Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sunday 10 May

Sixty-nine years ago today, the armed forces of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany crossed the border with the Netherlands and proceeded to invade the country. The major rivers did not prove too much of a hindrance, in spite of some of the bridges being dynamited, and within a day or so, the German invasion force was threatening the Dutch heartland from the south. Stiff resistance at the eastern line, east of Utrecht, meant that the advance was halted there - temporarily. The famous German airforce, the Luftwaffe, suffered grievously at the hands of the Dutch air defences, both from the ground and in the air. On May 14th, the Luftwaffe carried out a bombardment of the port of Rotterdam, setting the centre of the city ablaze. Threats with similar actions against the other three largest cities in the west, Utrecht, The Hague and Amsterdam, forced the surrender of the Dutch. They had managed to eliminate a third of the Luftwaffe. Queen Wilhelmina had crossed the North Sea to England, and the Germans started to impose their reign.

Although initially things did not appear too bad, they very soon became bad. Restrictions on Jews were gradually imposed, and in February 1941, a strike was called in Amsterdam. This was put down brutally, leaving nine dead. In the following years, more than 100,000 Jews were deported to the concentration camps and gas chambers in Germany and occupied Europe.

In 1945, the Nazis finally surrendered. By then 20,000 had died of starvation in the last winter of the war. The south of Holland had been liberated, but not the area north of the great rivers. There, a railway strike was in operation, meaning that all transport was halted. Massive food shortages ensued, which saw people reduced to eating flower bulbs. Humanitarian food drops were organised, but that did not amount to much. Other people walked 100 miles to the east to buy food with their jewellery, at extortionate prices.

May 10th is not observed or remembered - it was a chance comment of my father, who said the weather today is much like it was 69 years ago, that reminded me.

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