FOR SOME time past, the Dutch Government had realized that a European war, if not certain, was extremely probable. Hence the strengthening of the country's defenses; hence, also, the many-sided preparations in the economic sphere. When war broke out, the Netherlands were endowed with complete legislative and administrative machinery to weather the storm. The Government had received far-reaching emergency powers, and the stocks of all important commodities were such that scarcity would only arise in case the country were cut off from overseas markets for some considerable time.
The economic blockade of Germany, put into force by the Allies as soon as war began, made it necessary for Holland to negotiate agreements with France and Great Britain in order to keep the country's stocks at an adequate level. For a variety of reasons, which now have no more than an historic interest, these negotiations were difficult, but they finally resulted in arrangements to which Germany took no exception, however critically that country was wont to look upon every aspect of the policy of neutrality pursued by the Netherlands. As a result, Holland's economic life, although hard hit by the war with its devastating effect on world prosperity,
seemed assured of what, taking all the circumstances into account, might be called a tolerable basis. There was enough for everybody; industry could be kept going, be it on a somewhat reduced scale. Rationed necessities were few, fewer than in any of the belligerent countries, and the rations allowed were liberal. Holland still was the land of plenty it had always been.
Hardly were the Germans in occupation, when this happy state of affairs changed as if by magic. The Dutch were forced to accept German currency at a fixed rate, and on this uncertain basis--for, the German Reichsmark not being freely convertible into other currencies, it is difficult to assess its real value--in a very few days Holland had become an empty country. All kinds of commodities were immediately subjected to rationing. Petrol and tires became extremely scarce. But also coffee and tea, which used to be imported into Holland from its own overseas territories and which the Dutch are accustomed to consume in great quantities, became rare. The same applied to shoes and textiles, including all ready-made clothing, of which Germany stood in great need. Bread was soon rationed. This rapid transition to poverty in a country that had always been well-to-do and where the standard of living had been high must have come as a great shock to the population, which had just gone through the agonies of war, and must have damped even the spirits of those who were inclined to be impressed by Nazi successes. Instructions were broadcast how, by
drying used tea leaves and adding some fresh ones, the very small monthly allowance could be made to go a little further. This process was also recommended for coffee. Perhaps the only flourishing industry was that of wooden shoes, an article which had come to be used only by farmers and gardeners. Leather being unavailable, they are once more in demand.
The Germans at once proceeded to cut the Dutch people completely off from the outside world. No one was allowed to leave the country without the consent of the now omnipotent German police. Listening in to foreign radio stations was strictly prohibited. The press was severely censored, and broadcasting subjected to rigorous control; this made itself especially felt in the news bulletins, which became to a large extent trite reproductions of what the German propaganda ministry thought fit to present to its own people. At the same time, a great many items were inserted in radio programs, calculated to influence Dutch trend of thought. Great Britain is constantly represented as the embodiment of original sin, the country to which all evils, including the war, can be traced, and against which Germany is now crusading. The result of this campaign against the free opinion of the Dutch seems doubtful. The nation has for centuries been used to think for itself, the press has always been a free one, and the Dutch people, who, as members of a seafaring nation, have acquired some knowledge of the world, possess a gift of shrewd perspicacity which no propaganda
can obliterate. The Dutch, unlike the Germans, are individualistic; the gregarious spirit, so characteristic of the Teuton race, is alien to them. Few, if any, of them have forgotten that the German invasion, which they know was at once universally condemned in all countries where thought and speech are free, and in particular by the Holy See, is at the bottom of their present sufferings. Moreover, they know too well how German propaganda methods work, not to be on their guard. Nevertheless, in this respect also their plight is a sad one. While realizing that what is broadcast over the radio under German dictate in their own language and what German censorship permits the familiar Dutch newspapers to print is often far from the truth, they are left to guess what the real truth is. This nation, accustomed for centuries past to look freely upon the world and to form its own opinion on the basis of what it has seen, now finds itself suddenly in the position of being told what to think and what to believe--a state of affairs so entirely at variance with Dutch customs and character that the result can not fail to be sullen scepticism and great uneasiness.
