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The Reichskommissariat Niederlande was the civilian occupation regime set up by Germany in the German-occupied Netherlands during World War II. Its full title was the Reich Commissariat for the Occupied Dutch Territories (German: Reichskommissariat für die besetzten niederländischen Gebiete). The administration was headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, formerly the last chancellor of Austria before initiating its annexation by Germany (the Anschluss).
|Reichskommissariat of Germany|
Reichskommissariat Niederlande in 1942.
|Leader of the Dutch People|
|Historical era||World War II|
|•||Seyss-Inquart appointed||May 29, 1940|
|•||Schiermonnikoog liberated||June 11, 1945|
|Currency||Dutch guilder (NLG)|
|Today part of||Netherlands|
|a.||As in pre-war and post-war Netherlands, The Hague was the actual seat of government.|
The German domination of the Netherlands began with the German invasion. On the day of the capitulation (15 May 1940) the entire ministerial staff fled to London to form a Dutch government in exile. Queen Wilhelmina had already preceded them the previous day. This had de facto left government authority in the hands of general Henri Winkelman as the senior-most military commander in the Netherlands. On 20 May 1940 a military administration was initially implemented, led by Militärsbefehlshaber Alexander Freiherr von Falkenhausen. This was quickly disbanded however to be replaced by a civil administration under the authority of the newly appointed Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who was named Reichskommissar für die besetzten niederländische Gebiete. The new form of government was therefore not a German military government (Militärverwaltung) but a civil government (Zivilverwaltung). Hitler chose this option on mainly ideological grounds: the Dutch were a racially-related kindred people, and therefore had to be won over for National Socialism.
This move was technically justified on legal grounds according to the provisions of the Hague Conventions on the laws of war. The wholly unconstitutional evacuation of the monarch and her government before the advancing German forces meant that there was no longer any functioning civil authority left in the area. Article 43 of The Laws and Customs of War on Land stipulate that in this scenario the occupying power is accorded responsibility for maintaining order in the territories that it has occupied in lieu of the native government exercising this authority.
On the longer term ('longer term' not being defined any further by the Germans other than "nach Kriegsende", meaning after the war's conclusion), the German authorities anticipated the direct integration of the Netherlands into the expanding Third Reich.
The German government in the Netherlands was headed by Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar. Beneath him were four Generalkommissare. These were:
- Hans Fischböck, Generalkommissar für Finanz und Wirtschaft (finance and economics);
- Hanns Albin Rauter, Generalkommissar für das Sicherheitswesen (security) who also maintained the position of Higher SS and Police Leader;
- Fritz Schmidt, Generalkommissar zur Besonderen Verwendung ('special tasks'). Succeeded by Willi Ritterbusch after the former’s suicide on 26 June 1943;
- Friedrich Wimmer, Generalkommissar für Verwaltung und Justiz (administration and justice).
Despite his nominal government subordination to Seys-Inquart, Rauter as an SS officer was actually only responsible to Heinrich Himmler as Reichsführer-SS. His own deputies in turn were the Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (commander of the criminal police and the SD) Wilhelm Harster, the Aussenstelle (deputy) in Amsterdam (headed by Willy Lages), and the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish "Emigration") led by Ferdinand aus der Fünten.
No new ministers were appointed; the secretaries-general maintained control over their respective departments, but were now operating under the authority of Seyss-Inquart. The existing lower-level governments remained completely intact as well, although these were gradually being replaced by NSB members as the war progressed.
Strategy and policyEdit
Upon the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, National Socialist Germany's position on the Dutch people initially looked favourable. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and other senior National Socialists regarded the Dutch as part of the Aryan "Herrenvolk" , the Master Race.
Seyss-Inquart's policies were to gradually prepare the state structure and Dutch population for National Socialist ideology, the notion of creating a "new Europe" (meaning one led by Germany), and ultimately assimilation into Greater Germany after its victory in the war. He was conscious however of the very limited support that the Netherlands' future as a German province would necessarily receive, and adjusted his style of rule accordingly so as not to raise any unwanted disturbances that the Dutch people might create. He was also aware that the local Fascist and National Socialist movements in the Netherlands, particularly the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (NSB) led by Anton Mussert were nothing more than minority groups generally despised by the vast majority of the Dutch. Mussert was also an advocate for creating Dietsland, a type of Greater Netherlands to be formed out of the Dutch-speaking Netherlands and Flanders, rather than a Greater Germanic one as desired by Adolf Hitler. For these reasons Seyss-Inquart allowed the NSB only limited authorities, and was generally non-receptive to appointing its members to strategically significant positions.
