Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
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Chapter 6 – THE NETHERLANDS
Under the Banner of the Queen of Orange
Doubt and Vacillation – De Geer’s Desertion–The Alliance Triumphs – In Quest of a Far Eastern Alliance – Indonesia: Success and Failure – Simultaneous Relations with Moscow and the Vatican: A Rare Combination – Protestants and Catholics – Facing the "Big Three" Concept – The German Neighbour–Territorial Compensation? – Bewilderment at Home – Under the Cloak of Secrecy – The Dilemmas of Liberation
Two centuries of Dutch neutrality ended on May 10, 1940, when Hitler launched his offensive from the North Sea to the Swiss border. Dutch thinking on neutrality was based on the premise that the Royal Navy could not protect Holland against invasion by two continental powers – France and Germany – while those could not protect the Dutch overseas possessions from British naval supremacy. Holland had succeeded in escaping involvement in the First World War, and prior to the invasion The Hague refused to contemplate any mutual defence discussions – even tentative or hypothetical ones – with London and Paris so as not to compromise its strict neutrality. But since September 1939 there had been repeated alarms, including the “Venlo incident” in which two British officers, trying to ascertain Hitler’s internal prospects of survival from their German counterparts, were abducted from Dutch territory by German agents. Hitler invaded Holland several months later but failed in his design to impose on the Netherlands a Danish-style occupation when the Queen and the government escaped to Britain to continue the struggle for the liberation of their homeland.
Doubt and Vacillation [top]Upon arrival in London on May 13, 1940, Queen Wilhelmina told King George VI that when she left The Hague she had no intention of leaving Holland, but force of circumstances had obliged her to take this course. Invited to announce her escape and safe arrival in Britain, the Queen broadcast from Buckingham Palace in the last hours of Dutch military resistance, stating that her government did not wish to capitulate. “Thereby the Netherlands territories which remain in Dutch hands, as well in the East and West Indies, continue to be a sovereign State which will continue to raise its voice and to assert its position, especially in the joint deliberations of the Allies as a fully recognised member of the community of states.” Explaining her own and her government’s departure into exile, the Queen declared: “After it had become absolutely certain that we and our ministers could no longer continue freely to exercise state authority in the Netherlands, the hard but necessary decision had to be taken of removing the seat of the government abroad for as long as will prove inevitable, with the intention of returning immediately to the Netherlands as soon as this is at all possible.”
Eleven days after the improvised landing on the south coast of Britain of Foreign Minister van Kleffens and Minister for the Colonies Welters, who were “to provide the nucleus of a Dutch Government in the event of Holland being completely overrun,” Lord Halifax reported to the Cabinet that Van Kleffens had called on him asking “whether His Majesty’s Government would approve the establishment of the Netherlands government in London where it had obtained suitable offices and accommodation.” The Foreign Secretary expressed his agreement subject to the approval of the War Cabinet.
Already on May 15 Halifax had read out to the Cabinet General Wilkenman’s proclamation announcing the Dutch army’s surrender of Utrecht and Rotterdam in order “to save further loss of life.” Halifax reported that he made it clear to Van Kleffens that it was essential that the state of war should continue between the Netherlands and Germany and that he hoped that “there would be in no circumstances any question of the Netherlands – either through their Commander-in-Chief or through the government – entering upon negotiations with the Germans. He hoped that the position was merely that the Netherlands had stopped military operations in certain areas and would remain passive under protest.” The Dutch Foreign Minister confirmed that this was in fact the position.
This undertaking was before the Dutch government when it met for the first time on May 19 in the Dutch Reformed Church in the City of London. However, in these early weeks following the upheaval of their sudden departure for London most members of the government felt lost and demoralized, and none seems to have foreseen that the controversy on the undertaking not to negotiate with the Germans would lead within weeks to the resignation of Prime Minister De Geer and to his ultimate defection. Priority was given to economic problems and to the coordination of policies between the government in exile in London and the authorities in Batavia who were becoming increasingly aware of Japan’s threat to the Dutch East Indies. In the economic and financial field, particularly, the aim was to ensure that Dutch assets outside the occupied motherland be prevented from falling into German hands, measures which amounted to the government in exile establishing itself as the trustee of all public and private Dutch assets abroad. This followed a measure taken on the eve of the invasion whereby Dutch companies were encouraged to transfer their headquarters to the Dutch colonies. This created delicate problems with neutral countries, and even in Britain considerations of economic warfare were advanced to delay recognition of the validity of the Dutch royal decrees.
At this early stage the co-habitation in London with the British government presented certain psychological difficulties that the Dutch government had to overcome. With the Dutch colonial possessions in the Far East and the Caribbean still free, the Dutch government considered its sovereignty intact despite the occupation of the European part of the realm. This led to an unrealistic insistence within the Dutch Cabinet on adopting policies “independent” from those of Britain. This attitude was illustrated by Dutch reluctance to break off relations with Italy when it entered the war and with Vichy France. Significant in this respect were the instructions sent by Van Kleffens to the Dutch envoy at Vichy after the Royal Navy’s action against the French Mediterranean fleet at Mers-el-Kabir; Algeria, Van Kleffens directed him to explain to the Pétain authorities that “the Netherlands should not be judged alike with England and that Franco-British relations were defined by other factors than Franco-Dutch relations.”
This desire for independent action was pushed to the point of envisaging the transfer of the government from London to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, an idea opposed by Queen Wilhelmina. More than that, in the face of British hesitation to extend the imperial defence umbrella in the Pacific to the Dutch East Indies, the Dutch ministers considered that in the case of a Japanese-British war in the Pacific Holland should remain neutral or non-belligerent. The call not to “run after the British” was heard more than once in Dutch Cabinet deliberations. In fact some Dutch ministers still lived with memories of the British-Dutch wars of past centuries and viewed Britain as a commercial competitor.
Suspicion of Britain’s expansionist ambitions was aroused when British military units landed in Dutch territory in the Caribbean to prevent the take-over of airports by the Axis, a suspicion later directed at the Americans when they took over that task from the British. It was not easy for the Dutch ministers to abandon overnight their basic principle, maintained until Holland was invaded, that they should not become involved in a war between the great powers. To them this fully justified their policy of neutrality. But it did not prevent some of them from feeling resentful that at the critical moment Britain and France had been caught unprepared and had been unable to help the Dutch effectively.
Correspondingly, there was some bitterness on the British side over the Dutch attitude during the “phoney war.” The British blockade of Europe which was so vital to the pursuit of the war was then widely seen in neutral Holland as a threat to Dutch economic survival, and discussions between the British and the Dutch in The Hague often ended in deadlock. At the Board of Trade in London in the summer of 1940 some felt that too many people from “Unilever” and “Royal Dutch,” the large Dutch companies now operating from Britain, were involved in the purchase of vital raw materials. Resentment was also felt in Dutch circles about unequal treatment of Dutch shipping and insufficient coverage in the British press of the tragedy that had just befallen the people of the Netherlands.
Failure to detach the Dutch leaders from their pre-war policy of neutrality gave rise to acrimonious comment on the part of British diplomats. Ambassador Bland in The Hague considered Prime Minister de Geer’s 1940 New Year’s broadcast as giving “a distinct impression that he, for his part, was ready to support peace at any price.” And at the Foreign Office an exasperated Sir Roger Makins noted on the Ambassador’s despatch that a people “who select as leaders in an emergency M. de Geer and M. van Kleffens deserve to be overrun and enslaved.” The following day (January 20), Churchill broadcast his famous warning to neutrals who “bow humbly and in fear to German threats of violence.”
For months the Dutch government in exile had the reputation of being “defeatist.” The impression started to take form after De Geer called on Churchill soon after his arrival in England, and, to the latter’s amazement, recommended to the British leader, who only a few days earlier had called for resistance until victory, that he try to achieve peace by compromise – another “Peace of Amiens” as he expressed it. Van Kleffens and the Dutch Ambassador in London, Michiels van Verduynen, were stunned by De Geer’s unforeseen appeal. The ensuing mistrust shown in leading British circles vis-à-vis the real intentions of the Dutch ministers lasted well beyond De Geer’s resignation until his successor, P. S. Gerbrandy, established himself as the war leader of the Netherlands. The question was raised unexpectedly at a high level as late as September 1941, when the South African Prime Minister, General Smuts, reported to Churchill certain information he had obtained from “a well-informed source” about “defeatism” within the Dutch Cabinet in London.
In his message Smuts stated that according to his informant “the present Dutch Cabinet in London is very defeatist in outlook and is more inclined to avoid future trouble with Germany than to cooperate in our war effort; that they are more bent on asserting their independence of Britain than giving assistance.” As to Queen Wilhelmina, he stressed, she is “heart and soul with the British war effort,” “but the danger is that a defeatist Cabinet may weaken her will to give support to our cause.” Smuts added: “It may be unwise to let the Queen see that suspicions are entertained of some of her advisers, but steps may have to be taken to make her unresponsive to such influences.”
