Posted on: May 19, 2015
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263 people shot on Amsterdam Dam Square. Read here what happened on May 7th 1945, just after WWII, on the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered.
(Last updated: 4 May 2021)
The Dutch tried to remain neutral during the Second World War like they did in World War One. But in May 1940, Nazi Germany 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.
Amsterdam, Muntplein, May 1945. A german soldier with a prostitute. (source)
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.
The brutal act on May 7th 1945, took the lives of 32 innocent civilians. 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.
The picture above shows people hiding in slashes and one little girl that did not hide behind the lantern posts. Read the story of this little girl who did not hide here below:
‘My name is Tiny van der Hoek. I was 2.5 years old and I was standing at the ice cream cart on the corner of the Nieuwendijk street and Dam Square where I had just got an ice cream. Immediately the ice cream fell on the ground to my great disappointment… People ran or stood behind something. I saw that from the ‘Groote Club’ (Grand Club). At the time this was the place where German flags were hanging and German soldiers were sitting. They were to blame for not having ice cream anymore so I went there. My mother was left with the ice cream cart.
Walking on Dam Square, towards the Groote Club, between running people, but exactly against the direction that they went, I was already on my way when I was suddenly picked up by a gentleman. He took me in his arms, put his jacket around me, and ran towards Nieuwendijk where I lived at the time.
Two adults trying to safe the little girl on Dam Square.
My mother came back but nowhere there was shelter inside, everything was full and we were refused. That gentleman saw that there was still room under the billiards in that shop. He kicked in a window, my mother crawled inside and took me in and we had shelter under the billiards. That gentleman disappeared towards Dam Square. Was he going to provide more help or find shelter himself? I do not know.
In my memory was always “slashes”. Later, in an amateur video recording made by Bert Haanstra, I understood that those “slash people” behind the lampposts were looking for cover behind each other. During my “mission”, complaining about having no more ice cream, I was so focused on the corner window of the “Groote Club”.
It’s the window I still look at when I am in Amsterdam, that in my memory people on the street were resting. I didn’t realize then that I was walking past injured or dead people, so mesmerised I was to tell those evil people how mean I found them. Fortunately I was picked up and brought to safety. This event on May 7th 1945 is still on my mind and of course it was only later that I understood what was really going on.’ (source)
People running and trying to find a safe place to hide.
Now, it’s May 7th 1945. The sun is shining, no wind and the temperature is maybe around 20 degrees Celsius. Thousands of Dutch fell into each others arms that day. Amsterdam was feasting, singing, yelling. The street organ played. Liberation! Freedom! The party on 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:
German marines were stationed in The Grand Club (Groote Club) on the right. (Source)
It is claimed that a Nazi soldier stood outside The Grand Club and resisted against a member of the Dutch Interior Armed 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 Nazis 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.
Street Organ “Het Snotneusje” (translated: the little snot nose) was brought to Dam Square for the festivities. The organ men brought it in the hopes to make a bit of money.
“People were incredibly happy that day; there was an exuberant mood. During the shooting, people ducked behind that organ. Het Snotneusje received bullets and thus saved people’s lives. The organ has become an iconic image in Amsterdam. There is a huge contrast between that cheerfully playing barrel organ and the misery and chaos of that last shooting.”
‘Het Snotneusje’ before being restored. Source.
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 Armed 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.
Amsterdam, Dam Square, 7 May 1945. Photographer: Jacobus Wicher Hofman.
The 32 deceased victims have been published on the website of the Foundation Memorial for Amsterdam Dam Square Victims May 7th 1945. The names, ages and backgrounds of these victims are briefly explained. Additional video and photo material of this day can be viewed on this website.
On the 7th of May 2016, a new war 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.