Once Holland was occupied, the German Fuehrer appointed Herr Seyss-Inquart, an Austrian politician whose share in the overthrow of Dr. Schuschnigg has not been forgotten, as Reich Commissioner for the Netherlands. His first act was a grave mistake, an outrage of all that is sacred to Dutch patriotic feeling. He thought fit to assume office in the ancient Hall of the Knights, the oldest
building in The Hague, dating back to those far-off days of the early Middle Ages when the Counts of Holland ruled the region. That venerable building, the hallowed walls of which have witnessed so many historic scenes in the brilliant history of Holland, was the place where, once a year, the Queen opened Parliament in state. Now an emissary of Holland's conqueror summoned a number of Dutch officials there, together with a host of Nazi authorities, both civil and military, in order to assure them of the paternal interest he professed to take in safeguarding the country's well-being. "The Netherlands," so he said, "will, by offering all cooperation, assure their land and freedom for the future." The very word "freedom" in the mouth of Herr Hitler's proxy seems almost blasphemous, and it was remarkable, to use no stronger word, that he explained the term "cooperation" as meaning the subordination of all Dutch interests to the vital struggle of the German people. Speeches were also made by obsequious underlings--in that hall where a proud people used to raise its free voice--extolling the Fuehrer's good intentions towards Holland, and assuring that country, whose happiness, they said, was now at last assured, of the protection of the German armed forces, so necessary because the Dutch Government had been privy to the dark designs of British cunning. One can only feel deep aversion when listening to these dissonant notes. All elements of its national life, which the Dutch people had won for themselves, had jealously guarded through the ages, and
to which it continued to be so deeply attached, were here represented as still present, whereas in reality all that was essential to a free nation had been taken away. Probably in order to mark German determination to ensure the happiness of Holland according to its own way, German music was played at the end of this distasteful ceremony.
It soon became apparent what Herr Seyss-Inquart's fine phrases meant. The Constitution of Holland was set aside: parliamentary institutions were suspended for an indefinite period. Instead of free enactments made by and with the consent of the people, decisions were imposed by the Reich Commissioner or by his police. The Dutch could but obey, and feel happy under so paternal and solicitous a rule. One of the oldest self-governing countries in the world suddenly found itself treated as if it were the home of eight million minors, incapable of looking after themselves. Humiliation and disgust must haunt the soul of every Dutchman.
Fear of Dutch loyalty to the House of Orange, coupled with the taste for oppression so characteristic of many Germans in their dealings with peoples they succeed in bringing under their rule, led them to commit a major blunder by prohibiting any demonstration of loyalty to the reigning House. With true German thoroughness, this prohibition was worked out in great detail. On birthdays of members of the royal family, the national flag must not be displayed, and no one is allowed to wear any national emblem, not even an orange-colored flower or--
so a proclamation of Seyss-Inquart said textually--a forget-me-not, or a white carnation as often worn by Prince Bernhard. Such is the petty mind of the would-be rulers of Europe. Let them display it--it can only damage their interests.
The Germans, for all their imposed rule, apparently realized that a people like that of Holland must be managed with at least some consideration if grave clashes were to be avoided. They accordingly practiced the policy of the iron hand in the velvet glove. As an "act of magnanimity" towards the people, whose only crime it was to have defended its liberties against aggression, Herr Hitler allowed all Dutch prisoners of war to be released and to return to their homes. A semblance of normal conditions was created by measures such as the reopening of museums and of theaters; but through it all runs the jarring note of an oppressive regime. The way in which the unemployment problem was tackled is a typical illustration. Extra workers had to be taken on or to be retained, whether they were needed or not, while thousands are gradually being put to work in Germany. Reconstruction work in devastated areas, especially in Rotterdam, was taken in hand so as to do away, as much as possible, with all evidence of the German conquest by force. Herr Seyss-Inquart, who loses no opportunity of attempting to ingratiate himself by assuring the Dutch of their Germanic origin, has made a tour of inspection through the country, which he rules not as it wishes to be ruled but
as he sees fit. Germany is obviously attempting to gain some measure of good feeling on the part of her victims; but her chances of success seem slight. Even if she does not actually rule harshly, she has taken away too much of what is essential to the Dutch way of thinking to gain the nation's sympathy and support.
