Nijmegen, collaboratie en verzet. Het standpunt van een stad in oorlogstijd
Nijmegen : Vantilt
Number of pages
Radboud Universiteit, 17 april 2018
Promotor : Aerts, R.A.M. Co-promotor : Rosendaal, J.G.M.M.
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SubjectCultures of War and Liberation; Europe in a Changing World
The Dutch town of Nijmegen was occupied between 10 May 1940 and 20 September 1944. Just like the Netherlands as a whole, the city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants, became involved in the Second World War after the German army crossed the Dutch border. The border town of Nijmegen was one of the first major Dutch cities the German army invaded and conquered. This marked the beginning of the ‘Bezettingstijd’, the occupation of the Netherlands, which became a pivotal experience for both the nation and local community. Not only because of the violent character of the war – Nijmegen was severely struck – but also because the city was, just like other local communities, a theatre of the interaction between accepting or renouncing the occupation. Working together with or protesting and resisting a foreign occupier is ordinarily defined with the concepts of ‘collaboration’ and ‘resistance’. Two well-known concepts, with a history of their own, which also precedes the era of WW2. This PhD project wants to make clear that it is wise or even necessary to approach and use ‘collaboration’ and ‘resistance’ as dynamic concepts, just because of the fact that the occupation was itself a dynamic process. The attitudes of people during wartime have to be placed in context with their changing historical surroundings. This means that this study focuses on a period longer than WW2 itself, namely the period 1936-1954, and departs from a so called multi-perspective and integrated analysis. A multi-perspective approach to the history of the occupation of the Netherlands provides a broader and more nuanced view of the past. By writing biographies, it is possible to show how people responded to and were tested by the occupation, and whether this resulted in collaborating or resisting, or something in between in line with the changing circumstances. Another genre of historical research that welcomes this kind of research is the scope of urban history or local history. And not without reason: local governments played an important role in both legitimizing and implementing the new administrative measures during the period of occupation. The local viewpoint also shows how the occupation took shape in practical measures, and what kind of attitudes and conflicts arose between the occupier, (local) authorities and population. Because of the fact that the German occupation of the Netherlands also proposed a political-ideological programme, the routines of daily life became more or less 'politicized’. It is interesting to look at the nazification and ‘politicization’ of ‘normality’ in a Dutch town. How did, at the local level, the ideal and the practice of the New Order develop? What was the changing background of the idea, and the practical output, behind this aim of reordering society? How can this explain the actions and functioning of urban organizations, parties, institutions and citizens during the war? Where, when and how did actions and actors of collaboration and resistance confront each other? How did the phenomena of resistance and collaboration evolve during the war? And did they evolve individually or more or less in some kind of contradictory cohesion? Who were not so keen to be involved? Was it possible to live one’s life as normal as before the war? These questions are addressed in this PhD thesis. The proposed Nijmegen case is not only interesting from a local or regional point of view. An analysis of the local occupation can illustrate and perhaps even broaden and change our views on the occupation in general. It is therefore important to sketch the surroundings in which the events took place. To do this, it is essential to know the local community that was invaded and occupied in 1940. Nijmegen is a border town, situated near the German border. During the 1930s the city expanded, and at the same time suffered from the effects of the worldwide economic recession. The opening of a new road bridge across the river Waal presented itself as an opportunity to revitalize the city. The bridge was of great importance. For some it also symbolized the bridge function Nijmegen played in the Netherlands, with its position in between the mainly catholic South and protestant North of the country. With its so called ‘pillarized’ society, Nijmegen was a typical example of a Dutch provincial town. As always, this came with certain particularities. Nijmegen was a predominantly catholic middle-class town with not that many factories. Instead, schools, hospitals and other services were comparatively overrepresented. During the interwar period, Nijmegen became one of the main Dutch centres of catholic intellectual life, especially because of the establishing of the Dutch Catholic University in the city. Politically the town represented its pillarized and fairly stable character, although new, more radical political groups tried to breach the modus vivendi. Facing the communist parties were new right wing, fascist and national-socialist groups, like the ‘Nationaal Socialistische Beweging’ (NSB), ‘Zwart Front’ and ‘Verdinaso’. They were relatively small in numbers, but influential in disturbing the status quo. The seizures of power by Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany set an example, but were also seen as a warning. The border region of Nijmegen became a transit area of fugitives and spies. From 1936 onwards, the menace of a new war in Europe was rising. After the war broke out on 1 September 1939, the Netherlands stayed neutral, although the Dutch army was mobilized. The area of Nijmegen was in a state of defense, but by no means capable of preventing a future German attack, although the aura of the ‘Mobilisatietijd’, the mobilization, presented the opposite. When the Germans came, on 10 May 1940, the town was invaded within an hour. The bridge across the Waal was blown up by the retreating Dutch army, a strategic and symbolic measure that illustrated the beginning of the occupation. People in Nijmegen, community leaders, administrators, and for instance factory workers and students, had to accommodate themselves to the new reality. The German authorities presented an arrangement. A small occupational force and government was installed above and beside the existing Dutch public administration. It was the beginning of a slippery slope of accepting, accommodating and renouncing the German