The reply to Smuts drafted at the Foreign Office by Sir Roger Makins included a passage stating that Smuts’s information “appears to be based on a not especially well-informed gossip.” It went on to provide an authoritative reply to the insinuations, couched in the following words:
"We have no evidence whatever that such defeatism exists. There were some doubts about the late Prime Minister, but he disappeared, and also about a former Minister of Defense, but he has resigned. The only other minister against whom the slightest suspicion has existed is Mr. Welters, the Minister for the Colonies. Considering the precarious position of the Dutch in the Netherlands East Indies and the absence of categorical assurances of support of the Americans and ourselves, some degree of pessimism would be understandable. But in fact the Netherlands Government have adopted an extremely firm line with the Japanese and have shown much willingness to cooperate with us over the drastic economic action which we have recently taken against Japan." There were objective reasons which could explain the heart-searchings of the Dutch Ministers during the fateful summer of 1940. The Battle of Britain was still undecided, and Britain faced a possible invasion; France had been defeated and chosen a policy of “collaboration” with Germany; the King of the Belgians had not followed Queen Wilhelmina to London. Some ministers saw in these events reasons for a possible compromise with Germany. News from Holland revealed that public opinion had been caught completely unprepared and was perplexed by the sudden departure of their government. Many thought the Queen and the government had abandoned them. They were cut off from the rest of the world and subjected to intense propaganda by the occupation authorities and the Dutch Nazis who repeated that a new era had come to Europe – a theme taken up, though in a different sense, by such a highly respected statesman as former Prime Minister Hendrick Colijn, who had remained in Holland.
In a pamphlet entitled On the Borderland of Two Worlds, Colijn wrote “we have to count with a long period of German supremacy,” an opinion he later regretted but which many in Holland shared at the time. Finally there were circles within the Dutch community in Britain who questioned the legality of transferring the government overseas. In support of this claim they cited a prohibition in the Constitution of the Kingdom, Article 21, which stated that in “no circumstances would the seat of the government be transferred outside the Kingdom.” While this article was designed to prevent a possible loss of independence through the marriage of a Dutch princess to a foreign prince, some felt uneasiness, legally speaking, as to whether the present emergency in which the Kingdom found itself justified such a transfer. The issue was even raised before the British courts in 1941, when the right of the Dutch government in exile to call up its citizens abroad was contested. The Court confirmed this right, arguing that the government had been established and was functioning in Britain at the “invitation” of the Government of the United Kingdom and with the agreement of the Queen of the Netherlands in order to fulfil all functions of the sovereign government of the Netherlands.
De Geer’s Desertion – The Alliance Triumphs [top]All these considerations were at the back of De Geer’s mind when in the Council of Ministers on July 11 he first formally suggested that the government approach Germany, without the knowledge of the British government, in order to explore prospects of a peace settlement. Negotiations would be carried on via Stockholm, where Bernard Presman, President of KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, was known to be trying to establish contacts with the Germans. De Geer was unable to foresee the future evolution of the world conflict and viewed Nazi Germany as a shield holding back Bolshevik Russia from Europe. Crucial discussions in the Dutch Cabinet on De Geer’s proposal continued until the eve of the Battle of Britain, when De Geer tendered his resignation on August 24.
These deliberations represented a turning point in the position of the Dutch government and coincided with Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag on July 19 in which he admitted that the struggle was not finished and that Germany still faced a long effort. He attempted to raise morale in Germany by implying that he had offered Britain a reasonable end to the fighting, but Lord Halifax had rejected the Führer’s offer and declared that Britain would continue to fight for herself and others until freedom was assured for all.
Premier De Geer now sought to link his original proposal of contacts with Germany to Hitler’s Reichstag speech, adding a proviso that Britain be informed only of a possible Dutch approach to Germany. Addressing the Council of Ministers on July 22, he hinted for the first time that rejection of his proposal would ultimately result in his resignation. He continued to defend what he called “the Netherlands’ right to a separate peace settlement.” At the following meeting on July 24, Minister of Defence Dyxhoorn pointed out that such a step would be viewed by Great Britain as an approach and consequently that prior consultation with the British Government was required. While De Geer repeated his opposition to contacting the British Government, the Council decided that Van Kleffens would consult Halifax on whether “the Netherlands’ assistance in initiating negotiation would be desired by Great Britain.” This remained the formula that replaced one which referred to a “request for information on peace terms for the Netherlands.”
Symptomatic of those confusing days was the attitude of Foreign Minister van Kleffens who, while opposing Prime Minister De Geer’s defeatist position, appeared to fluctuate in his opinions. On July 18 in his Memo to the Cabinet on Hitler’s plan for a supra-national New Order in Europe under German leadership, with internal autonomy provided for member states and Britain to be excluded, he spoke of uncertainty as to whether continental states like the Netherlands could remain outside. He stressed the importance of the continued existence of small states when he called attention to doubts in certain circles in Britain about the viability of small states. He therefore urged that the importance of the continued existence of small states be explained to the British government. At the same time he expressed deep distrust of Britain when he envisaged the “risk” of a deal whereby Britain would abandon the Netherlands to Germany and annex the Netherlands colonies. However, two days later, on July 20, in a message to Queen Wilhelmina, Van Kleffens stated that he tended to believe the Führer’s assertion of friendship towards Britain to be sincere to some extent, and attached importance to his claim that it was not Germany’s intention to dominate the whole continent. Van Kleffens deemed this the right moment to explain to Halifax the importance for Britain of the independence of the Netherlands.
The British answers to the Dutch requests for information regarding possible peace feelers with Germany were clear-cut. Halifax told Van Kleffens that in his opinion the time was “unpropitious” for an initiative of the Netherlands and gave him the assurance that no action by Britain would be taken without prior consultation.
Before the Council of Ministers had an opportunity to examine the views of the British government, Queen Wilhelmina took matters in hand on July 28 by providing striking and vigorous leadership to a government that was losing heart. Inaugurating the Dutch broadcasts from London of Radio Oranje, she stated that the war was a struggle between good and evil and “had to be fought to a finish.” She expressed her confidence that it would be won in the end and called on all Dutchmen to continue fighting.
Finally, Gerbrandy won the upper hand in the Cabinet with the full support of the Queen. De Geer resigned on September 2 and was refused the Ministry of Finance which he wished to retain. Wilhelmina and Gerbrandy insisted on a clear break with the period of vacillation.
The British authorities were well aware of the divergence of opinions within the Dutch government, and, except for contacts between Lord Halifax and Foreign Minister van Kleffens, kept aloof from the Dutch inner struggle. In the last days of De Geer’s Premiership the Foreign Office obtained information about the latter’s personal involvement in what amounted to disloyal activity. Professor Huizinga of the Netherlands Press Department reported the anxiety caused among his colleagues by De Geer instructing them not to be “too irritating towards the Germans,” and to eliminate a passage from a text expressing complete confidence in Britain’s victory. It was not desirable, he had stated, for the Dutch government to link itself too closely with Great Britain. No wonder that the report announcing De Geer’s resignation circulated at the Foreign Office and initialled by the three top officials – Sargent, Strang and Cadogan – was marked “Excellent news.”
This resignation was to have an epilogue: De Geer’s defection. On February 6, 1941, the Dutch government issued a communiqué in London stating that it had learned “with a profound sense of indignation that, notwithstanding solemn assurances given to the contrary,” ex-Prime Minister De Geer had left Lisbon for the enemy-occupied part of the Kingdom in Europe. De Geer had been on his way to the Dutch East Indies, where he had been entrusted with a mission on behalf of the government. The statement added that the government considered the former Prime Minister’s action “as a breach of loyalty and as an act detrimental to the national interest.” The statement concluded, that “this unfortunate incident can in no way be interpreted as an indication of any change in the firm determination of the Royal Netherlands Government to continue the war against Germany on the side of their British Ally until ultimate victory.”
The Dutch and British information services coordinated the release of the news of De Geer’s desertion. Both agreed that only the Dutch Government should express strong disapproval of the former Prime Minister’s action, that the BBC should not mention it unless it was publicised by the Germans as a propaganda stunt, and that the British press should emphasize his senility and homesickness, avoiding strong criticism.
The alliance between Britain and the Netherlands had triumphed.
In Quest of a Far Eastern Alliance [top]The future of the Netherlands overseas territories was a source of anxiety throughout the Dutch government’s stay in London. The government’s first preoccupation was to secure allies in order to defend the territories later, and, after the occupation of the Dutch East Indies by Japan, to ensure that Dutch sovereignty would be re-established after the war within the framework of a reconstructed Netherlands Commonwealth. In both these efforts the Dutch government was fighting a losing battle.
The defence of the Dutch West Indies became an inter-allied problem the moment Holland was invaded. German naval forces were known to be active in the Caribbean, and in the few weeks before Hitler’s victory in Western Europe long-planned Anglo-French plans to protect the oil refineries and bauxite mines of Surinam were put into operation when French troops landed in Aruba on May 11 and British troops in Cura_ao the following day. It was made clear at the time that France and Britain had acted in response to a request from the Netherlands to maintain security under Dutch authority and that there was no question of an “occupation” of these territories or a change in their status. When the French troops were withdrawn, under orders from Vichy, and later the British units, too, withdrew, the United States took over the protection of the Dutch Caribbean possessions; this was somewhat to the displeasure of the Dutch, who would have preferred an Anglo-American presence so as to avoid creating the impression of an American annexation.
In Asia the Japanese threat to the Dutch East Indies was evident. Negotiations held in Batavia during the summer of 1940 with a high-ranking Japanese delegation soon revealed that what Japan actually wanted was that the Dutch East Indies should join the “Great Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” the catch phrase of Japanese expansionism. The Dutch authorities had no illusions as to the real aims of Japan, the more so since one of the Japanese negotiators had openly declared that the Dutch had always oppressed the native population of the Dutch East Indies. Nevertheless these protracted negotiations continued as trade talks. The Dutch aim was to gain time until basic decisions on Pacific policy were reached by the Americans and the British.
Before clearing the ground for the defence of the Dutch East Indies, the Netherlands government had to clarify two issues. The first was dealt with by Queen Wilhelmina in her declaration of July 28, 1940, that the Netherlands would fight the war “to the finish,” thus putting an end to the government’s hesitation. The second clarification was Gerbrandy’s message on October 19 to all Dutch diplomatic and consular missions informing them that national interests demanded that the seat of the government remain in Great Britain, adding that in no way would this restrict its freedom of action. The message stated significantly that the Netherlands’ interests could only be served by the final victory of Great Britain. “Defeatism” was tantamount to undermining government policy.
