Amsterdam In WWII History You Must Know

The Netherlands went through a lot during the Second World War, between 1940 and 1945. This list contains 5 interesting facts about Amsterdam in WWII and 5 frequently asked questions.

What happened in Amsterdam In WWII?

Amsterdam memorial Second World War
“Never Again Auschwitz” the Auschwitz memorial in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter.

The German occupation of the Netherlands and Amsterdam can be divided into three parts. After the invasion on May 10, 1940 to June 22, 1941, the ‘better than expected occupation’ part took place; Germans implemented a ‘velvet glove’ approach and the economic exploitation remained limited. From June 22, 1941 to June 6, 1944, as the war progressed less and less in Germany’s favour, economic exploitation of the Dutch increased and the occupation became grimmer. The third and final part started on June 6, 1944 and lasted to May 4, 1945. Hunger and shortages culminate during the Hunger Winter. German occupying forces increasingly lose their grip and also become increasingly incalculable. Leaders exert a moderating influence, but destruction is still being wrought. Throughout the German occupation the persecution of Dutch Jews was ever present.

When did Nazi Germany invade Amsterdam?

Amsterdam World War 2 Memorial
The World War 2 memorial on Dam Square, Amsterdam’s main square.

The war started for Amsterdam with the sound of propellor engines on May 10, 1940, around 3:00 am. German bombers flew over Amsterdam on their way to attack Schiphol Airport. But in a sense the war had already begun for Amsterdammers as early as August 1939, with the mobilisation. The Netherlands maintained its neutrality, but the army was put on alert. 75 schools were used to house soldiers. 50,000 inhabitants had to make their homes available to soldiers.

Yearly on the 4th of May, Remembrance day is held on Dam Square in Amsterdam.

Why was Holland neutral in WW2?

Nieuwmarkt Square
Interesting fact: The German World War II army was actually for 80% horse drawn.

At the start of World War 2 the Netherlands was a neutral country like it had been for over a century. This policy had kept them out of the bloody First World War. The Dutch sat on the sidelines as other countries in Europe first experienced slaughter on an industrial scale. The Dutch would only fight when attacked.

Was Amsterdam bombed in WWII?

Was Amsterdam bombed in WWII
Somewhere in the Herengracht there’s still an unexploded WWII bomb. The municipality is aware of this fact.

Amsterdam was first bombed in WWII, on the 11th of May. On the second the day of the invasion a single Junkers Ju 88 bomber dropped four bombs on the centre of Amsterdam at the Herengracht. In total 44 civilians died and 79 were injured. After this incident the next serious bombing of Amsterdam was done by the allied forces. On July 17, 1943 158 civilians were killed and 119 injured when allied bombers accidentally hit residential areas in Amsterdam Noord (North) instead of the intended war industry targets close by.

Why did Germany attack the Netherlands?

Magna Plaza Amsterdam

The Netherlands (and Belgium) were located in a strategic position between Germany and France. The route was logical for both the Germans and allies as fortifications were weak compared to the actual border between France and Germany. The Germans also wanted to turn Europe into an impenetrable fortress. Leaving the Netherlands open for an Allied counter attack was simply out of the question.

1 | Anne Frank: A Name Known Around The World

Anne Frank Family
The Frank family pictured from left to right: Otto, Anne, Edith & Margot.

Anne Frank is the most famous Dutch person in the world, but she was actually born in Germany. Like many German jews her parents decided to leave Germany because of the rising antisemitism and its bad economy. Her world famous diary actually might never have been published had it not been for Miep Gies, who found the diary and handed it to Otto Frank. She later said that if she had read the journal beforehand, she would never have given it but would have destroyed the pages. According to her, everyone who helped hide the Frank family would have faced the Germans because their names were in the book.

2 | Dutch Resistance

Amsterdam in WWII
A statue called “De Dokwerker” (the docker) dedicated to those Amsterdammers that went on strike against the persecution of Dutch Jews.

This is a fact about Amsterdam in WWII that not many people know. On a per capita basis the Netherlands had the most people hiding from the occupying forces. Nor have there been so many worker strikes in any other occupied country. The most famous worker strike was the February Strike in 1941 when the Dutch demonstrated against the persecution of Dutch Jews. This act of public resistance, which was violently struck down, is still remembered every year in Amsterdam. We’ll tell you more about it during our Amsterdam History Tour.

3 | The Bombing Of Rotterdam

Rotterdam in WWII
“The Destroyed City” is a sculpture commemorating the bombing of Rotterdam. The absence of the heart supposedly simbolises to sudden disapearence of the city’s historic center. Picture source

Rotterdam used to have a beautiful historic city centre just like Amsterdam still has today. It was completely destroyed by a German air raid on May 14, 1940 between 13:27 pm and around 13:40 pm. The bombing led to the surrender of Rotterdam the same day and under the threat of bombing other cities, starting with Utrecht, the Netherlands surrendered to the Germans on May 15. Other historical city centres like Amsterdam’s would be spared the horror of Rotterdam.

4 | Homosexuality During World War 2

Homo monument Netherlands
During our Amsterdam History Tour we visit the Gay Monument and tell you about the persecution of homosexuals in German camps.

Unlike in Germany, no people were arrested or prosecuted in the Netherlands for being homosexual. There were cases of Jews and resistance fighters being arrested who were dealt with extra severely after their homosexuality became known.

One of those Gay resistance fighters was anti-fascist Willem Arondoes. Arondoes led a group of resistance fighters that bombed the public records of Amsterdam. The records there were used by the Nazis in the persecution of Dutch Jews. Before being executed Arondoes loudly proclaimed:

“Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards!”

Amsterdam in WWII fact

Cafe ‘t Mandje Zeedijk: Tolerance And Resistance

Cafe t Mandje Zeedijk
Cafe ‘t Mandje in Amsterdam.

This was the first cafe in Amsterdam where regular and homosexual people mingled and partied together. The cafe is located on the Zeedijk, close to the then Jewish quarters. Because it was also located in the Red Light District area German soldiers weren’t allowed to go in the area, because they’d get too distracted. Cafe owner (a lesbian herself) Bet van Beeren hid several jews in the attic of the cafe. Her brother is said to have stored resistance weapons in the basement. Whilst regular German soldiers weren’t allowed in the area higher officers used to actually go for a drink in this cafe! During our Amsterdam Red Light District tour we visit this interesting little cafe.

5 | Dam Square Shooting

Amsterdam Royal Palace Dam Square
Machine-gunfire came from the building standing left of the Royal Palace.

On May 7, 1945, two days after the liberation of the Netherlands people were out celebrating the allied victory on Dam Square, Amsterdam’s main square. Then suddenly around 3:00 pm German soldiers suddenly started opening fire into the big crows of partygoers. The German soldiers were stationed at a corner of Dam Square and fired from the balcony. In total 32 people were killed and 231 injured. A bloody start for a city that regained its freedom. Dam Square is also one of the highlights of the Amsterdam History Tour.

If you’d like to know more about the May 7th shooting incident we recommend this Dam Square Shooting article.

Others also read 10 Amsterdam History Facts and Dam Square Amsterdam

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