demands. At the same time the pre-war fascist parties, especially the NSB, came forward. They saw the occupation as a possibility to gain power. In their opinion a New Order was dawning. This PhD thesis shows how the starting point identified above evolved in Nijmegen, and which parties and people became involved in accepting, collaborating and resisting the occupation. It is impossible to summarize all the events that occurred between 1940 and 1944, but it is interesting to highlight some examples that show how the dynamics of War and collaboration and resistance took shape and were influential. At first the position of the ruling elite of Nijmegen was not dominated by resisting the occupation, but by creating a new modus vivendi. Keep calm and carry on was their advice. Most of the people of Nijmegen did this, although they also seized the opportunity to show their national pride and dissatisfaction with the occupation. Especially during events, for instance the mooring of boats with POW or the birthday of the Dutch prince Bernhard, they showed their public spirit. The idea of a New Order, or the need for revitalizing society, was not entirely new and was not only utilized by the national-socialist occupier with its more or less secret objective of nazification. De Nederlandsche Unie, a new wartime political movement, found many supporters in Nijmegen and laid a foundation for later resistance and postwar renewal movements such as the ‘Nederlandse Volksbeweging (NVB)’. It was regarded by many as an answer to the NSB. At the same time, this political movement was also considered to be more or less an example of a collaborationist initiative during and especially after the War, because of the fact that they tried to present a Dutch alternative under the guidance of a new German Order. De Nederlandsche Unie is seen as a typical example of the twilight zone between collaboration and resistance. The years 1940, 1941 and 1942 present many dynamic examples of people and organizations searching for an answer to the question that arose because of the occupation. The Dutch mayor Joseph Steinweg, for instance, tried to rule without the interference of national-socialist policy, but became involved nonetheless with decreeing German policy, in the case of the ‘Winterhulp’ aid programme, seemingly without any hesitation. But with the increase of German policy and the forced nazification, dissatisfaction arose in Nijmegen. Some military groups had already organized to prepare themselves for action; others tried to create sentiment. This process was influenced by people from the NSB, who also created sentiment, but then of course in favour of the New Order. Especially the Weerafdeling (militia) of the NSB caused great annoyance and sought confrontation, even within their own political movement. After Germany declared War on the Soviet Union, the situation became harsher and the repression increased. The Jewish community of Nijmegen was deported by the local police force under the leadership of a new NSB-commissioner. Clubs and associations were closed and people who undermined or stood against the German policy were prosecuted. The German grip on society was strong, but it lacked support. The NSB and its ideal of a New Order did not strike root. From 1943 onwards inhabitants of Nijmegen played a role in the development of the Dutch local, regional and national resistance by connecting people and organizations of the mainly catholic south with people and organizations from the mainly protestant north of the Netherlands. The implementation of a forced labour policy, together with the defeat at Stalingrad and retreat of the German army at the Eastern Front, provoked more resistance, especially on a humanitarian level, because young men from Nijmegen wanted to go into hiding. Resistance from within became quit common. Factory workers and the public administration of Nijmegen tried to delay, postpone and sabotage their work, especially after the appointment of NSB members, like the new mayor Marius van Lokhorst. His conflict with the chief officials is a vivid example of this dynamic. The German police, assisted by NSB-members of the Nijmegen police, hunted down resisters and people in hiding. They used infiltrators and were often successful. At the same time the resistance networks professionalized and became a real resistance movement, whose own militia was aimed at raiding for a – from their point of view – good cause. Executions of prominent NSB-members, like the Nijmegen police commissioner, show that the resistance reacted strongly to the ongoing suppression by the Germans and their accomplices. Still, most of the people of Nijmegen stayed more or less bystanders in the highly politicized theatre of occupation. The resistance and collaboration movement in power alike, were small in numbers. Nijmegen became a theatre of war after the city was bombed as a target of opportunity by the U.S. Air Force in February 1944. The bombing of Nijmegen caused severe damage and over 700 casualties. The bombing did not affect the dynamics of collaboration and resistance very much, not as much for instance as the opening of the Western Front in June 1944. The summer of 1944 was stirring, with many confrontations between resisters and their counterparts. In resistance papers, like the Nijmegen based Christofoor, the liberation was debated. Freedom came with the beginning of Operation Market Garden in September 1944, although the Allied effort to conquer the rebuilt bridges of Arnhem and Nijmegen only succeeded in the latter. Nijmegen was liberated, but not free, it stayed a military frontier town until the beginning of 1945. Because of the early liberation, Nijmegen was one of the first Dutch cities in which purges against collaborators took place and where the former resistance and local authorities came to deal with the politics and practices of postwar recuperation. Just like the war itself, the after-war was full of dynamics. It can only be understood by looking at it from a multi-perspective and integrated viewpoint. To conclude: this Phd thesis tells the story of a city in wartime and illustrates what happens when a town is occupied by a regime that wants to implement a new order. People in Nijmegen reacted, opposed, collaborated and accommodated. We can sketch these events and put them in line with the circumstances and changing war theatre, but we cannot always explain them in depth. This Phd-thesis is therefore a framework. It wants to inspire and invite people, researchers and next of kin alike, to fill in the existing gaps. For a better understanding of history in the future.
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