The Dutch government in London and the authorities in Batavia were agreed on one thing, namely that the Netherlands East Indies would be defended, whether they received Allied military assistance or not. This was made clear in both Washington and London.
In leading Dutch circles opinion was divided as to the effectiveness of possible British assistance in the case of a Japanese attack on the East Indies. On October 19, 1940, Van Kleffens wrote to Queen Wilhelmina: “British solidarity is only of relative significance, since the British Empire has no armed forces of sufficient strength at its disposal in the region.” However, some of his advisers on colonial policy supported Admiral Furstner’s view, namely: “We stand or fall with the British Empire.” There was also divided opinion as to what policy the Netherlands government should adopt in the event of war between Britain and Japan, without the Dutch East Indies becoming directly involved, and in the absence of any commitment from Britain to participate in their defence. Both neutrality and non-belligerency had their supporters in the Dutch camp.
The Netherlands government had to tread a long and thorny path in quest of a British alliance in the Far East until finally, on December 5, 1941, forty-eight hours before Pearl Harbour, Eden informed the Dutch authorities that Britain “unconditionally agreed” to mutual assistance in the event of an attack. The subsequent events were so precipitated that this agreement was never recorded in writing. It followed on Roosevelt’s remark the day before that, in the case of a direct attack against the British and the Dutch, “we should obviously be in it together.”
In the order of three priorities on the agenda of Britain’s war strategy – Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and the Pacific – the Dutch East Indies belonged to the third category. It was in the light of this strategic conception that the British government refrained from giving in to Dutch pressure to extend the Anglo-Dutch alliance to the Far East for over a year. Since their earliest days in London, Van Kleffens and his colleagues had kept repeating to their British counterparts that a Japanese attack on Singapore would “inevitably” involve the Dutch East Indies. The question of an assurance of British assistance to the Dutch in such an event was discussed by the British Chiefs of Staff on August 5, 1940. The conclusion reached was that Britain should not enter into binding obligations in the Far East without American support. In later deliberations the Chiefs of Staff consistently decided to leave the issue open. Admiral Dudley Pound declared to the Cabinet: “If we landed ourselves in war with Japan it would become not easier but much harder to defeat Germany and thereafter to restore Holland.”
Dutch circles considered Britain’s attitude “evasive” and there were signs of impatience with the British position in both London and Batavia. Significantly, in late August 1940 draft instructions were prepared by Dutch authorities in London for the Governor-General in Batavia in the event of war between Great Britain and Japan. They were based on the proclamation of neutrality issued in The Hague on September 3, 1939. Non-belligerency was forecast in another draft, to which a memorandum was annexed, explaining that the object of non-belligerency was to prevent the premature and unnecessary spread of hostilities to the Dutch East Indies. The draft also restricted cooperation with the British Navy to action against German ships and banned British naval operations within the territorial waters of the Netherlands East Indies.
The risk of letting things drift increased. It was at this stage that Lord Halifax suggested that the Dutch government assign officers to exchange military information in Singapore. To clarify the scope of the intended discussions, the British Foreign Secretary added: “It would be clearly understood that these exchanges would involve no formal commitments of a political or military nature and they would be confined to technical discussions in regard to a hypothetical situation.” The British were hesitant lest their offer exceed their intentions, while the Dutch hesitated lest such talks, if revealed, provoke the Japanese. Yet the Dutch government agreed “to a confidential exchange of data” with the British Admiral in Singapore. These exchanges resulted in what became known as ADA – the Anglo-Dutch-Australian Agreement (later expanded to ABDA, when the Americans joined the talks) under which the Dutch East Indian forces were assigned the task of holding “the gateway into the Indian Ocean.” A scheme was drawn up providing for “full cooperation,” but not until it came to war.
The Dutch government at that time sought support from all possible quarters. Van Kleffens during his mission to the Dutch East Indies also visited Australia. Particularly interesting were the close relations that developed with the Free French. These took shape in the autumn of 1940, after the Dutch became disillusioned with the Vichy Regime and after the occupation of Tonkin and other parts of French Indo-China by the Japanese had created a link of solidarity between the two colonial powers in South East Asia. On October 18, 1940, General de Gaulle, writing from “French territory free from enemy control,” i.e., Brazzaville, in Equatorial Africa, sent Premier Gerbrandy a message expressing faith in final victory. Gerbrandy answered in a similar vein. Contacts continued between the Dutch government and the Free French. At the height of the Japanese threat, after the collapse of the Dutch-Japanese negotiations, Van Kleffens called on General de Gaulle and informed him that Queen Wilhelmina would be happy to receive him; he also suggested a visit of Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu, Free French High Commissioner in the Pacific, to Batavia.
Anthony Eden repeatedly brought to the attention of the War Cabinet the Dutch request for a political commitment to assist the Dutch East Indies in the event of a Japanese attack and urged ratification of the ADA agreement. Urgency was stressed following the collapse of the Dutch-Japanese talks in mid-July, and Eden stated that, in the absence of a British response, relations with the Dutch were becoming “difficult.” As a result he was authorized to make an oral statement in which he declared that the British government already assumed the duty of safeguarding and restoring the possessions and rights of the Netherlands to the best of their ability during war and at peace. It followed therefore that an attack upon the Netherlands East Indies would lead them to do the utmost in their power to this end, with the qualification, however, that the British government must “remain sole judge of what action or military measures on their part were practicable and likely to achieve the common purpose.”
Throughout July 1941, Eden repeatedly brought up the issue of the defence of the Dutch East Indies with all concerned. He laid stress on the argument that both New Zealand and Australia were now insisting on an assurance to the Dutch government regarding assistance to the Dutch East Indies, “irrespective of the attitude of the United States which was inhibited by the Constitution.” In an earlier memorandum to the Defence Committee Eden had stressed Britain’s “vital need” to secure “communications with Australia and New Zealand and [that] our obligations in this respect to the two Dominions would make it impossible to stand by and see the Dutch East Indies overrun.”
In October 1941, despite continued hesitations on the part of the Chiefs of Staff, Churchill supported Eden’s suggestion of a formal defence agreement with the Dutch. The ice was broken. Roosevelt’s hint that if the Dutch East Indies were attacked “we would obviously be in it together” found an echo in London. This confirmed what Van Kleffens had told De Gaulle a month earlier: “Roosevelt se découvrira au dernier moment” (Roosevelt will reveal himself at the last moment). In fact, on the Prince of Wales, during the Atlantic Charter meeting in August 1941, Roosevelt was willing to consider “parallel declarations” by the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands “designed to restrain Japan”; some texts were drafted by Cadogan, but there matters remaine. However, when the blow fell at Pearl Harbour in the early hours of December 7, 1941, things suddenly became clear to all concerned.
Home policy considerations were also taken into account by the Dutch Council of Ministers in London when assessing the state of mind of their people under Nazi occupation. Most Dutch political parties had had an anti-Communist platform, while the Dutch Communist party, following the Comintern line laid down after the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreements, had campaigned violently against both “British and German imperialisms.” The Communists joined the resistance movement against the occupation forces and during the “February days” of 1941 were prime movers in the historic demonstrations against the mass arrests of Jews in which the vast majority of Amsterdam’s population participated.
It was against this background that the Dutch government in exile was suddenly called upon to consider establishing relations with the Soviet Union, which had now joined in fighting the same battle against Germany but which until recently it had considered “evil.” It was no wonder, then, that it was only on June 24, forty-eight hours after Churchill’s historic broadcast to the USSR of June 22, 1941, the day of Hitler’s invasion, that Queen Wilhelmina announced that the Netherlands would “fight side by side with the peoples of Soviet Russia.”
The Queen’s broadcast followed a meeting of the Council of Ministers held the same day (June 24) which decided that the Queen’s speech on the “war between Germany and the USSR” should include a passage on the rejection of Bolshevism.”
That same evening Queen Wilhelmina declared on Radio Oranje that “while Russia was under attack today, tomorrow it will be Britain and the USA, the mighty bulwarks of our civilization and of the principles that are sacred to us. For this reason we shall also fight side by side with the peoples of Soviet Russia, wherever circumstances may demand. We shall do this without denying our views of Bolshevism – for we must never forget that we reject the principles and practices of Bolshevism unreservedly.”
Indonesia: Success and Failure [top]On December 6, 1942, a year after Pearl Harbour and six months after the Netherlands Far Eastern navy under Admiral Helfrich had fought and lost the battle of the Sea of Java (February 27–March 1), Queen Wilhelmina broadcast from London an historic call for the transformation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its overseas territories into a Commonwealth based “on the solid foundations of complete partnership.” By then the whole of the Dutch East Indies were in Japanese hands.
The Queen’s broadcast represented a major pronouncement on post-war policy. Declaring that the future “partnership” would be operative after liberation, and after consultation on “the reconstruction of the Kingdom,” the Queen added that it would represent “the consummation of all that has been developed in the past.”
On the subject of a post-war Imperial Conference the Queen said: “I visualize, without anticipating the recommendations of the future conference that they will be directed towards a Commonwealth in which the Netherlands, Indonesia, Surinam and Cura_ao will participate with complete self-reliance and freedom of conduct regarding its internal affairs” and “with readiness to render international assistance ... there will be no room for discrimination on grounds of race or nationality.”
