Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amsterdam, February 1941

DE DOKWERKER, Amsterdam's tribute to workers' action

FEBRUARY 25, 2011 is the seventieth anniversary of a proud moment in the history of the Dutch working class, the Amsterdam general strike. The Netherlands had surrendered to Germany in May 1940, and the first anti-Jewish measures began soon after, with the barring of Jews from the air-raid defence services in June 1940. By November 1940 Jews were being removed from public life, including the universities, and there were to be student protests at Leiden and elsewhere.

There was also unrest amongst workers in Amsterdam, especially the workers at the shipyards in Amsterdam-Noord, who were threatened with forced labour in Germany.

The Dutch pro-nazi movement NSB and its streetfighting arm, the WA (Weerbaarheidsafdeling - defence section), engaged in a series of provocations in Jewish neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. In response, young Jews formed their own self-defence squads, knokploegen, and there were a series of street battles in which the Nazis sometimes got more than they had bargained for. In a pitched battle on February 11, 1941 on the Waterlooplein, WA member Hendrik Koot was badly wounded. He died of his injuries on February 14, 1941.

On February 12, 1941, German soldiers, assisted by Dutch police, encircled the old Jewish neighbourhood and cordoned it off from the rest of the city by putting up barbed wire, opening bridges and putting in police checkpoints. This neighbourhood was now forbidden for non-Jews. On February 19, the German Grüne Polizei stormed into ice-cream salon Koco in the Van Woustraat. In the fight that ensued, several police officers were wounded.

On the weekend of February 22 and February 23, a large scale raid was mounted by the German Nazis. Some 425 Jewish men, age 20-35 were taken hostage and imprisoned in Kamp Schoorl and eventually sent to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps, where most of them died within the year. Out of 425, only 2 survived.

Some of the Dutch Left, including the Communist Party, decided not to let the deportations go without some kind of resistance. An open air meeting was held on the Noordmarket. A leaflet commenting on the raids, described the German military police and their collaborators as animals. It went on:

The metalworkers in Amsterdam have shown the way. They struck in unison against their forced transport to Germany, and the coercive power of the German military administration had to contend with this resistance! In one day, the metalworkers triumphed!!
So, do not let the jackboot of the German soldier intimidate you!
Organize protest strikes in all factories!!
Join ranks to fight against this terrorism!!
Demand the immediate liberation of the interned Jews!!
Demand the disbanding of the Dutch Fascist terror groups!!!
Organize self-defense in factories and neighborhoods!!
Show your solidarity with the Jewish segment of the proletariat, which has been so badly mistreated!!
Spare the Jewish children from the terror of the Nazi atrocities; take them in with your families!!!
Be aware of the tremendous might of your unified action!!!
It is much greater than that of the German military occupation! There's no doubt that many German proletarian soldiers support your resistance!!!
Strike!! Strike!! Strike!!!
Shut down all of Amsterdam for one day—shipyards, factories, shops, offices, banks, city hall, and enterprise works!!

On February 25, Amsterdamers woke to quiet streets - there were no trams running. Other city services stopped for the day, and staff did not turn up to open the Bijenkorf department stores. Docks and workshops were on strike too. The strike spread to Hilversum, Utrecht and other cities and towns. By February 27 the Germans appeared to have suppressed the strike, and it had not halted the deportations.

But the Nazi idea that, despite their ruthless bombing and invasion, they could simply incorporate the Netherlands, without its Jews, into their New Order, had suffered a blow. It was a blow for the honour of the Dutch people and the working class.

February 1941 was the first direct action against the Nazis' treatment of Jews in Europe. It is significant too that it preceded the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union by four months, and so the Dutch Communist Party was not slavishly adhering to the truce or even collaboration which might have been expected to come from the Hitler-Stalin pact.

This may partly have reflected the existence to its left of veteran communist Henrik Sneevliet's Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party(RSAP), which had gone underground as the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, producing its first clandestine paper Spartacus in July 1940. The MLL-Front, in which Trotskyists were also involved, contributed to the agitation for the February strike. Alas, Sneevliet and other leaders were captured and executed the following year.

The next strike would be student strikes in November 1941, and after that the large April-May strikes in 1943, that heralded armed resistance as the prospect of liberation grew nearer.

Neither Jewish resistance nor working class action rate much attention in official Holocaust commemorations and teaching, but in Holland, Marie Andriessen's statue De Dokwerker, erected as a memorial for the strike in 1951, has been the site of regular remembrance ceremonies.

Piet Naak, one of the leaders of the February strike, was awarded a medal by the State of Israel in recognition of his courageous stand. He returned it in protest at Israeli occupation policies and treatment of the Palestinians.

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At 9:07 PM, Blogger Sophie J said...

Thanks for this, it was a great read about something I had only vague knowledge of.

It has helped me to 'fill in some gaps'. My dutch Grandfather (Opa) worked on maintenance of ships in the shipyards of Amsterdam, and my Dad was a young boy of twelve at that time.

They were terrible times and my Dad was badly affected mentally by it all, sometimes I think his trauma of those times got passed on to me somehow.

It been really good to understand the history of what was taking place then, and to resurrect the memory of my Dad and my Opa, to feel a sense pride for the strength they and others had to have got through those troubled times.

At 2:26 AM, Blogger Colm said...

What a wonderful account of the resistance. Enormous respect to those who fought and organised. My partner is from Hamburg and it has been incredible to hear about the tradition of resistance to the Nazis in that city, right through the 30's and into the 40's, especially by the dockworkers, from her friends and relatives. Resistance is a living tradition. Thanks so much for posting this. C


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