The Venlo Incident
IN NOVEMBER, 1939, occurred an incident which gravely preoccupied the Dutch Government. Germany's strange attitude, after the occurrence, is hard to explain if there were no ulterior motive behind it. The incident, which received considerable attention in the press, was as follows. In the middle of October the Chief of the Intelligence Service of our General Staff was told by a Major Stevens that British agents were in touch with a group of high officials in the German army. Major Stevens was a Secretary of the British Legation at The Hague, as well as chief of the British Passport Control Office. We had some reason to suspect that he was also engaged in intelligence work for his country. After this startling piece of information, Major Stevens added confidentially that he had received instructions from London to enter into discussions with these officers with a view to ascertaining whether a basis could be found for possible peace-negotiations. In corroboration of what he said Major Stevens showed his instructions to the Dutch general on whom he had called. Since, he said, it was impossible to conduct these discussions in Germany or in England, the parties were anxious to have them held on neutral territory, preferably not too far from the German frontier,
and he added that, in addition to himself, an officer by the name of Captain Payne-Best, a British resident of long standing at The Hague and married to a Dutchwoman, had been appointed to take part in the discussions. He requested that measures should be taken to prevent the aliens concerned from being taken into custody by the Dutch police or military authorities when meeting in the frontier zone, where foreigners were limited in their movements.
The head of our Intelligence Service saw no reason to withhold his permission. But in view of the fact that the discussions were to take place on Dutch soil, he considered that he should be acquainted with what was to take place. For that reason, he instructed a member of his staff to attend the meetings. This officer, Lieutenant Klop, was to see to it that the talks should not degenerate into any violation of Holland's neutrality. In so far as is known to the Dutch authorities, two meetings took place in two different localities. On the 9th of November, there was to be a third one near Venlo, a provincial town in southeastern Holland, a few miles only from the German border. Major Stevens and Captain Payne-Best, accompanied by Lieutenant Klop, arrived there in a car driven by a Dutch chauffeur. The party proceeded to a cafe in the immediate neighborhood of the frontier, a few yards from the imaginary line separating Holland and Germany, and beyond the last Dutch military outpost. The moment the car stopped, its occupants were fired upon by a group
of men who had jumped from a car waiting just across the boundary line, had dashed across the line and opened fire. One of the party, probably Lieutenant Klop, appears, according to what eyewitnesses there were, to have been killed outright; his body, together with his three companions, was dragged by the assailants onto German soil. The whole incident was over in so short a time that the Dutch frontier guards, although they were only a short distance away, could not get there in time to prevent it.
The men who had made this attack were civilians. There could, therefore, be no reason for the Government of the Netherlands to hold the German Government responsible for the application of such gangster methods on Dutch territory. So the German Government was merely requested to investigate the matter, as the kidnapers had taken refuge in Germany. It can easily be surmised how painfully public opinion in Holland was surprised when, shortly afterwards, a German press communique stated that the attack had been perpetrated by German agents. Immediately, the Dutch Government voiced their most serious objections and asked for an explanation. The German attitude thereupon became very strange: no reply was ever given to the Netherlands Government, in spite of the gravity of the offense and their repeated demands for an explanation. The impression was obtained that neither the German Legation at The Hague, nor even the German Foreign Office in Berlin really knew what was
behind it all: the Gestapo once more had exercised its prerogative of being a law unto itself.
As the German Government persisted in refusing to furnish an explanation of this gross violation of the territory of a friendly power by its agents, the Netherlands Government instructed its Minister in Berlin to inform Herr von Ribbentrop that it was impossible for the Dutch Government to acquiesce in such an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and that they therefore made a formal proposal of submitting the Venlo incident to some impartial body to be designated by common consent. This body should be either a special German-Netherlands commission, or the Permanent Commission of Conciliation which still existed between both countries by virtue of a fifteen-year old treaty. If neither of these agencies was acceptable, we proposed a board of arbitration, or some international judicial agency. The choice was left entirely to the German Government, and it is difficult to see how the Dutch Government could have adopted a more liberal attitude, while showing clearly at the same time that they were out to vindicate their rights and to have the truth established. This offer, too, was of no avail. Never has the German Government made any reply, until, on the very day of the invasion, it was revealed why this silence had been so scrupulously maintained. At the moment of the invasion, the Venlo incident was inflated by Herr Hitler into some monstrous collusion of his own invention between the Netherlands and the Allies. Yet the Germans
apparently had found it so little dangerous or objectionable that they had completely ignored it from November, 1939, until May, 1940. They had in fact been carefully preserving it to be used, in the absence of any authentic grievances, as the stick with which to beat the dog. It may be that Nazi zealots set store by such tales, as distorted out of all proportion by the "Ministry for the Enlightenment of the People and for Propaganda." Few others, forewarned by countless instances of German manipulations of truth can have been deceived. The chief interest of the abuse made of the Venlo incident lies in its value as an example of the technique of Nazi propaganda. Six months after the incident had occurred, it was dragged out to justify Germany's aggression against Holland. Nazi propaganda usually grasps some actual fact, and then proceeds to twist, distort, exaggerate, or minimize its significance, with an eye to the goal to be attained, posing the while as the only true interpreter of happenings which the Jews, the British, the plutocrats, the "international bankers," or other scape-goats used by Dr. Goebbels have been trying by some low cunning to conceal from the world.