The policy enunciated by the Queen was primarily meant for the inhabitants of the Netherlands’ overseas possessions who were subjected to intense Japanese and Nazi propaganda under the slogan “Asia for the Asians.” It was also meant for the people at home in occupied Holland, who were constantly being told by the Dutch Nazis that the government in London had simply handed over the Dutch colonies to Britain and America. But this first pronouncement by the Dutch government on future post-war policies relating to the colonial issue was also designed specifically to counter growing anti-colonialist feelings in American public opinion. It was made after the proclamation of Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” and “sovereign rights and self-government” had been included in the Atlantic Charter as the “right of all peoples” and had been approved by the Netherlands together with the other Allies at the St. James’s Palace conference of September 1941.
American public opinion tended to attribute the speedy defeat of the British, French and Dutch colonial forces in South East Asia by the Japanese to the very limited self-administration granted to the populations of the territories concerned. By comparison, American commentators attributed the success of General MacArthur’s prolonged resistance on the island of Bataan in the Philippines to the full independence the United States had granted to the Republic. This, it was claimed, inspired the patriotism and loyalty of the native troops fighting for “their” country. Leading Americans campaigned to transform the Pacific war into a war of liberation of the Asian peoples.
Vrij Nederland, the semi-official Dutch newspaper published in London, first commented on the Queen’s speech on December 12, 1942, as the “words of a wise statesman.” It seized the opportunity to launch an attack on Wendell Wilkie, then a U.S. presidential candidate who was campaigning for the “end to colonial power.” The newspaper, adopting an angry tone, wrote that Wilkie cannot “demand the end of liberty for countries because they have been too weak to defend that liberty themselves.” And the commentator added: “Indonesia demands a Commonwealth with the Netherlands; whoever tries to withdraw the East Indies from it is trying to withhold the right of a people to self-determination. Indonesia’s will must be unshakeable.”
This rather peremptory presentation of the Dutch case was obviously insufficient to counter mounting criticism in the United States. When the Queen’s statement on the Netherlands “Commonwealth” and “Partnership” was being examined by the Dutch Council of Ministers in London during the summer of 1942, the Netherlands’ Ambassador in Washington, Loudon, urged the presentation of “a clear-cut design for the reconstruction of the Empire to include an extensive voice for the population of the overseas territories.” He thought that the promise of a Consultative Imperial Conference after the war would not satisfy American public opinion and that the Dutch programme should include “a positive formula,” a “Dutch democratic novum.”
In his message Ambassador Loudon also suggested that, in view of widespread American criticism of British colonial policies, the proposed Dutch policy statement “should not resemble the British example for India.” This piece of advice again revealed how deeply ingrained in Dutch belief and mentality was the conviction that their colonial policy was beyond reproach, that they had developed their own style of colonial administration, and that, unlike Britain, the Netherlands was a middle-size power with older experience in colonial rule. Furthermore, the Dutch bore no responsibility for ensuring the security of the world’s sea lanes and faced no claims for the return of colonies to their former owners.
Queen Wilhelmina, however, preferred to delay the proposed statement of policy regarding Dutch overseas possessions until after her visit in midsummer to Washington and Hyde Park to consult President Roosevelt. Already on April 6, 1942, the President had written to the Queen, who was seeking an assurance that the East Indies would be restored to Dutch rule: “The Netherlands East Indies must be restored – and something within me tells me they will.” On later occasions he was less emphatic on the subject under the influence of certain members of the administration such as Henry Wallace and Sumner Welles. Roosevelt, however, succeeded in persuading the Queen of the need for a statement on future Dutch policy regarding the East Indies demanded by important sections of American public opinion. The Queen referred to future policies in the Far East when she addressed Congress in Washington on August 6, but merely announced that preparations for a post-war Imperial Conference would continue, but that decisions could be made only after liberation.
Realizing the decisive role the United States would play in a future peace settlement in the Pacific, the Dutch government studied the possibility of offering air bases in liberated Indonesia to the United States. An unprecedented step was also taken with the appointment of an Indonesian nobleman, Raden Aric Andipati Soejono, as Minister without Portfolio. The ideas then being aired by Dutch ministers included “harmonious unity in diversity” to ensure the continuity of the Dutch administration. They were set out in a document entitled “Constitutional Reform of the Kingdom and the Netherlands Indies,” which laid down the principles of greater unity within the Kingdom and more autonomy for its overseas territories, with increased self-government under temporary Dutch guidance. The Kingdom would be organized as a confederation with the Queen at its head, all parts of it being equal, all racial discrimination being abolished and imperial institutions established that would include a common cabinet, parliament and council. The Indies would be renamed Indonesia. The only missing element was a timetable for action on this programme.
The presence of an Indonesian in the Cabinet injected into the discussion sharp differences of opinion. Soejono distinguished bluntly between the Indonesians and the Dutch in the Indies, and, pointing to the evolution in the Philippines and India, he urged that the right to independence be proclaimed in accordance with the right of every nation “to dispose of its own national force.” The ministers of Dutch origin, who hitherto had been divided on what kind of action should or should not be taken, were now unanimous in rejecting Soejono’s claims. They opposed any infringement of Dutch sovereignty and were convinced that the Indies still needed and wanted Dutch guidance for their progress and development.
It was with this conviction that the Dutch government approached the San Francisco Conference convened in the spring of 1945 to draft the charter of the United Nations. Despite its abstention from any consultation with other colonial powers, the Dutch delegation to the conference joined France and Britain in opposing an Australian amendment to the draft on trusteeship which laid down that independence rather than self-government was the final stage of development. It consistently maintained that the Dutch East Indies had passed the stage of requiring international supervision, since it was about to participate on an equal footing in the “partnership” of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in accordance with Queen Wilhelmina’s statement of December 1942. They therefore saw no contradiction between this statement and support for the trusteeship declaration in the UN Charter. Addressing a sub-committee of the conference, Minister for the Colonies Van Mook said that “certain other territories” and “enemy territory to be detached from its former allegiance” were ripe for such trusteeship. But, he added, this system should be dispensed with in “cases where the territory is well on its way to self-government, and where the combination of an essentially democratic mother country and a civilized and sufficiently homogeneous people in the territory guarantee their unhampered evolution towards nationhood.”
American delegate Harold Stassen virtually supported this approach when he declared that mutual cooperation should determine the world’s future, and self-government fitted better into this concept.
While the Dutch were satisfied with the results of the San Francisco Conference, which they considered a success for their cause, two questions remained unanswered. Had it been wise for the Dutch to avoid any discussions of colonial policy with Britain throughout the war out of fear of creating the impression of joining an “imperialist coalition”? Secondly, why was no attempt made by the Dutch government during the war to try to talk to the Indonesian nationalists? The experiment with Soejono had failed and in any case was no substitute for such talks.
Meanwhile, in Djakarta on August 17, 1945, two pre-war nationalist agitators, Sukarno and Hatta, proclaimed the independent Republic of Indonesia. A new era had started. Queen Wilhelmina’s “partnership” offer was dead.
Simultaneous Relations with Moscow and the Vatican: A Rare Combination [top]The Dutch government in exile felt compelled to take action on two foreign policy issues with internal political connotations that it would normally have preferred to deal with in Holland after liberation. These were the recognition of the USSR and establishment of diplomatic relations with Moscow, and the resumption of relations with the Vatican.
A quarter of a century after the October Revolution the Netherlands still had no official relations with the “Bolshevik regime” and “Stalin’s Russia.” Thus Holland was one of the three countries which voted against the admission of the USSR to the League of Nations in 1934 (the others were Portugal and Switzerland) and was active in Geneva when on December 14, 1939, the League decided to exclude the Soviet Union on account of its aggression against Finland. The Hague supported Finland morally and materially because it was both a small country and a fellow neutral assaulted by a great power.
Once Hitler attacked Russia, many Dutchmen were in two minds, desiring on the one hand the destruction of Nazism and on the other fearing the prospect of a victorious Russia which would impose its authority from the Urals to the Dutch border. As Japan’s military preparations grew in the months preceding Pearl Harbour, Dutch leaders in London took a keen interest in the question of whether these forces would be directed primarily against Vladivostok or in a southerly direction, thus affecting the Netherlands’ Pacific territories. The speech of the Queen, on June 24, 1941, stating that the Netherlands would “fight side by side with the people of Soviet Russia wherever circumstances may demand it,” was welcomed favourably in British government circles, though some observers considered the reference in the speech to the Netherlands’ traditional rejection of “Bolshevism” as untimely and only for the record. The Times, it was noticed, did not quote this passage. The same day a message from Foreign Minister van Kleffens sent to all Dutch diplomatic missions was rather more explicit. It read as follows: “USSR. Despite joint struggle against Germany no close collaboration. Casual contact permitted.”
Soon after Russia was invaded, Soviet Ambassador Maisky asked the Foreign Office for help in establishing normal relations with the Dutch government in exile. It became clear that the USSR was urgently in need of deliveries of rubber and tin from the Dutch East Indies. On June 25, three days after Germany attacked Russia, and the day after Queen Wilhelmina’s broadcast, Van Kleffens was approached by Eden with a request to receive Ambassador Maisky. Van Kleffens agreed to do so if the Russians required economic aid from the Netherlands. Five days later Under-Secretary of State R.A. Butler asked Dutch Ambassador Michiels Van Verduyen whether the British government, acting as intermediary, could promote a rapprochement which would lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Netherlands. After another five days Michiels was instructed to inform Butler that, in view of the conversation between Eden and Van Kleffens of June 25, there was no need for a British initiative in order to restore diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and the USSR.
When the subject was again discussed in the Council of Ministers three days later, Van Kleffens declared that the Netherlands was ready to supply goods to the USSR, and he was prepared to have a meeting with Maisky, but that the establishment of diplomatic relations was out of the question. At the same meeting Minister of Social Affairs Van den Tempel advocated a “re-evaluation” of the subject “divorced” from the policy previously pursued.
