Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Effect of WW2 on The Netherlands: History Helping Expats?

World War II Graves in Normandy, France
Photo: (c) The Writing Well
Heinrich Boere is a former member of the Waffen SS who stood trial in October 2009 in Achen for war crimes and was convicted to life in prison in for his crimes. At the age of 89 he is likely the last Dutch war criminal who will stand trial for crimes committed in World War II against Dutch citizens.

Born to a Dutch father and a German mother, Heinrich was born in Germany but moved to the Netherlands when he was two years old. He volunteered to join the Waffen SS not long after the occupation began.

Between September 1943 and September 1944 he was allegedly part of the Waffen SS death squad (Sonderkommando) responsible for killing around fifty Dutch citizens as reprisal for resistance actions, and in particular Boere was accused of executing three Dutch men: Fritz Bicknese from Breda and Frans Kusters and Teun de Groot from Voorschoten.

Boere escaped from a Limburg prison in 1947 and fled to Germany, claiming German citizenship thanks to his mother’s German heritage. Germany does not hand over wanted criminals to other countries, hence he escaped conviction by the Dutch authorities for many years.

In 2000, the German and Dutch Justice System became once more interested in Boere when he was tracked down and interviewed for a Dutch documentary. He showed no remorse. Years later, he was captured in an interview for the AD saying,

“Orders were orders, otherwise it would have meant my skin. Later it began to bother me. Now I’m sorry.”

In January 2009, it was ruled that Boere was not fit to stand trial due to health reasons. This was overturned later in the same year and he was finally convicted in March 2010.

As a result of the German occupation, the Dutch in their homeland experienced WW2 differently to the British. The war came to the Dutch, and like the French, they lived under German rule in their own land.

Last year I watched Oorlogswinter, a hard hitting Dutch film about the German occupation in the Netherlands. It, and films like it, as well as reading the personal stories of those involved over sixty years ago, provide a real perspective on a major part of Dutch modern history. It’s a harsh, harsh history (see the Rotterdam Blitz or hongerwinter of 1944 as examples)

It’s a history that I wasn’t taught in school (though I did specialise in the French occupation and resistance for my A-level French – the Dutch occupation was mentioned in passing during this study) and a history that goes some way to understanding Dutch attitudes to some things; like why the Netherlands gave up its neutral state after WW2 and was an original member of NATO, the EU and the UN and today hosts the ICTY. It also gives more meaning to the poignant event that takes place each 4th May and the celebrations nationwide on the 5th May.

Learning something about the history, and the influences of historical events, certainly has helped me gain a little more understanding of my adopted home.

Is it something that interests you or do you think it adds no value to integrating into your adopted home?

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