The Germans invaded Holland on 10 May 1940, which surrendered after only four days, giving rise to widespread panic and confusion among the population. The Dutch, who are related both linguistically and racially to the Germans, were taken aback by the confrontation. Prior to World War II, Holland had some 52,000 German residents who lived and worked in the Netherlands. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of imitation Nazi movements emerged during the 1930s. The largest was founded on 14 December 1931 by Anton Adriaan Mussert. It was called the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging (NSB – National Socialist Movement). It was a strictly nationalistic Dutch fascist movement, and proved ultimately to be the most successful.
On 18 May 1940, Arthur Seyss-Inquart became Reich Commissioner of the Netherlands, which was declared to be a Reich Commissariat. With complete control of the country’s entire resources, which he exclusively directed towards the demands of the German war machine, Seyss-Inquart ruled authoritatively, answering only to Hitler. He generally followed the “carrot and stick” method of rule, though his rule was more stick than carrot. In March 1941, he had bestowed upon himself the power to administer summary justice, at least pertaining to dissension or suspected resistance. He levied swingeing fines, confiscating the property of all enemies of the Reich, including Jews, and instigated severe reprisals for acts of subversion and sabotage. He forced five million Dutch civilians to work for the Germans, and deported a total of 117,000 Jews to concentration camps.
Under these conditions, the main exponent of collaboration was the NSB, a party that was extremely well organized. The NSB was now to come to the fore, and on the tenth anniversary of its foundation was granted an exclusive political monopoly in the Netherlands by the Germans. All other parties were faced either with merger or disbandment. The NSB had its own stormtroopers, the Weer Afdeelingen (WA – Defence Section), but on 11 September 1940 it took a bold step by establishing its own SS within the party framework. J. Hendrik Feldmeyer, the former leader of the Mussert Garde, was the initiator of the plan; he had visions of it becoming the equivalent of the German Allgemeine-SS. It was at first simply known as the Nederlandsche SS, which was replaced by the more general term Germaansche SS en Nederland (or the Germanic SS in the Netherlands) on 1 November 1942. Until then it had been one of the paramilitary sub-formations of the NSB. Himmler gave orders that it was now to become part of a greater Germanic SS. Mussert’s control was now marginalized, with an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler being taken by the Dutch SS men. Its membership, which stood nominally at 3727 (five regiments plus an SS police regiment), was constantly depleted by voluntary enlistment into the Waffen-SS. There were possibly up to a further 7000 Dutch volunteers in the Germanische Sturmbann, an SS formation raised from the large pool of Dutch and other Nordic workers in Germany. Seven battalions were recruited from the industrial cities of Berlin, Brunswick, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Stuttgart. In effect, the Germanische Sturmbann was never anything other than a recruiting agency for the Waffen-SS.
Never before seen interesting picture showing a Dutch NSKK volunteer wearing the rare NSKK Honor Badge from the collection of Dian Notebaert.
The Dutch NSKK
It would be wrong to state that all foreign volunteers were recruited into the more “glamourous” organizations within the SS. There were others formations that absorbed volunteers for the German war machine. These included the Nationalsozialisches Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK – National Socialist Motor Corps), Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD – National Labour Service) and the Kriegsmarine. The NSKK, for example, was almost as voracious in the recruitment of Dutchmen as the SS. The invasion of Russia in 1941 led to additional loads being placed on the already overstretched German military transport system – and so the occupation authorities were always searching for foreign drivers. The WA, the Dutch equivalent of the German SA, had its own transport arm – the Motor WA – which provided the usual source of drivers for service on the Eastern Front. The Dutch drivers were passed through a unit called the Alarmdienst, which was created to provide the German forces in Holland with auxiliary transport. Its members were kitted out with Motor WA or other NSB uniforms. The service was rechristened the Transportactie on 12 January 1943, and thereafter its members sported German field-grey uniforms.
The German Army also raised a small unit of Dutch civilian drivers, which was known initially as the Kraftfahrt Transport Dienst. This was mainly to help with work on military construction projects, and after April 1942 it was renamed the Kraftfahrzeugüberführungs Kommando (KUK). When the need arose, some KUK drivers had to be coerced to serve in the Soviet Union in German rear areas. Due to the partisan threat they were permitted to carry arms for their defence, being kitted out in ex-French Army uniforms.
In November 1943, the Higher SS and Police Chief in the Netherlands, Hans Albin Rauter, upon being informed that the NSKK was proving very successful in drawing into its ranks young Dutchmen, was forced to issue an order forbidding the NSKK from accepting anyone below the age of 30. Volunteers under the age of 30 were to be directed into the Waffen-SS instead.
Most of the Dutch NSKK volunteers came under the jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe, with volunteers in the following formations: NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe, NSKK Staffel WBN (Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Netherlands) and NSKK Todt/Speer. The Organization Todt was the construction formation of the Nazi Party, auxiliary to the Wehrmacht. It was named after its founder, Dr Fritz Todt, who was replaced by Albert Speer following Todt’s death in 1942. It should not be confused with the Organization Speer, which was a separate body concerned with engineering. Like many similar agencies in Hitler’s Reich, they competed with each other for power and resources.
In January 1942, NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe was created under Luftwaffe General Wilhelm Wimmer in Brussels, which brought together under one command all Dutch, Flemish and Walloon NSKK members. The Dutch NSKK saw active service in Russia as the NSKK Regiment Niederland. Luftwaffe General Kraus reported to Hermann Göring on 6 August 1942: “We have thousands of Dutchmen in transport regiments in the East. Last week one such regiment was attacked. The Dutch took more than 1000 prisoner and were awarded 25 Iron Crosses.” Scores of Dutch NSKK men fought and died at Stalingrad as part of the German Sixth Army in 1942–43. In October 1942, the NSKK Todt and the NSKK Speer were merged to become NSKK Transportgruppe Todt; then NSKK Gruppe Speer; and, finally, in 1944, Transportkorps Speer. The Transportkorps Speer and KUK were made part of the NSKK Staffel WBN in the autumn of 1943. Volunteers wore field-grey uniforms with NSKK rank and other insignia, and signed on for one year or for the duration of the war, whichever was shorter. It is conceivable that 8–9000 Dutchmen served in the various branches of the NSKK in total during World War II.