With the conquest of Holland, the Bolshevization of Europe has advanced another step. In many ways, Nazi doctrine and Nazi methods are related to those of Moscow. Both result in a general leveling down of the standard of living to a point below reasonable prosperity, and it yet remains to be seen whether Berlin and the Kremlin will succeed in raising it to any appreciable extent. In the Netherlands, this leveling down is very. striking. Apart from the general rationing system, a very strict limit has been imposed on the possibility of drawing on bank accounts, so that inhabitants in the whole country are forced to live, at best, in very modest circumstances. Such are the blessings of Nazi rule.
It is difficult to form an impression of how these conditions will aff ect the spirit and the outlook of the Dutch nation. One thing, however, is certain: a race accustomed to free speech based on free thinking, cannot easily be forced to adopt methods which may be acceptable to Germans. For the time being, the country is ruled by force, and it realizes that open resistance would be less than futile. But this outward resignation should not be taken for inward submission. Just as the German loves authority
from above, uniforms, and the spirit of the herd, so the Dutchman is fervently attached to autonomy, spontaneous order, and a happy compromise between the rights of the individual and the needs of the community. He hates coercion. And worse than avowed coercion is compulsion masquerading as liberty. Any such disguised form of constraint is doubly objectionable: it is insincere to all, and loathsome to those who, having once enjoyed the blessings of true liberty, at once recognize the adulterated variety for what it is. Enslavement parading as liberty is not therefore freedom.
Three hundred and sixty-five years ago, William the Silent founded the University of Leiden. The year before, the town had been besieged by the Spanish, but the population, in spite of famine and dire suffering, stubbornly held out until at last the enemy withdrew. As a reward, the Prince offered the town a choice between freedom from taxation for a number of years, or a university; the latter was chosen. On its seal are engraved the words, reminiscent forever of the origin of this venerable seat of learning: Praesidium Libertatis--"a stronghold of liberty." Its foundation day was celebrated, as it is every five years, in June of this year 1940. It was an even more than usually impressive ceremony, raised in these dark days to the significance of an act of faith. Professors and students assembled, not as usual in University Hall but in the old Church of St. Peter, dating back to the days of Spanish oppression, which has stood witness not only to
more than one invasion of Holland, but also to as many resurrections from enslavement. The Rector of the University and its Chancellor, the Burgomaster of Leiden, in their speeches appealed to those present not to despair in the difficult times through which the country was passing, but to continue the great traditions of the University, steeped in a freedom of thought which knows no national frontiers in its pursuit of scientific truth. Then, breaking away from custom, the Chancellor asked his audience to sing "in the spirit of its founder" two verses of the Dutch national anthem, coeval with the University, and as the old church rang with the solemn words, exhorting the people to resist tyranny and to place their faith in God, the true spirit of the Netherlands could be heard for one brief, impressive moment. When the last sounds had faded away, that spirit became once more engulfed by an insidious, enemy-directed radio, by the vociferous propaganda of Dr. Goebbels' agents, by all the insincere clamor of the invader. But the short ceremony in the Leiden Church had shown the spiritual needs of the Dutch nation. For a few minutes, they had found a way of being themselves.