In the initial stage of the German occupation, the Nazis planned to support the NSB rival National Socialist Dutch Workers Party (NSNAP), which openly called for the annexation of the Netherlands into Nazi Germany. The party received wide coverage in Nazi newspapers and the organization was expanded with the establishment of the Dutch Hitlerjugend. However, the NSNAP was an extremely minor fringe party (it had received less than 1000 votes in the Dutch general election of 1937 and was ultimately deemed to be politically useless by the Germans.
Mussert attempted to convince Hitler that he should be the leader of an independent Dutch state, a request which Hitler denied, leaving Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart as the absolute ruler of the Netherlands. He was however allowed to take on the title of "Leader of the Dutch People" and the NSB was permitted to continue its political activities. The NSB declared that the monarchy was abolished and that the Netherlands should support Germany in the war. 20,000 to 25,000 Dutchmen served in the German Army and Waffen SS.
Despite being considered Herrenvolk, Germany's requirements for war production resulted in the introduction of forced labour (Arbeitseinsatz) on Dutch men of the ages between 18 and 45 as well as extracting Dutch natural resources to use for Germany's war machine.
After its invasion, the Netherlands was temporarily placed under the authority of a German civilian governor (a Reichskommissar) until a final decision would be made on the next form of government to "facilitate" the Dutch nation for its intended assimilation into Germany. However, on several occasions, the German regime seriously considered implementing a concrete plan to change the territorial composition of Reichskommissariat Niederlande. Its then-eleven provinces were to be replaced by five new gewesten (historical Dutch term for a sub-national state polity) and Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart appointed as Reichsstatthalter und Gauleiter for the entire country as the first step in this process.
This proposal originated from a document created by the Hanns Albin Rauter, the Higher SS and Police Leader in the Netherlands, who subsequently submitted it to Nazi Party Secretary Martin Bormann in November 1942. In it he put forward his suggestions on the future political organization of the Netherlands when it would be a component of the Third Reich. It called for its effective division into five new Reichsgaue, preferably to be led by Dutch Waffen-SS veterans from the eastern front. These Gaue were entirely coterminous with the five police and judicial districts that the Germans had established earlier, based on the regional "standards" of the Dutch SS. Fearing the resulting further Nazification of the Netherlands the key Dutch government officials strongly advised Seyss-Inquart not to carry out these steps on account of the administrative chaos that it would inevitably cause, causing them to be shelved for the time being. When Germany was subsequently forced on the defensive after 1942, they were abandoned indefinitely.
In February 1941, opposition to the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis and the collaborationists caused major strikes to break out across the Netherlands. This started after the NSB and its stormtroopers, the Weerbaarheidsafdeling (Defence Section) or WA began a series of provocations against Jewish neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. Fighting broke out in which members of the WA were injured, the collaborationists then called in the support of the German Army which assisted in turning the neighbourhood into a ghetto surrounded by barbed wire and armed positions, non-Jews were not allowed to enter the area. Days later German Ordnungspolizei entered the neighbourhood but a number of police were injured, the Germans then responded by raiding the neighbourhood and capturing 425 Jews who were then deported to concentration camps. On the 24th, the Communist Party of the Netherlands (made illegal by the Nazis) called for the people of Amsterdam to go on strike. Afterwards, tram drivers, schools, and some companies joined the strike. After three days, German police put down the strike.
From 1944 to 1945, the Reichskommissariat came under attack from Allied forces. The first attempt to liberate the Netherlands by the Allies was during Operation Market Garden in 1944, involving the use of paratrooper divisions to take over key bridges in the Netherlands to allow Allied tanks positioned in Belgium to quickly go through the Netherlands and reach Arnhem, which held a bridge over the river Rhine. This would put the Allies in a strategic advantage to invade Germany and quickly end the war. However Allied intelligence failures and poor organization resulted in an Allied failure to cross the Rhine.
After Market Garden, the Canadian Army was given the initiative to liberate the Netherlands, the Canadian armed forces managed to push the German forces to the upper part of the Netherlands by 1945 in which Germany surrendered, abdicating its claim to the Netherlands and all other occupied territories.
- (in Dutch) L. de Jong (1969–1991). Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Staatsuitgeverij, The Hague.