The Dutch had a labour service of their own but also provided volunteers for the RAD. The number was small, possibly around 300, but was enough for an all-Dutch unit to be formed known as Gruppe Niederland. Dutchmen also graduated as RAD officers, such as those of the Oostkorp (East Corps) of the Niederland Arbeits Dienst (NAD – Dutch Labour Service). Gruppe Niederland saw active service between May and October 1942 on the Eastern Front, behind the German frontline. Normally, RAD personnel were unarmed, but due to partisan activities guards were permitted to carry rifles or pistols.
For a nation with a distinguished maritime tradition, it is surprising that perhaps only about 1500 Dutchmen served in the Kriegsmarine. This may be because the first appeal was not made until May 1943, for naval volunteers in the 18–35 age group.
If the Netherlands was considered a Germanic nation by the Nazis, then the situation in Belgium was not as straightforward. Belgium is really two countries and a German region, all joined together in a single political unit. One part, Flanders, is Germanic in language and racial origin. The other, Wallonie, is French speaking whose racial origins are a mixture of Celtic and Roman. The only strong bond between the two is a common religious faith: Roman Catholicism. The quiet town of Eupen, only 10km (6 miles) from the German border, had a population of 17,000 citizens in the 1930s, most being ethnic Germans. It is the capital of German-speaking Belgium, a region where about 65,000 people lived in the 1930s. Control of the territory has shifted many times between France, Germany and Belgium throughout history. After escaping the clutches of the Burgundian dukes in the fifteenth century, it was a German princedom, before being annexed by France after the revolution in 1789. It reverted to German control after the Napoleonic wars, but then switched back to Belgium in 1919 as part of the Versailles settlement. After the invasion of 10 May 1940, Hitler declared it to be part of the Reich. The Nazis always drew a clear distinction between the two ethnic peoples of Belgium, who initially favoured the Flemings, their racial “cousins”. However, they eventually came to view the Walloon leader, Léon Degrelle, as being a more valuable asset to their cause.
A feeling of resentment had been nurtured by the people of Flanders against the French-speaking state created in 1830 and dominated by the Walloons. The German occupation of Belgium in World War I gave Flemish nationalism, which until then had been mainly intellectual, the impetus to become a political movement in its own right. Under German patronage, a Council of Flanders was set up in Brussels in February 1917. It consisted of some 200 Flemish autonomists, and was granted the status of a provisional government.
The Frontbeweging or Front Movement, an influential separatist faction, was founded which later became the Frontpartij or Front Party. The leaders of the Council of Flanders were tried for high treason after the war, though none was executed and all were set free by an act of clemency in March 1929. The ranks of the Frontpartij began to rupture in the early 1930s as the new ideology of fascism increased the demand for autonomy and manifested itself with the formation in October 1931 of a breakaway party known as the Verbond van Dietsche Nationaal Solidaristen (Union of Netherlandish National Solidarity). This was abbreviated to Verdiaso or simply Dinaso. Joris van Severen, a young lawyer, was the leader of Dinaso. He was a former army officer who had been stripped of his commission when his nationalist sympathies became apparent. Dinaso’s first demand was that the Flemish part of Belgium should join Holland in a Greater Netherlands community, but in 1934 van Severen discovered that the Walloons shared a common Frankish descent with the Flemings. There was thus a complete reorientation of policy, and he now favoured the continued existence of the Belgian state. Dinaso had its own stormtroopers known as the Dinaso Militie until 1934, when they were renamed the Dinaso Militanten Orde (DMO).
What was the fate of those foreign nationals who had fought for Hitler? In Western Europe, the process of dealing with collaborators began as soon as the war ended. In Holland, special courts were established to enable the many thousands of collaborators, as well as those who had served in the German armed forces, to be tried, and the death penalty was reintroduced for the first time since its abolition in 1873. In all, 138 death sentences were pronounced, although only 36 were actually carried out. Anton Mussert was brought to trial at The Hague in November 1945 on a charge of high treason. On 12 December, he was unsurprisingly found guilty and sentenced to death. Eighteen Germans also received death sentences for crimes in Holland but only five, of whom one was Rauter, were executed.
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg dealt with Reich Commissioner Seyss-Inquart. The tribunal stated that he had been “a knowing and voluntary participant in war crimes and crimes against humanity which were committed in the occupation of the Netherlands”. He was hanged on 16 October 1946.
Between 120,000 and 150,000 persons were arrested in Holland in the immediate post-liberation period but, by October 1945, only 72,321 men and 23,723 women remained in prison. Thirty-five special courts consisting of five judges each were set up to deal with major cases of collaboration, while smaller tribunals comprising one judge and two laymen dealt with less serious offences. Some 60,000 persons were deprived of their Dutch citizenship for entering foreign military service, and also had their property seized by the state. This was applied to all those who had served in the German Army, Navy, Air Force, the Waffen-SS, the Landstorm Nederland, German police or security formations, the guard companies of the Todt Organization and the German Labour Service (RAD). However, it did not include service with the Dutch Germanic SS or the German state railways. On the whole, the Dutch treated their collaborators with tolerance and humanity, though perhaps the very magnitude of the problem prevented harsh judgements.