There seems little chance that, whatever attempts German propaganda may make to persuade the world that the Netherlands is now a happy, contented country, well satisfied with Herr Seyss-Inquart's benign rule, it will succeed in its purpose. The world knows that in Holland the tree of liberty is too deeply rooted to be eradicated
overnight. It is not the destiny of this country to form part of any other country's "Lebensraum." Its geographical position is such that it cannot be completely within the political or economic sphere of Germany, of England, or of France. Here, in fact, lies one of the best guarantees for Holland's ultimate resurrection as an independent state. No power, however mighty, can in the long run successfully overrule the dictates of basic political facts. Has Germany understood this to be true? If she possesses real statesmen, not blinded by megalomania, she will admit this reality. So far, she has not done anything indicating blindness to these facts. She has not annexed the Netherlands, as she did in the case of Austria, the Czech inhabited portion of Czecho-Slovakia, Danzig, parts of Poland, and Eupen and Malmedy. Of course there is a possibility that, with regard to Holland, Germany is biding the ultimate outcome of the war, and meanwhile wishes to keep her hands free. Let us hope that, whatever that outcome may be, statesmanlike insight will preside over the decisions which will then have to be taken. If that hope is realized, Holland will be set free. If not, there will be no real peace in Western Europe until it is.
It is realized the world over, that the occupation of Holland is but one element in the war against a political ideology based on force, in which the individual counts for nothing. As such, the ultimate fate of the Netherlands has a significance far beyond its narrow frontiers. It would be a sad loss to the world if this country, where once stood
the cradle of that free thought which has so profoundly stimulated the happiness of other nations and races, were to remain subjugated against the will of its inhabitants, who still have a contribution to make to the common fund of human knowledge and well-being.
Meanwhile, the struggle between spiritual liberty and enslavement of the soul goes on. France has been overpowered, but the other Allied countries, and among them Holland, continue the fight, headed by the British Empire. They have free access to by far the greater part of the world's material resources. The industrial power of the United States of America is of the greatest importance in enabling them still to hold their banner high. Their resources in man power have not been drawn upon to nearly the same extent as those of Germany, where in addition, food, oil products, and many other commodities necessary for a successful prosecution of war are becoming increasingly scarce.
There was a time, only a few years ago, when Britain's first defenses were said to be on the Rhine. Now, the defenses of the Netherlands are on Britain's shores. And this admirable British island fortress holds! Not only does it hold, but it strikes back with ever harder blows, in confident anticipation of victory.
Against this background, the Government of the Netherlands carries on its work in London. As soon as its members had all arrived there, they at once set to work to keep the machinery of Government going. They were
joined by a number of civil servants and experts, who had either been able to escape or had found their way to London from places abroad where they happened to be on some official mission when war broke out. Scores of matters in connection with the war asked for immediate attention. The Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry for the Colonies are working under high pressure. The diplomatic and consular services of the Netherlands continue to function as usual, keeping in constant touch with headquarters, and are more than ever out to further the interests of the Dutch Colonies. Of special concern were Dutch rights and interests in other countries, as it was to be foreseen that Germany would leave nothing undone, acting either directly or through intermediaries, to lay hands on Dutch assets in neutral countries, especially in the Western Hemisphere. Everything possible was done to frustrate attempts in that direction. Towards spring, when the military situation in Western Europe grew more tense, the Dutch Government had begun taking all possible measures to be ready in case the country were attacked. The possibility was created of transferring the seat of Dutch companies and corporations to Netherlands overseas territories, thereby removing them further from the grasp of an occupying power. Legislation was prepared to prevent trading with the enemy in the East Indies, in Surinam and in Curagao, with the result that the necessary regulations could be enforced there from the first day of the invasion. Provisions
were also made to insure that the foreign services of the Netherlands would never stop functioning owing to lack of funds. It may be said that little had been left to chance, but it stands to reason that not everything could be done before it was known that Germany was the invader.
Thus, for instance, the legal position of Dutch assets abroad was made secure only after the Government arrived in London. The decision then taken deserves special mention because of its far-reaching character in preventing economic interests of Dutch citizens abroad from falling into German hands. A Royal Decree was issued, vesting in the State of the Netherlands, represented by its legitimate Government, the ownership of all property and financial claims abroad, belonging to individuals and institutions established in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The State is only allowed to exercise this right of ownership in order to safeguard the interests thus taken over, which are to be returned to the original owners three months after the present state of emergency will have ceased to exist. The requisite measures were taken to implement this decree, instituting custodians where necessary and providing for all other problems in connection with this typical instance of emergency legislation.
