(This article was last updated on the 2nd of May, 2018.)
The Dutch tried to remain neutral during the Second World War like they did in World War One but in May 1940 the Germans invaded the Netherlands. The advancing Nazis leveled much of central Rotterdam in a raid designed to force the Dutch to surrender. They obliged.
The Dutch Queen Wilhelmina escaped with her whole family to the United Kingdom. The monarch, who had been key in maintaining Dutch neutrality during the first World War, now found herself in a completely different position & made encouraging announcements to subjects back home via Radio Orange and the BBC.
The Hunger Winter in 1944 – 1945 was a desperate time in Holland. With the failure of the British-led Operation Market Garden the Allies abandoned all efforts to liberate the western parts of the Netherlands. The Allies had already conquered South Limburg, the normal delivery of coal from there completely stopped. At the request of the Dutch government in London the railways were also on strike. This lead to the closure of the gas- and the power plants at the start of October. Amsterdam became cold and dark. The Nazis also stripped the whole country of its food and resources, and mass hunger ensued. Many Dutch had to eat tulip bulbs to survive. In the Netherlands as a whole around 20.000 people died because of the hunger winter. Canadian soldiers finally liberated the Netherlands in May 1945.
On May 7th 1945 – the very same day Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces under Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery – German Forces in Amsterdam started firing into the celebrating crowd of Dutch citizens at the Dam Square right in the heart of Amsterdam.
The brutal act on May 7th 1945, took the lives of 32 innocent civilians. Two hundred and thirty one (231) others were wounded. Amsterdammers tried to hide in long narrow rows behind lantern posts and behind a street organ, showing the complete vulnerability of the unarmed people in the street.
Amsterdam, Dam Square, May 7th 1945. Civilians duck for German bullets.
Now, it’s May 7th 1945. The sun is shining, no wind and the temperature is maybe around 20 degrees Celsius. Thousends of Amsterdammers fell into each others arms that day. Amsterdam was feasting, singing, yelling. The street organ played. Liberation! Freedom! The party on the Dam Square was being monitored by German Marines from the roof of The Grand Club in the corner of Dam Square. From here one the generally accepted explanation goes as follows:
The Grand Club where the German marines were stationed is pictured here on the far right. Picture source: geheugenvannederland.nl
It is claimed that a German soldier standing outside The Grand Club resisted against a member of the Dutch Interior Forces (BS) who wanted to disarm him. This action of the BS went against the general orders of the Allies, who had ruled that the BS should remain aloof. The Allies themselves would disarm every German occupation soldier. Another source claims that at one point two German soldiers were being detained by members of the BS on the corner of Paleisstraat and Spuistraat. They were summoned to hand over their weapons, to which one of them refused. He was shot dead, after which the Germans started shooting from De Groote Club in the direction of the BS’ers who shot the German. From the Rokin and the Nieuwendijk other members of the BS started shooting at the Germans, after which they shot back with all kinds of weapons. The crowd on the Dam fled in panic, with a number of them entering the field of fire or being overrun.
Not one of the German marines was arrested or tried after the shooting took place. Apparently no one wished that this incident on May 7th 1945 was remembered. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the Dutch Interior Forces shouldn’t have tried to disarm German troops in the first place.
After the Second World War, the Netherlands was shattered both economically and spiritually. War trials ensued in which 66.000 were convicted of cooperating with the Nazis and about 900 got the death penalty. Unfortunately, the number of collaborators was much higher and some – like those who disclosed the whereabouts of Anne Frank and her family – never saw justice.
On the 7th of May 2016 a new monument was installed for all the victims of the shootout. the victims, ordinary Amsterdammers who were killed on that day, which should have been a liberation day. All the names of the victims are engraved into separate stones that were placed into the street on Dam Square.