family member is in the Resistance. Communication was often done cryptically, in case of detection. Hans Herstel gave the example that “The farmer is missing his cows,” might mean that arms are to be dropped at a certain location, and only those involved in the maneuver would know what the code meant. However, there are also examples of larger Resistance groups involved in rescuing Jews. The National Organization for Assistance to Divers, NV Group, Utrecht Children’s Committee and Westerweel group all arranged hiding places for Dutch Jews. Many of their members were killed for their actions.

One important activity of the Resistance was the rescue of Allied pilots downed over the Netherlands. These pilots, when flying over Germany, were instructed that if hit, they should fly for as long as they can stay in the air. A crash over Germany would mean certain death or imprisonment for the pilot. If a plane crashed over the Netherlands, however, there were many resistors there to rescue the pilots. As one resistor explained, planes would be followed in the sky, and when one was hit, a race would ensue between resistors and German soldiers as to who could get to the pilot first. When resistors would rescue a pilot, they would be secretly transported through a network of resistors through Belgium and France to neutral Spain, from where the pilot would be sent back to Great Britain. The goal was to allow American and RAF pilots to quickly rejoin the fight against Germany.

Drawing of forest dugout in which divers were hidden (left); Square named after Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish rescuer of Jews, Gouda, South Holland (above)

The risky transporting of fugitives was one of the major undertakings of the Resistance. It often involved securing false papers for the diver and settling on a reasonable explanation for their activities, in case of questioning by Nazi guards or soldiers. Often, the person being transported would be handed off from one resistor to another for another leg of the journey; again, reducing the knowledge each person has of resistance activities. Divers would need to be moved around often to prevent suspicions of their presence at a certain hiding place. This necessitated the planning of different hiding places and organizing of resistors to move the individuals around. In the Netherlands, people usually biked from place to place; this was the optimal

means of efficient and safe (relatively undetectable) transportation, often occurring at night. In the case of the afore mentioned pilots, this often proved difficult for an American or Briton who spoke no Dutch and might not be very experienced on bicycles.

Hiding places were found both in rural and urban settings. The most famous Dutch diver, Anne Frank, was hidden in an annex behind a false wall in a canal house in Amsterdam. Often, divers would be free to move around in a house, and would slip into a small closet or annex when there was concern of Nazi soldiers searching the house. More commonly, however, divers would hidden in rural areas, on farms or even in dugouts hidden in a forest, where there was minimal German presence. In some cases, families would be alone in a hiding place with resistors bringing them food and other necessities. In other cases, families would be hidden in homes or on farms living with another family. In many situations, families being hidden would pay their protectors as long as they could; however, money usually ran out very quickly. Church parishes helped in arranging hiding places for local Jews.


Surprisingly, many chose to resist despite having little sympathy for their Jewish countrymen. Resistors who took no part in hiding Jews needed nothing more than a resentment of the German presence to motivate them to resist. As resistance spread throughout the country in the last two years of the war, new resistors tended to be motivated mostly by the poor treatment of the general Dutch populace by the Nazi regime. After all, most Jews had been deported from the country by that point. Further, some who chose to take in divers at the beginning of the war did so only to make money, anticipating a very short war. Though rare, there are cases of would-be rescuers kicking Jewish families out of their hiding places when their money ran out or when they saw that the war would be a longer ordeal than anticipated.

Many people who hid Jews during the Holocaust were motivated by religious beliefs. Both the Dutch Reform Church and the Catholic Church in the Netherlands used the pulpit to encourage resistance.

The most famous example, Corrie Ten Boom of Haarlem, hid as many as 50 Jews during the war. She believed that it was her religious obligation to help God’s people. She claimed that it was this faith that helped her survive internment in Ravensbruck concentration camp following capture by the Nazis. Most accounts of Jews hidden in religious settings or with religious families say that there were no attempts at proselytization, their Jewish faith was respected.

Ultimately, human sympathy cannot be ignored, as it certainly was the main motivation for most rescuers of Jews. In the fairly tolerant culture of the Netherlands, many resented the persecution of Dutch Jews, who they viewed as regular Dutch citizens. Particularly those who knew Jews before the war were inspired to help their friends. As one rescuer explained, the Germans were after his friend; the fact that she was Jewish was immaterial. He felt obligated to save his friend. Resisting was a choice an individual had to make, and thus it must be the character of the individual that provided motivation.

Two views of false wall hiding place in Corrie Ten Boom House, Haarlem, North Holland; Closeable Hole in Cabinet through which divers
crawled into hiding place during alarms (above); Hole in wall to reveal hiding place (right)
Click above for information on churches' roles in resistance.

A historian describes organization of Resistance networks in the Netherlands

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Efforts to save Jewish children were particularly successful. Parents arranged for their children to be hidden on farms, pretending to be either children of the host family or foster children. One child survivor explained that she was told that if ever asked, she should claim to be an orphan from Rotterdam, a major Dutch city razed by German bombers in 1940. In Amsterdam, Jews were held in the Dutch Theater of the Jewish Quarter, awaiting shipment to Kamp Westerbork in the northern province of Drenthe. Across the street, young Jewish children were held at the Voormalige Creche day care center which was relatively unguarded. Many children were snuck out of this day care center when German guards were not on watch. Children were also sent to monasteries and convents to wait out the war. Interestingly, many of these children struggled with their religious identities after liberation. Also, there was controversy as to who had guardianship of children who were orphaned during the war.
The Resistance drew from many segments of society. Different people had different motivations for resisting, and thus, there are few common traits among those who chose to resist. Clearly, most would have considered themselves patriotic. Though patriotism is often understated in Dutch culture, as one resistor related, “This is the Netherlands, my country; Germany is over there. The Germans had no business being here.” However, the Resistance also drew from the ranks of those marginalized by society. One historian explained that many freaks and outcasts had little stake in society, and thus would find little difficulty in operating according to their own morals, outside of the law. It also tended to draw young people. While there are many examples of older people coordinating resistance work, young people, particularly students, who were not as established in the world were risking less by resisting and were able to operate with fewer people gaining suspicions of their activities. Also, young students tended to be more idealistic. The universities of Leiden and Delft were shut down follwing massive student protests against the dismissal of Jewish students and professors. Resistance appealed to many people who were politically active, particularly socialists. The Februaristaking or February Strike in Amsterdam was said to have been started by Communists.
Click here for a resistor's story in his own words