When war broke out, about two-thirds of the very considerable quantity of gold belonging to the State of the Netherlands and to the Netherlands Bank was in safe places overseas, chiefly in the United States of America. Immediately upon the German invasion, all possible
measures were successfully taken to evacuate whatever gold still remained in the country. Actuated by spitefulness, the German propaganda organization used this theme in an effort to stir up feeling amongst the Dutch nation against the Government, whose members, so Dr. Goebbels' services said, had absconded with the country's gold. The Foreign Minister was even said to have left the country after stuffing his pockets at the last moment with the "State diamonds"--precious stones existing only in the fervid imagination of those who invented this romantic story, which they apparently hoped would have some cheap popular appeal.
A subject to which the Government devoted much care and attention was the problem of the Dutch refugees who, driven from their homes in Holland, had fled first to Belgium and, when that unfortunate country had also been occupied by the enemy, drifted farther and farther into France, pursued by the invader. Others, although far less numerous, had managed in some way or another to escape to the British Isles where, it should be gratefully recalled, as in France and later in Spain and Portugal much was done for their welfare. The forty thousand hapless fugitives in France presented a difficult problem. Under the supervision of a Government Commissioner for refugees residing in London, a sub-Commissioner was sent to France and later to Spain, to minister to the needs of these wretched people. In this way much human suffering was alleviated, if not prevented.
With the help of the French, and later with the British authorities, it was arranged from the outset that radio broadcasts were sent out from Paris, and subsequently from London, in the Dutch language, in an effort to acquaint the Dutch population with the true state of world affairs. It was felt that these broadcasts would not fail to have a heartening effect on a people left to live on their own moral stamina, and constantly showered with German propaganda. It was with this in mind that, on Prince Bernhardt birthday, June 29th, on which day the Germans had "verboten" the display of the Dutch flag, the Minister for the Interior made a stirring broadcast from London to the Dutch people, voicing the sentiments that were theirs on that day to which they could give no expression themselves.
Although in Holland the national flag is at present overshadowed by the swastika banner, that flag flies freely in the overseas territories. There, the news of the invasion was received with great consternation. The white inhabitants thought of their relatives in the home country, anxiously wondering what the outcome would be and filled with helpless fury at being so far away; the native population, more and more alive to the leniency and progressive spirit of Dutch rule suddenly realized, as they had never done before, that for them, too, much was at stake. The news of the enemy's rapid advance came as a surprise and a great shock: so far from the actual scene of operations, it was more difficult than in Europe to realize by what
novel enemy devices and trickery Dutch resistance, which had been so carefully prepared, had been so rapidly undermined. Soon, however, these feelings of amazement gave way to those of deep loyalty to Queen and Government and of compassion for the mother country, not only throughout the white population, but also, to an extent never witnessed before, throughout the native population as well.
A wave of loyal feeling swept over the colonies; it had to manifest itself in some tangible form. Thousands volunteered for the Dutch services. Thousands took part in patriotic demonstrations and, above all, everybody contributed towards the fund, bearing the Queen's name, which was at once instituted for the relief of the stricken home country. Nobody even stopped to think whether it would be possible to bring relief, while Holland was writhing under German occupation. They had to find some outlet for their loyalty by action, and the impulse of their generosity made them act at once. Large donations were received, but welcome though they were, it is the spirit that prompted the innumerable small gifts which is so significant. Most of these came from people who had little, if anything, to spare, native as well as white. Among the most moving of these truly voluntary contributions were the wedding rings of a number of minor civil servants. Never has there been more overwhelming evidence of the strength of the bonds uniting the far-flung parts of the Dutch Empire.