British circles began to show impatience at the reluctance of the Dutch to establish normal relations with the Soviets in order to solve immediate war problems. Confining themselves to economic relations proved impracticable. The most urgent problem in the early days of the war in the East was the diversion of deliveries to Russia from the Dutch East Indies to Vladivostok, instead of transiting via Iran, in order to prevent valuable materials from eventually falling into German hands in southern Russia. Questions of protocol and prestige arose when Ambassador Michiels doggedly insisted that, prior to a Van Kleffens-Maisky meeting, the Soviet Ambassador should first call on him “as between diplomats.” Eden himself became exasperated and noted on Butler’s report: “all this is absurd nonsense.”
One consideration in the minds of a number of Dutch Ministers was mentioned for the first time by Van Kleffens to the British Ambassador, Sir Neville Bland, when he stressed the “grave danger” of “a strong Communist position of power” on the European continent after the war.
The same fear, in relation to possible Communist propaganda in the Netherlands East Indies, was voiced in the Council of Ministers when Johan Albarda, Minister of Public Works, urged the establishment of diplomatic relations with Moscow. Stating that he considered it “an abuse” that diplomatic relations had not yet been established with the USSR, he added that now that the Netherlands and the USSR were allies things would have to change. In the perspective of the Peace Conference that would follow the war, he declared, this was in the Netherlands’ own interest. Gerbrandy’s adviser Van Embden also wrote in a Memorandum that, in view of the “common war” waged against Germany and the need for mutual trust among the Allies, the establishment of diplomatic relations with the USSR was called for. He added that ideological considerations could not be allowed to play a part in the issue in question and he believed that the Netherlands Parliament would certainly approve the decision. While a decision on this issue was again postponed for several weeks, steps were taken to appoint an unofficial observer or agent to be dispatched to Moscow.
The final stage in the heart-searchings of the Dutch government on the issue of diplomatic relations with the Soviets was reached late in November, when Minister Bolkestein proposed a resolution stating that on formal, legal and political grounds the establishment of relations was desirable. Gerbrandy replied in writing, apparently for the record, that formal criteria did not suffice in answering the question. “The fact that the USSR and the Netherlands were both fighting Germany should not blind one to the atheist nature of the Soviet regime or to its totalitarianism, which was just as reprehensible as Nazism. There was no doubt about the unreliability of the Soviet regime.” He still wondered whether independent action in the field of trade would not be sufficient “evidence of the Netherlands’ goodwill” and provide a stepping-stone to diplomatic relations in due course.
The debate had ended and history took its course. Relations between the Netherlands and the USSR were eventually established many years later.
Protestants and Catholics [top]The establishment of diplomatic relations with the USSR, an unavoidable act, then inconceivable for most Dutchmen, and the reaction of public opinion at home to this development was a source of concern for the Dutch ministers in London. This far-reaching decision represented not only a volte face in foreign policy by the government in exile; it was also a burning internal political issue for a population under occupation, cut off from free and objective information and subjected to the violent anti-Allied propaganda of the Nazis. To counterbalance this decision, which was likely to be understood and appreciated on the left by Communist, Socialist and Liberal opinion, another long-contested step was proposed in order to please Conservative and Catholic opinion on the right. This way of thinking was voiced in the Council of Ministers by the Minister of Public Works, Johan Albarda, who suggested a “simultaneous restoration of relations with the Vatican.”
One week later an affirmative reply was received from the Holy See. The Pope would view with satisfaction the accrediting of a Netherlands envoy to the Vatican, stated a message transmitted through Cardinal Godfrey in London. But in the prevailing war situation the establishment of a Netherlands Envoy in the Vatican was not possible owing to opposition on the part of the Italian government. For this reason contact could be maintained for the time being through the Apostolic Delegate in London.
Thus the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See remained a theoretical gesture until 1944, but even so it had special significance in the autumn of 1941. For nearly two centuries the problem of relations with the Vatican had bedevilled Dutch political life. It touched on the Protestant and Calvinist traditions of a country with a substantial Catholic community which in the inter-war period commanded one-third of parliamentary seats in the States General and held the balance of power between the political parties. The revision of the Constitution in 1848 had introduced the principle of equality of all religious bodies and the separation of Church and State after long years of heated controversial debate.
The Dutch Ministers in exile still remembered the passionate controversies and the inter-communal and inter-party strife that had exploded in 1853, exacerbating Protestant susceptibilities, when the Pope had announced that the seat of the episcopate would be established at Utrecht in the heart of Protestant Holland. The Catholics for their part had mounted a long campaign to prevent recognition by the Netherlands of the Italian annexation of the Papal States and to act with other powers to restore the temporal power of the Pope.
When Queen Wilhelmina’s message requesting the Pope’s moral support during the first Peace Conference in The Hague in 1899 became known, it had aroused suspicious and hostile reactions on the part of the Protestants, who saw in it an attempt at a rapprochement with the Vatican. These inter-communal clashes culminated in 1939, when the Netherlands declined to send a representative to the ceremonies marking the Coronation of Pope Pius XII.
When, during World War I, a decision was taken to establish diplomatic relations, it was justified before Dutch opinion as a step likely to promote peace and strengthen the position of the neutrals. The pretext given for discontinuing relations with the Holy See in 1925 was a lack of budgetary provisions, but the real reason had to do with internal Dutch politics. This explains Queen Wilhelmina’s opposition during World War II to setting up relations both with Moscow and with the Vatican. Now the Council of Ministers attached importance to maintaining a presence in the Vatican, as Japan had approached the Holy See with a view to establishing relations. Hope was expressed that this might provide a channel to help Dutch internees in territories occupied by Japan in the Pacific.
One other consideration had to be taken into account. The small number of Catholic members of the Cabinet was accidental, due to the government’s sudden departure into exile, but it had been in the minds of the Dutch leaders in London from the beginning. When in May 1941 Ministers Steenberghe and Welters resigned from the Dutch Cabinet, Ambassador Bland commented: “Both retiring ministers being Catholics the government were somewhat apprehensive of the effect of their resignation upon the Catholics in Holland, and they had done their best to find two Catholics of the necessary ability to replace them. As it was they had to be content with only one, Mr. Kerstens, but they hoped that, in the circumstances, that would suffice.”
Thus in the struggle for the liberation of their country Dutch Catholics were active outside the government. It was learnt later that Welters had had disagreements with the Queen, and both the resigning ministers had opposed the dominant position acquired by Prime Minister Gerbrandy within the Council of Ministers. The ascendancy acquired by Gerbrandy in the wartime leadership introduced a new practice which, while maintaining the old constitutional position, ensured that the Prime Minister now had the right to take initiatives when they concerned more than one department. As Vrij Nederland wrote, the “coordinating power” invested in the Premier “will result in the removal of a source of stagnation.”
The simultaneous establishment of relations with the Soviet Union and the Holy See provided a means of dissipating stagnation in issues on the political life of the Netherlands which had long remained undecided.
Facing the "Big Three" Concept [top]As the year 1942 set in, it was felt in London that the anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist ring was closing in on the Axis powers. During the following year, 1943, which saw the Anglo-Americans established in North Africa, the landings in Italy, and the Red Army mounting its powerful offensives, the certainty of victory came to be taken for granted. With the expectation of an early invasion of western and eastern Europe, considerable thinking and research were now devoted to post-war problems by the Allied authorities and exiled governments in London. In this research the Dutch leaders played their full role.
In January 1942, Prime Minister Gerbrandy, in a much-noticed interview in the Sunday Times – one of his rare public pronouncements on international affairs – called for realistic collective security “with nations resolved and ready to enforce that security.” He attributed the strict neutrality of the Netherlands before the German invasion to “the lack of preparation on the side of the non-Nazi powers.” A “policy of independence” was necessary on the eve of the war. “Idealism must have its feet firmly on the ground,” he noted. Expressing the view that “something in the nature of the League of Nations has to be set up again,” the Dutch leader added, “we must choose between the principle of universality and the principle of like-mindedness.”
Turning to the problem of relations between great and small powers, Gerbrandy put forward the idea that while the vast political interests of the great powers could yet be brought within the scope of international law, for the lesser [powers] “the choice is not between war and peace but between arbitrary war and war as a regulated ’international instrument’.”
This was the first reference to “great powers” and “lesser ones,” a concept which later was to become central to the debate. Where did Holland stand in this respect? Gerbrandy’s answer, at a time when early “de-colonisation” was not envisaged, implied that Holland in fact could not be classed among the small nations. For four centuries, he said, “the Kingdom of the Netherlands has been scattered over four continents and the interests it defends are worldwide. It is closely knit and its constituent parts cannot be considered separately. Therefore we would have no use for an unreal conception such as a purely European grouping of nations, a United States of Europe.”
Did this amount to a claim that the Netherlands belonged to the “Great Powers”? This was utterly denied when soon afterwards the Dutch leaders in London were at the forefront of a campaign aimed at defending the position of the “lesser” and “small” countries faced with the emergence of the “Super-Powers.”
The year 1943 was decisive in the great debate on the post-war policies of the Allies in anticipation of the Big Three meetings in Cairo, Teheran and later Yalta. There was an almost general call to avoid the errors of 1919. Moreover, for the first time political circles in London had before them an outline of a “procedure of peace-making,” outlined in a book, Conditions of Peace, by E. H. Carr, which was considered at the time as an agenda for action and a blueprint for the future development of the war. “We would do well,” wrote Carr, “to envisage the complete military collapse and disintegration of the defeated – the establishment of an effective control of the territory of the defeated by the victor; the setting on foot of a process of European reconstruction ... and, finally, when ... something like a new order is already shaping itself, attempt to give political form to this new cooperation between peoples and continents.”
