Skeletons in Holland’s closet: files on WW2 fascists to be released.
Written by: (Contributed) on 5 March 2023
(Above: Deportation of Dutch Jews)
A decision taken by the Dutch government to finally open files on Nazis and their supporters in Holland during the 1930s and Second World War, has been greeted with mixed reaction. Fears have been raised about long lost and highly incriminating information suddenly entering the public domain. A number of related factors, however, might also be interest and worthy of consideration: information emerging about the Dutch Resistance and foreign policy positions toward South Africa and their colonies including Indonesia, and also, interestingly Australia.
On 1 January 2025 the Dutch government intend opening all government files on the fascist movement in Holland and their collaborators with the German occupation. Holland was occupied by the German military in May, 1940, until liberation in 1945. During the period Dutch fascist leader Anton Mussert met Hitler five times for high-level diplomatic meetings.
His cohort, Rost van Tonningen, likewise, was close to the German Nazi Party and openly anti-Semitic, and was responsible for establishing para-military organisation in 1939 which developed into the Netherlands SS.
Following liberation successive Dutch governments carefully hid their sordid fascist period and files were only available if families of fascists and collaborators gave their permission. The files were considered 'highly sensitive … which like many countries occupied by the Nazis buried the past after the end of World War Two'. (1) Holland quickly moved on to become a model social-democratic political system, and questions about the fascist past were openly discouraged amongst successive generations of Dutch people. By the mid-1970s, for example, the country had also cultivated a strong, 'alternative' image, backed by progressive legislation on a wide range of social and political issues.
The contents of the almost four kilometres long document files, which are being digitalised at the present time, are, therefore, likely to be met with considerable disquiet in some circles in Holland. A representative of the Recognition Working Group, which provides assistance for relatives of collaborators has already stated the organisation is not opposed to the release of the files but 'were worried about the reaction … and were concerned about … the consequences, the bullying, the exclusion, the stigma'. (2)
While the main Dutch Fascist party was established in the early 1930s, it drew heavily upon already existing far-right organisations from the previous decade. By 1933 the fascists had about nine hundred members, which rose steadily to a peak of 101,314 by 1944. (3) They had a further estimated 300,000 supporters, mainly middle-class people who were anti-communist. From May, 1940, the Dutch fascist collaborators together with German occupation military forces, followed four Nazi-led policies, which included:
• Holland was eventually to become part of a greater Germany - the Dutch were regarded as a Nordic race, and were, therefore, to be Germanised, enabling Germany to establish The Great European Economic Raum, whereby German capital and big business would dominate the wider region, including Scandinavia and Belgium. (4)
• Total control of the economy - all opposition to the ruling fascist party was eventually banned.
• A purge of all Jews in Holland - the country had a large Jewish population and during the fascist period an estimated three-quarters were murdered by Nazi sympathisers and collaborators in the police and civil service.
• A purge of all 'enemies of the state' - the ruling fascist party introduced racial / ethnic policies, with other groups being regarded as not racially pure, together with those regarded as subversive. (5)
There was, however, much opposition to the German occupation; Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Royal family fled to London in 1940, and were responsible for some opposition. Other resistance, however, was organised by more progressive forces. Studies noted that 'Communists, underground trade union cells and action committees were the organisers and leaders of actions undertaken by industrial workers. Strikes and sabotage caused great damage to the military potential of the Nazis and fascists'. (6)
Early in the period of the German occupation Dutch opposition figures organised a strike across Holland of 300,000 supporters. (7) Amongst other numerous examples, a Dutch railway workers strike in September 1944, shut most of the country down. (8) It is also important to note the Dutch Resistance movement produced an estimated 1,200 underground newspapers, publicising the anti-fascist struggle. (9)
Following the liberation of Holland from the fascists, Mussert was convicted of treason and executed, van Tonningen committed suicide before being tried. Only 1,900 of their supporters were jailed for more than ten years, and many escaped without notice back into civil society to live quietly, distancing themselves from their fascist past identities. (10)
The opening of the files in Holland in January 2025 may well provide a great deal of further information about the role of the Dutch resistance during the period, from official police and government sources, which will be important for future generations of historians to assess and evaluate and then place in a more meaningful and appropriate context.