In the overseas colonies, order and security continue to prevail. The shock caused by the invasion of the mother country had no repercussion in the administration of these territories, nor was their international status in any way impaired. Not that this status left others indifferent. On the contrary, the United States, Great Britain, and Japan all expressed their profound interest in the maintenance of the status quo of the Dutch East Indies, which was thereby once more proclaimed to be a matter of universal concern. All interested governments realize that the Dutch are capable of insuring, as they have done for more than three centuries, the administration and the welfare of their Indian Empire, at the same time opening their resources to all the world. To that rule there is only one exception: the enemy is to be denied access to these important markets. But otherwise, Japan and the United States of America no less than the Allies, can obtain in the Indian archipelago all they require, so long as there is plenty for everybody.
What remained of the Dutch army, after the heavy losses it suffered during the five days of armed resistance, was disbanded by the Germans. About two thousand men were able to escape, in various ways and in many cases by long circuitous routes, to England. There they have been equipped once more, to be ready for future service. The Royal Navy, by far the greater part of which is always stationed overseas, is virtually intact, although a few valuable units were lost during the battle. What
vessels, officers, and men are in Europe, now take an active part in Allied naval operations against Germany, operations in which our excellent submarines play a conspicuous part. In the East and West Indies, the bulk of the Dutch Fleet guards the safety of these colonies, together with powerful land and air forces, the latter equipped with modern American airplanes in no inconsiderable numbers. The Dutch mercantile marine, which ranks among the largest in the world, and by far the greater part of which was prevented from falling into enemy hands, forms another important contribution to the successful prosecution of war. As so often in the course of history, these elements once more demonstrate that, whatever fate may temporarily overtake the Netherlands in Europe, the spirit of Holland, to whose seafaring traditions true air-mindedness has of late been added, is alive and remains undaunted.
German ideologists, with their strange ways of abstruse reasoning, may think that the Low Countries can be coaxed or driven into accepting a place of dependence in the Third Reich. They are wrong, as they have always been wrong because, although they may understand German ways of thinking, they do not understand human nature. A nation which, for centuries, has been used to free institutions, never loses the taste of them--not in one, not in two, not in three generations. And so long as the true history of the Netherlands is whispered from ear to ear lest the Gestapo should hear it, the foundations are
there on which, one glorious day, the independent State of the Netherlands will once again take its place among the free nations of the world. That no tyrant, no usurper can prevent.
The Germans can try to cajole the people of the Netherlands, or they can try to terrorize them. They can starve them to the extent that they starve their own civilians the better to feed their military forces, or they can starve them more severely. They can treat the people of Holland, who have never done them any harm, in a decent manner, or they can resort to brutality and plunder. But, whatever they do, they can not convince their victims that it was not Germany who attacked them in their sleep; that it is not Germany who, in that country where good food was plentiful, causes them to be ill-fed; that it is not Germany's fault when the heart of the young mother is wrung with despair, seeing that her baby is deprived of proper nourishment and clothing; that Germany is not to blame when trade languishes, when the country's resources are rapidly dwindling, when poverty and misery begin to stare around every corner in that country which, left alone, was happy and prosperous; when there is nothing to be bought in the shops because Germans have laid hands on everything since the first moment of the occupation; when there is nothing but gloom, and suspicion, and ill-concealed hatred, and the ruins of Rotterdam, raising their gaping wounds to heaven.
But no--there is something else. There is the keen sense
that the Netherlands must become a free country again. Its people cannot be permanently enslaved, they will not be stifled, they cannot breathe in that sullen, oppressive atmosphere. As soon as the chance comes, the people of the Netherlands will free themselves, just as they freed themselves in the days of Spanish tyranny, or when, in 1672, all Europe seemed to turn against them; or after Napoleon's star had fallen. Against them, all despots have played a losing game. That they know. Never was the country's history a more abundant source of inspiration, a more treasured possession, a richer fund of comfort and of strength.
Holland bides its hour: sooner or later, it knows that hour will strike.