In the enormous task ahead, what was to be the respective role of the great and small nations? The question was raised in 1943 in two major analyses of historical interest. An editorial in The Times, on March 23 under the heading “Great and Small Nations” and a speech by Prime Minister Smuts of South Africa before the Empire Parliamentary Association in London on November 25, left their mark in the grand debate on global strategy and post-war security. They elicited considerable comment from the Dutch.
The Times in its editorial underlined that “the evolution of military technique, the elimination of space, and the development of policies of economic self-sufficiency have combined to render obsolete the notion of detached neutrality as a safe and desirable option for weaker countries.” It added: “It can scarcely be supposed that any small European nation which has been swept into the vortex will be tempted after the war to take refuge once more in that policy of self-contained isolation which made it the easy prey of unscrupulous aggression; nor can there be room any longer for the nation which seeks to maintain a precarious and illusory independence by shifting its way from side to side or by exploiting rivalries of its more powerful neighbours. The balance of power in this sense is as dead as the policy of strict neutrality.”
The editorial also stressed as implicit in the Atlantic Charter that “independence must be tempered with interdependence” and based on “consent.” Discussing the paramount role and the responsibility of the three major partners in the Grand Alliance, the editorial continued: “Nothing is more earnestly hoped for by Great Britain than permanent participation by the United States in strategic commitments and military establishments on this side of the Atlantic.” And it concluded: “Europe, and not only Europe, will perish unless threefold concord between the United States, Russia and Britain is fully maintained.”
General Smuts stated a few months later, in a speech addressed primarily to Western Europe, that universality is not the solution to the problems of security and that “we cannot get away from the problem of power.” In the new organization to preserve peace a proper place must be given to “leadership and to power.” Smuts went on to propose a close union of the countries of Western Europe with Great Britain, “great not only as an Empire and a Commonwealth stretching over all the continents, but great as a power on this continent and as an equal power with other colossi in the leadership of nations.”
There were many unknowns when Foreign Minister E. N. van Kleffens, faced with the Big Three concept of international security and a growing awareness of the inescapable link between policy resources and industrial potential, felt obliged to react and comment. Referring to policies now rejected, such as those of “neutrality” and “independence” adopted by the Dutch government in 1939, he simply stated that at the time “there was nothing better.” He was outspoken in a letter to The Times when referring to the fact “that Britain was not prepared for war in 1939.” In another letter to The Times, Van Kleffens came out against the school that claimed that “the decisive criterion” for international security should be “size and power.” Calling it an “antiquated conception” he castigated “the tendency in Britain and the US to vindicate a dominant position in matters of more or less general concern for the two Anglo-Saxon Commonwealths plus Russia and, though less generally, China.” He admitted that the views of the lesser States were by no means ignored but “bear less weight.” However, in a provoking question Van Kleffens enquired hypothetically what would have been the fate of Britain and more indirectly of the United States, Russia and China, had Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Greece meekly submitted to German aggression. He provided his own answers: “The pace of the German, Italian and Japanese advance would have quickened to a degree which might have caused disastrous results to small and great countries alike.” And he concluded his letter to The Times by stating: “I am well aware that concessions must be made to practical necessities. But they should be viewed as concessions and not as the exercise by others of a well-founded right ... Everybody well understands that. But this does not invalidate nor alter the main argument.”
Leaving recriminations aside, Van Kleffens agreed in essence with the overall outlook of Smuts, but he emphasized in a broadcast to his fellow countrymen on December 28, 1943, the hope that not only Britain would join the security group envisaged by the South African Prime Minister. “If things move in this direction we could see a strong formation in the West with America, Canada and other British Dominions as an arsenal and a vast reservoir, with England as a base, especially for air power, and the West European mainland – by which I mean the Netherlands, Belgium and France – as a bridgehead ... This formidable western bloc would find its eastern counterpart in Russia.”
These ideas appeared rather abstract when put to the test early in 1944 in London, with the creation of the European Advisory Commission on which the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union were represented. The Provisional Government of France joined at a later stage, its brief being to deal with the problems of the post-war settlement in Europe. The “lesser” and “smaller” allied countries were excluded. It inaugurated the era of the Big Three principle adopted at Yalta and Potsdam and later consecrated by the acceptance of the right of veto of the great powers in the future world organization. However, extensive diplomatic contacts with the British government were maintained by Van Kleffens and his Belgian and Norwegian colleagues in order to ascertain Britain’s readiness to participate in joint security in Western Europe. This, in their opinion, entailed the continuation and expansion of arrangements made during the war whereby the military forces of these countries serving in Great Britain were trained and equipped by the British authorities.
From what is known today, it is obvious that it was premature to raise these questions in the weeks that preceded D-Day in Europe, especially since the British leadership was not yet ready for decisions. The United States was unwilling to endorse any regional groupings in advance of the establishment of a world organization for peace based on generally accepted principles and with uncertainty as to whether the United States Senate would ultimately approve international overseas commitments. Nor was it possible to foresee clearly whether the Russian bear, after its remarkable military triumph, could be tamed, and whether its suspicions of anything resembling a European bloc could be sufficiently allayed for Moscow to join the framework of a world-wide peace system. One fact was reportedly mentioned, however: that in 1941 Stalin favoured Britain’s assuming defence obligations in Western Europe, since Russia was to act correspondingly along her western borders.
Meanwhile, the Dumbarton Oaks Conference convened by the Allies to plan post-war economic policy proposed, in Chapter VIII(C)1 of its final recommendations, that nothing in the future Charter of the United Nations “should preclude the existence of regional arrangements or agencies ..., provided such arrangements or agencies or their activities are consistent with the purposes and principles of the Organization.”
For the Foreign Office this seemed to open the way to immediate discussions with the West European governments on a common plan for containing Germany. At this stage Churchill intervened with the full weight of his authority. He was convinced that until a strong French army was again in existence there could be nothing in the smaller countries but “hopeless weakness.” “The Belgians,” he stressed in November 1944, “are extremely weak and their behaviour before the war was shocking. The Dutch were entirely selfish and fought only when they were attacked and then for a few hours. Denmark is helpless, and Norway practically so. That England should undertake to defend these countries, together with any help they may afford, before the French have the second army in Europe, seems to me contrary to all wisdom.” Decisions were delayed in order to enable further consideration of the subject.
To allay Soviet suspicions based on widespread press reports of British plans for a “European bloc,” Churchill accepted the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion of including in a message to Stalin the words “I must trust first of all our Treaty of Alliance and close collaboration with the United States to form the mainstays of a World Organization to ensure and compel peace upon the tortured world.” In line with this approach, official circles in London abandoned any talk of a “United States of Europe” in favour of the formula “United Nations Commission for Europe,” which was considered more acceptable to Stalin.
During the autumn of 1944, as substantial parts of Western Europe were being liberated and Paris was restored to freedom, inter-allied discussions were overshadowed by Marshal von Runstedt’s offensive in the Ardennes and the failure of the Allied attack at Arnhem. Another winter of war followed. The San Francisco Conference which adopted the UN Charter convened only in the following spring. The Dutch government was meanwhile marking time while priority was given to vital problems in the liberated areas of southern Holland.
The German Neighbour – Territorial Compensation? [top]During its stay in London the Dutch government held frequent discussions on the vital problem of Germany’s future. The conclusions it reached would serve as guidelines for its policy towards the recalcitrant neighbour with whom the Netherlands shared its longest land frontier. The ministers agreed that this policy should be prompted not “by either vengeance, hatred or pity or magnanimity, but exclusively by the desire to create a lasting and bearable situation.” It should prevent Germany from “again attaining the economic and military power to be a menace to peace” and make it “as little harmful as possible to the prosperity of the European countries.”
Generally speaking, the Dutch remained faithful to this outline until the end of the war, remembering John Maynard Keynes’s warning in 1919 that “if we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance will not limp.”
However, in the last year of the war there was alarm at reports that the Germans planned to flood most of Holland with sea-water before retreating. That this indeed was Hitler’s intention was confirmed by Reichskommissar Artur Seyss-Inquart at the Nuremberg Trials. Claiming that he had “put an end to the occupation of the Netherlands,” he added: “I did not carry out the order which I received to destroy the country.”
When the alarm was sounded by the Dutch government, one of the steps taken was to obtain the Allies’ agreement to the principle of territorial reparations to Holland for all land rendered unusable. With this proposal the Dutch government overruled the opinion voiced by its own experts, who, in a memorandum referring to a possible annexation of German land by France, Belgium and Holland had expressed doubts as to “whether the military advantages of such a drastic disposition would be great enough to justify the serious economic and social difficulties which it would inevitably cause.”
A note outlining the Dutch government’s claim to land compensation if the Nazis were to put into operation their threat to flood Holland was tentatively submitted to the Foreign Office. In fact, post-war Dutch statistics estimated that 2% of Holland’s agricultural land was destroyed by the erection of German military installations during the war.
The possibility of a Dutch claim for German territorial reparations was first broached by Van Kleffens in an article in the American journal Foreign Affairs, where he discussed how to respond “if the Nazis flood Holland.” “In Holland,” wrote Van Kleffens, “the problem of adjustment has a special territorial aspect. If Germany wantonly destroys so much of Holland’s soil that her nine million people are unable to live on the land which remains, it may be found necessary to grant her an equivalent part of German territory or at any rate the usufruct of it. Holland’s population lives 640 to the square mile. The population density in Germany before the Nazis began their course of conquest was only 360 per square mile.” And he concluded: “Holland would have preferred to avoid bringing forward any proposal of this nature. Whether she will ultimately be compelled to press for its adoption depends on the Germans.”