Further foreign policy factors, may also be worth noting: Holland had a major stake in South Africa, with a large white supremacist population which had settled in the strategically-placed country centuries before. To what extent Dutch fascists operated in South Africa, during the period, may well cause some official histories to eventually be re-written: the Dutch competed for political influence, with other ethnic groupings in South Africa, including those of British and German descent. The infighting became intense during the Second World War period, the legacy lingered for decades.
Elsewhere, in Dutch colonies such as Indonesia, it will be important to establish the role of the fascists: the US-backed military coup in 1965 drew heavily upon the mobilisation of far-right political forces which opposed the left-wing Sukarno presidential administration. (11) The rising military forces around the Suharto grouping, had, for example, long standing links from the former Imperial Japanese fascist occupation forces during the Second World War. Many of the government policies pursued from 1965 for over three decades, were, likewise, reminiscent of fascist political standpoints together with widespread brutality and atrocities; the Suharto presidential administration openly targeted Chinese ethnic groupings and murdered several million Communists and their supporters.
And in conclusion, the opening of the files by the Dutch government may provide further insights into the racial intolerance of right-wing popularist movements in Holland which have emerged since the 1990s. Are they, for example, merely a forerunner of much more sinister proto-Nazi organisational forces, with direct lineage to earlier fascist groupings?
Studies of the re-emergence of the far-right in recent decades have noted a general tendency for them to re-package former policies, so that 'as war memories dimmed and newspaper accounts of collaboration faded, the fascists and their allies re-emerged cloaked in a new mantle of respectability … they stepped forward to continue their political organising with goals unchanged and slogans slightly re-packaged to suit domestic sensibilities'. (12)
Using the general tendency as a starting point, an interesting link with Australia, through the Dutch fascist movement, has appeared. It has carried all the hallmarks of respectability, while resting upon fascist and far-right elements.
Official Dutch affiliates to the notorious World Anti-Communist League / World League for Freedom and Democracy (WACL / WLFD), have included St. C. de Berkelaar, a former SS Officer and president of Sint Martinsfonds, an organisation of three to four hundred former Dutch SS soldiers. (13) The WACL / WLFD organisation, which was established during the earliest days of the previous Cold War, is composed of openly fascist and far-right political organisations. They, andFor anyone interested in the role of Dutch and German Nazis in the murder of over 100,000 Dutch Jews in Nazi concentration camps, we highly recommend Jacob Presser’s Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry (Profile Books Ltd, UK).their cohorts, however, had no difficulty rubbing shoulders with leading Australian Liberal Party members, including John Howard, at their 22nd Annual Conference in Brisbane in 1990, after being provided with visas to enter Australia. (14)
The position of John Howard, interestingly, has also been brought into question elsewhere: he stands accused of being a 'powerful supporter of the Right faction, willing to intervene at key moments and block democratic reform when it suited the faction's interests', far from the media image conveyed of a figure of the political centre. (15)
(N.B. For anyone interested in the role of Dutch and German Nazis in the murder of over 100,000 Dutch Jews in Nazi concentration camps, we highly recommend Jacob Presser’s Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry (Profile Books Ltd, UK).
1. Dutch open files on Nazi help, Australian, 20 February 2023.
3. Wikipedia: Dutch Fascist Party.
4. The Resistance Movement in Europe during the Second World War, (A collection of conference papers from the 16th International Congress of Historical Sciences), Stuttgart, August 1985, (Moscow, 1985), page 19.
5. See: Dutch citizens resist Nazi occupation, 1940-45, Global Non-violent Action Database.
6. Resistance Movement in Europe, op.cit., page 124.
8. Ibid., page 38.
10. Australian, op.cit., 20 February 2023.
11. See: The Jakarta Method, Vincent Blevins, (New York, 2020).
12. Old Nazis, the New Right and the Republican Party, Russ Bellant, (Boston, 1988), page xi; and, Not your father's far right, Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2014.
13. Inside the League, Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson, New York, 1986), Appendix One, The League List, pp. 275-85,
14. See: WACL/WLFD, wikipedia, 12 December 2020, where John Howard was named as a participant together with 120 delegates representing fifty countries, and, WACL, 22nd Conference, Brisbane, official website: 9 January 1990.
15. Veteran Lib slam's party's far Right, Review, The Liberals: The NSW Division, 1945-2000, by Ian Hancock, Australian, 24 September 2007.
Print Version - new window Email article