Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

The occupation of the Netherlands

Isobel Bowers and Curtis Burbidge explore what happened when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, from the persecution and collaboration of local people to the eventual deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps.

Monument created in 1977 by Dutch writer and artist Jan Wolkers in memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jewish victims. Picture by: 1Veertje - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

When the German army invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, their intentions were clear. The German army could not risk losing the neutral state of the Netherlands and so as part of a larger attack, codenamed “Fall Gelb”, the Germans invaded. Following the surrender of the Dutch army just four days later, the German occupation of the Netherlands got swiftly under way. Before the war, there were approximately 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands. By the end of the war, 107,000 had been deported, 102,000 were murdered, and many remaining Jewish citizens went into hiding, were married to non-Jews and therefore not deported, or fled abroad.

Immediately following the occupation of the Netherlands, the Nazis implemented antisemitic measures. Between July and November 1940, Jewish citizens were excluded from public offices. By January 1941, Jewish civil servants had been fired without further pay. Jewish people were no longer treated as members of society.

In January 1941, a “Jewish List” came into existence, instructing the population to register all Jewish ancestry. By September, societal segregation became physical separation as Jews were banned from all public places, isolated entirely. Just a year later, all Jews over the age of six had to wear a yellow star and shortly after, deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau began.

Jewish Coordinating Committee and the Joodse Raad

A notice posted by the Jewish Council with an announcement from German Authorities that:
1. All Jews must register for expanded labor force or be taken to Mauthausen concentration camp.
2. Jews who do not wear a Yellow Star will be taken to Mauthausen.
3. Jews who change residence without notifying authorities will be taken to Mauthausen.
Picture by: Abby flat-coat - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Following the invasion of the Netherlands, and clashes between Jews and Dutch collaborators, the Nazis ordered the formation of a Jewish Council in Amsterdam. This ‘Joodse Raad’ was run by Abraham Asscher and David Cohen, and enacted orders from the Nazis. In 1941, the Joodse Raad was extended to a national level.

Although the existence of a Jewish Council was not exclusive to the Netherlands (with many existing across Europe), it differed in its national scale. The idea of these councils originated in Germany during the middle-ages, Jews would lead groups made to enact anti-Jewish policies. The Joodse Raad acted as a liaison between Dutch Jews and the Nazis, and was tasked with organising and selecting people for deportations, as well as providing supplies and communicating Nazi orders.

Debate exists around whether they were an act of collaboration. The Dutch Jewish community tried both Asscher and Cohen for their active participation, but both were exonerated. What is clear is that terror and fear played an important role in any Jewish collaboration, individuals hoped it could lead to safety for themselves and their families.

Introduction into Dutch collaboration and resistance

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands fled to the UK, but most government officials stayed when Germany invaded, later working under the Nazi administration headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Other bodies also worked with the Nazis, with the Dutch police actively assisting the Nazi authorities in rounding-up Jews, and the Dutch National Railway Company playing an active part in transporting Jews to Westerbork.

The avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations

However, opposition and resistance were also significant in the Netherlands. Many resistance groups were established throughout the country. These played a crucial role in saving lives by acts such as hiding Jews from the Nazi authorities (to hear more about resistance in the Netherlands, have a listen to the interview with survivor and resistance hero Selma van de Perre). Throughout the occupation, there were also various strikes and protests in response to the antisemitic policies and the second largest number of Righteous Among the Nations (a title awarded to non-Jews by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center for their risks in helping Jews) were Dutch.


We hope you have enjoyed reading through this summary of our research on what is an incredibly complex topic. We aimed to provide an overview of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands as a starting point for you to do more research if you would like. Collaboration and resistance are diverse and complex issues, so this only provides a basic insight. To learn more, there are various amazing resources linked below.

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Gerstenfeld, Mansfred, ‘Image and Reality: The Dutch Holocaust Past’, in Midstream (New York), 47.1 (2001).

By Isobel Bowers and Curtis Burbidge