This warning became the basis of the memorandum presented three months later to the Foreign Office which stated: “It is possible that the people of the Netherlands may reach the conclusion that, in spite of their innate repugnance to all forms of armed conquest, if in their case some substantial measure of reparation is to be made by the invader, a suitable part of adjoining Prussian territory should either be ceded to the Netherlands (provision being made for the absorption by Germany of the Prussian inhabitants) or brought into the dominion or economic orbit of the Netherlands, on a provisional or permanent basis.”
The Dutch government’s memorandum seemed to have created a stir at the Foreign Office. F. K. Roberts commented as follows: “As the Dutch Ambassador indicated, there are divided counsels among the Dutch about the wisdom of a policy of demanding territorial compensation from Germany for wanton damage inflicted upon Holland. I agree that it is not necessary for us to consider this matter in detail unless and until the Dutch make up their minds and present us with a formal demand. It is however relevant that the PM [Churchill] in conversation with Dr. Gerbrandy some weeks ago indicated that he thought that such a demand would be entirely justified and would meet with his support. The PM also said that he is prepared to say as much publicly in reply to a PQ [parliamentary question] which Sir R. Glynn wished to put but which has been postponed pending the delivery of this Dutch note. My own feeling is that Dutch caution will in the event operate against a scheme of this kind, particularly as they will be sceptical of long-term British and American support for such an agreement.”
Other minutes on the same document included a suggestion that something like the French occupation of the Saar might be considered, or a transfer of the German population of the area involved to Silesia – this being done as soon as possible, “without waiting for the Peace Treaty.”
In the light of further developments the matter was not pursued. However, the mere fact of raising the issue provided the Dutch government with another occasion to insist that it should be consulted at the appropriate time on the future frontiers of Germany.
It was felt that it was not the right moment to elicit such a promise from the British government, one of the three members of the European Consultative Commission engaged at that time in the momentous debate on whether to dismember Germany. The British Chiefs of Staff had emphasized that the most important argument in favour of dismemberment would be the resulting reduction of German help available to the Russians in the event of the USSR’s becoming hostile to the Western Allies. Long-term strategic considerations entered into the picture. Eden declined to circulate the report of the British military experts for reasons of security, and leading officials noted that public opinion in Great Britain and the USA would not be willing to maintain by force a dismembered Germany.
Bewilderment at Home [top]The isolation of the Dutch government in London from the people at home was a permanent source of concern for all the parties involved. In fact, for nearly four years, from 1940 to 1944, shortly before the Normandy landings, the Dutch government was almost completely cut off from the leaders of the “home grown” resistance groups which had sprung up all over Holland. These groups followed in the main the guidelines contained in the Queen’s speeches broadcast from London by Radio Oranje. They also had their own objectives and aspirations born of daily contact with the hard realities of German occupation. Ridding the country of the occupiers became the common goal.
During the period of bewilderment that followed immediately on defeat, occupation and the sudden departure of the Queen and the government, the feeling was fairly widespread that the Dutch people had been abandoned and left like a flock without a shepherd.
Beginning six weeks after the last Dutch units had laid down their arms, between July 1 and 18, 1940, representatives of the Dutch political parties held a series of meetings with the participation of former Prime Minister Colijn and Lindherst Homan, the Queen’s Commissioner in the Province of Groningen, in order to discuss “liberty and independence” of the Netherlands in the light of international law. According to Vrij Nederland, which managed to obtain Colijn’s notes on these meetings, a manifesto was prepared which allegedly had the support of two million Dutchmen. However, the ardour of the political parties was dampened when the occupation authorities made it clear that they would not allow the circulation of a document that spoke of “liberty, independence and loyalty to the House of Orange,” and the initiative was halted.
This manifesto of the Nederlandsche Unie (Netherlands Union) stated in its introduction that the Union was being formed “in a dark hour of the nation’s history with a view to uniting all Dutchmen in order to maintain and strengthen the Fatherland and its people and to establish conditions for their future prosperity and existence.” Colijn was reportedly prepared at first to be associated with it.
The manifesto defined the aims of the Union as reconstruction, national cooperation, economic restoration, and social justice with work for all. It also advocated the inculcation “of true patriotism in the youth of Holland along with the maintenance of Dutch traditions, liberty and tolerance.” This had to be undertaken “with the restrictions imposed by the occupying power and in a loyal relationship with the latter.” The manifesto also envisaged “strong ties” with Holland’s overseas possessions and the setting up of a “Dutch Commonwealth, with a strong central authority.” It opposed the leadership of a single individual and regarded the evolution of Germany and Italy as “a separate matter.” Finally it stated that “the Union must not become a hideout for persons who wish to continue the former political system in a disguised form.”
Information of this reached London three months after the event, in October 1940, when the Union’s decline was already an accomplished fact. Yet it aroused considerable controversy in Dutch circles in London. Some saw in it a “Charter for collaboration” with the enemy. However, Ambassador Sir Neville Bland reported to the Foreign Office that “the Netherlands Government regards the ’Union’, as definitely anti-NSB” [the Dutch National Socialist Movement], and he added: “We must all treat it with reserve until it has been tried out in longer practice than it has up to date.” And Vrij Nederland came out in support of the political parties, which had left the Union “to its fate.”
Sir Neville Bland later reported that Vrij Nederland had “changed its tone towards the ’Union’ which it now regards as most suitable to take the wind out of the sails of the NSB,” while in a letter to the paper Minister for Trade, Industry and Shipping Steenberghe advised against any hasty censoring of the Union.
Criticism soon turned on the position taken by Colijn, and Vrij Nederland commented: “To err is human. Colijn was wrong in making a gesture towards Berlin, when soon after the invasion he thought that all was lost.” And Ambassador Bland reported to the Foreign Office that Dutch circles were “considerably puzzled” by the attitude of Colijn, “previously considered pro-British and now almost compounding the German felony.” He asked Premier Gerbrandy for his opinion and was told that the former Prime Minister was “an impressionist” unduly prone “to taking his impression from the last speaker.”
The Netherlands Union soon faded out and left the ground free for the emergence of the Dutch resistance movements. Its ephemeral existence was due largely to the illusion that direct German rule would be bound by the rules of international law, a concept deeply ingrained in the Dutch mentality. German rule was considered preferable to Dutch Nazis governing the country, especially as many of them favoured annexation by Germany. The Union’s promoters also entertained the illusion that, since the Netherlands’ overseas possessions were still out of the grasp of the Axis, it might be possible to create the nucleus of a national revival in association with them.
Under the Cloak of Secrecy [top]The security clampdown by the German occupation forces on the coastline and territory of Holland was particularly severe. Three factors made Holland the most tightly closed country in Hitler’s empire: the proximity of Britain, the fact that Holland was the gateway for allied attacks on the Ruhr and other industrial centres in North-Western Germany, and in particular the fact that Dutch territory was to serve as the main base for the launching of V1 and V2 rockets against Britain. The Dutch government in exile and the resistance groups in occupied Holland were for long periods completely isolated from one another. This state of affairs represented a considerable handicap in coordinating mutual efforts, a handicap which was overcome only in the last stages of the war.
Radio Oranje’s broadcasts from London were often jammed, and no alternative existed for direct exchange of information, coordination and consultation with various personalities inside the occupied homeland. This was a major obstacle in the struggle for liberation. It was only two years after the beginning of the occupation, in the spring of 1942, that a first group of sixteen secret agents was landed on the North Sea beaches in cooperation with the British secret service agencies MI6 and SOE Eight of these agents had been selected by the Dutch authorities to transmit secret information and to smuggle a number of Dutch personalities to Britain according to a list approved by Queen Wilhelmina and Gerbrandy. They had been given the special assignment of contacting the socialist leader Koa Vorrink, who headed one of the first resistance groups. Others were entrusted with transmission and sabotage tasks. Five of these agents were caught and forced to maintain a radio link with their operators in London who did not realize that they were being compelled to transmit messages provided by their German captors. In this way the Germans received information about other agents due to be dropped in Holland, including details of the place, date and hour of their arrival. A “welcoming committee” of German security men was thus waiting to detain them immediately on arrival. Of the fifty-five secret agents sent from London between March 1942 and May 1943 forty-three were caught on arrival and only one of the fifty-five survived the war. The German Colonel Giskes and Major Schreieder, who handled what became known as the Englandspiel, were able to avail themselves of up to seventeen different radio links with London and thus to mislead the Dutch section of SOE; more than one thousand messages were exchanged in the course of this sinister “game.”
The recipients in London regarded the messages as authentic, despite the fact that the first message was marked “security check omitted” by the receiving desk. This led to one of the great tragedies of the war, the death of scores of resistance fighters in Holland, Belgium and France. It also inhibited the Dutch government’s contacts with its supporters inside Holland during a vital stage of the war and exacerbated misunderstandings between the British and Dutch secret services. The Dutch Parliamentary Commission which investigated the tragedy after the war rejected the “treason” hypothesis and attributed the failure to “very serious mistakes.” Among these was the astonishing order given to the British First Airborne Division when it was dropped in the Arnhem area on September 17, 1944, “to ignore local offers of help,” namely those of Dutch resistance groups in the region. “One such offer could have helped save it from one of its worst troubles, bad communications, but was hardly used.” This order may be explained by a lack of coordination between the various resistance groups and the fear of their penetration by traitors.
The Dutch government in London showed some reluctance in acceding to the demands put forward by the resistance groups during contacts established via Switzerland and Sweden. The group headed by Koos Vorrink wanted to establish a provisional government pending the return of the constitutional Government from London after liberation. Similarly, the “OD” (Ordedienst), headed by Jonkheer P. J. Six, asked for authority to maintain law and order pending the return of the government. Plans prepared in liaison with this group to land arms for 20,000 resistance fighters were frustrated by the Englandspiel disaster. The Dutch government’s hesitations can also be explained by reports of the radicalization of the population under occupation conditions, particularly an estimate that one quarter of the electorate had turned Communist. Thus it was as late as June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day, that the following message from the Queen was transmitted to the various resistance groups in Holland: “With reference to Her Majesty’s directive in March, you are now informed that the Queen finds it necessary that there should be cooperation between all underground organizations in Holland. A group of leaders must be chosen on as broad a basis as possible.” The leaders of the various resistance groups obeyed this command, meeting in Amsterdam on July 3 and establishing the Grote Adviescommissie der Illegaliteit (Higher Advisory Commission of the Dutch Underground).
Divisions of opinion in the Commission followed the traditional lines of left, right and centre. There were also differences of opinion between the pre-war politicians and the newcomers from the resistance movements with their demands for far-reaching reforms. Only sub-commissions of the newly created body were at work, and when the Queen asked for advice on the appointment of a new Prime Minister and the future role of Parliament, fully six months passed before a reply was received in March 1945. It stated bluntly that the coordinating council was unable to reach an agreement on the answer to be given to the Queen.
This lack of consensus was largely due to a desire to leave decisions to the future government, the resistance movements being prepared to play a part only until the government was constitutionally re-established at home. This attitude was confirmed when, in the elections held at the end of 1945, the pre-war political parties maintained their strength, and the Communists polled only ten percent of the vote.
Under the occupation the Dutch resistance movement helped to cope with the distress of thirty thousand families of prisoners of war and Dutch citizens detained by the Nazi security forces. A secret voluntary organization, the National Support Fund was initiated by Gijsbert van Hall, who was later caught by the Gestapo and executed. It aroused considerable response and solidarity among the population, and the Dutch government later refunded all wartime contributors.
The Dilemmas of Liberation [top]The complete liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945 was a less joyful occasion than might have been expected because of two developments in the months immediately preceding it. The first was the fact that the country had been split into two parts for seven months, with the south-east in Allied hands cut off from the densely populated occupied north-west, and the front line running down the middle. The second was the “winter famine” that had affected the greater part of the Dutch population.
Elaborate preparations for the return home had long been initiated by the different ministries in London and were personally scrutinized by Queen Wilhelmina. Her interventions concerned vital subjects such as changes in the government and the reconstruction of the Dutch Commonwealth, but also questions of lesser importance such as legislation on the status of the police in liberated Holland and a scheme to bring over Dutch children to recover in England – two decrees she refused to sign. The Queen used the full weight of her authority by introducing representatives from occupied Holland into the government and by imposing her own concept of a reconstructed kingdom based on a revised Constitution.
The government that landed in Britain in May 1940 had had the merit of having obtained a vote of confidence from the Dutch Parliament. It was transformed by the dismissal of Prime Minister De Geer and his replacement by Gerbrandy, two major decisions inspired directly by the Queen. Wilhelmina had forty years of reign behind her and there are no indications that she ever considered abdicating following her government’s failure to defend the kingdom against the Nazi invasion, something she had twice threatened to do on secondary issues in the past. She now used her full authority and resourcefulness to influence cabinet decisions and cabinet changes. In particular she strove to introduce into the government newcomers who had recently arrived from Holland. Wilhelmina personally interviewed a great number of the “England sailors” who had managed to escape from the Netherlands and was thus acquainted with the conditions in the occupied territory. Certain British observers had some reservations about these interrogations by the Queen, and one remarked sarcastically that she was “more inclined to rely in political matters on escaped fishermen and students and on returning agents than on her own ministers.” Her intuition and reasoning however seem to have been sound.
The first newcomer to enter the government was J. A. E. Burger, a 39-year-old lawyer and former member of the Socialist Party from Dordrecht who reached London in May 1943. Wilhelmina, in a letter to Gerbrandy, requested that Burger be appointed Minister without Portfolio to sit on a governmental committee appointed to deal with matters of the return. In her letter the Queen wrote: “On many occasions I have already discussed with you the desirability of improving and strengthening the activities of the Cabinet related to the needs of the return and the prestige of the government inside the Netherlands. It is desirable to include a member who from personal experience knows the present state of things in the Fatherland.”
No sooner had Burger assumed office than he was called upon to act as spokesman for the government in a public debate designed to refute allegations that had appeared in the left-wing press in Britain. The New Statesman and Nation, in particular, published letters from Dutch citizens in London who claimed that the government in exile was not to the liking of the resistance movements in Holland. Burger was in a position to state that the resistance movements had full confidence in the government. The debate was intensified later, when De Booy replaced Kerstens as Minister of Trade and Shipping, by accusations that the Dutch government was dominated by “Big Business.” Burger stressed the resistance movements’ insistence that the Constitution of the Kingdom should be the basis of all measures to be taken on liberation. Two subjects of particular importance were raised in the debate – the avoidance of military rule after liberation, and the reconvening of the States-General, which had voted the government into office and whose mandate normally would have expired in 1941.
In June 1944 the government succeeded in bringing over to London an influential resistance leader, Van Heuven Goedhart, who became Minister of Justice. As editor of the socialist underground newspaper Het Parool, he was in a position to proclaim the resistance movements’ loyalty to the Queen and her ministers when renewed attacks appeared in the New Statesman and in Tribune accusing the government in exile of preparing to impose a reactionary military regime in Holland. British public opinion at any rate continued to place its confidence in the government in exile. A mass observation poll conducted at the time recorded 73% of “very favourable” answers to the question: “What is your opinion of our Dutch Allies?”
This reaction was largely due to the popularity of Queen Wilhelmina, who was generally highly respected. In retrospect, however, it appears that reports in the British press at the end of 1943 and in 1944 about the Queen’s plans for military rule in post-liberation Holland may well have been leaked from the inner circles of the Dutch administration. Wilhelmina’s autocratic leanings were known, and they were strengthened in London by the grave decisions for which she assumed almost sole responsibility, such as the ouster of Prime Minister De Geer. Moreover, she was bitterly disappointed with the coalition parties that had ruled the country before the war, which she considered petit-bourgeois, inefficient and incapable of positive action. Her insistent attitude on a number of issues aroused opposition within her Cabinet, and even Gerbrandy occasionally opposed her. It is an open secret today that the Queen was convinced that in the next States-General she would obtain a two-thirds majority in favour of a constitutional amendment which would enable her to rule the country in a new style. She envisaged a regime with her son-in-law, Prince Bernhard, as Commander-in-Chief of the army, and her secretary F. van ‘t Sant, widely seen as her éminence grise, as Chief of Police for the maintenance of order. The electorate, however, did not follow her along this path; the political parties regained their pre-war power, and the Queen calmly bowed to the electorate’s decision.
Despite intensive preparations for liberation, in particular coordination with the Allies in the fields of civil administration and relief plans for the liberated areas, the early liberation of southern Holland created unforeseen problems and friction. Disagreements were rife inside the government, and tension developed between the Prime Minister and the Queen, who was actively searching for “alternative ministers” from the liberated part of the country. Complaints were voiced at the Foreign Office about the “weakness” of the Dutch establishment. In January 1945 the government resigned. The Queen invited Van Kleffens to form a new government, but he declined, stating that it would be political folly and sheer ingratitude in view of Gerbrandy’s unparalleled position of leadership in the Allied camp. Van Kleffens indicated that he would refuse to join a government under any other Prime Minister. This left the Queen no alternative but to reconfirm Gerbrandy and Van Kleffens in the positions they had previously held. It was the third Gerbrandy government, and a number of personalities from the newly liberated areas were included. British observers did not seem impressed by the newcomers, whom they considered “stopgaps” and “local lights in small towns.”
Gerbrandy duly handed in his resignation to the Queen on May 16 on the complete liberation of the country, thereby fulfilling the pledge he had given to the leaders of the political parties and of the resistance movement.
Acute food shortages gave rise to mounting dissatisfaction among the population, who blamed the government for the hardships they were enduring. Gerbrandy had to use the special relationship he had developed with Churchill to reduce the friction that had developed between the Allied military authorities and the local administration. Gerbrandy was at Chequers with Churchill and Smuts on April 15 when the initiative for an informal truce advanced by the German commissioner Seyss-Inquart and seen as the beginning of a German surrender was discussed. It came into effect soon afterwards.
Inter-allied consultations on the Seyss-Inquart offer relayed through the Dutch underground were delayed by the death of President Roosevelt on April 12. Churchill urged that the matter be settled with the utmost speed, taking into consideration Gerbrandy’s last appeal stating that the food situation in the occupied part of Holland – which included dense population centres such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague – endangered “the future of our nation.”
Churchill suggested that the Soviet authorities be informed of Seyss-Inquart’s proposal, but U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius urged that in the proposed truce agreement there should be no departure from the policy of unconditional surrender and that the Soviets should be consulted, not merely informed. The Red Army’s Chief of Staff, General Antonov, demanded an undertaking from the Germans that during the truce they would not move troops from Holland to other parts of the front and that a Soviet representative would participate in the conversations with Seyss-Inquart. Discussions started on April 28, and the first food supplies were dropped over North Holland the following day. The nation was saved. The Queen returned to her country for good on June 2.
Three names stand out among those who guided the people of the Netherlands in their darkest hour: Wilhelmina, Gerbrandy and Van Kleffens.
When in 1947 a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into this period was appointed, the Queen immediately asked to be the first witness to be heard. The Commission declined Her Majesty’s offer to testify, pointing out that its research had clearly shown that during the war years “the Queen had been the personification of the oppressed and fighting Netherlands; that the respect she was able to instil had been of benefit to the country; and that, undaunted and adamant, as she was, she was constantly able to bring the efforts of Dutchmen in and outside occupied territory to the level which was necessary to gain victory. In doing so she has rendered inestimable services to the Netherlands.”
Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
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