photo Marcel Berendsen taken May 1940 during the Nazi invasion of Holland

photo Marcel Berendsen taken May 1940 during the Nazi invasion of Holland


 Overview: Holland

The Dutch are a people whose success throughout their history is based on their striking resourcefulness. It is a factor that permeates all aspects of their social fabric and their daily lives.

Exceptionally erudite, no matter their class or background, they are especially adept at speaking several languages, often fluently. "A gentleman’s word is as good as his bond” is a phrase that may describe them best.  This may explain why the Dutch are still amongst the most experienced and successful traders in Europe.

In a report issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2011, it was revealed that Holland is the third largest direct investor in the United States and has been in the top three for many years, (they even invested in the American War of Independence). Even so, most Americans in general neither know much about the Dutch nor where Holland is situated.

This little country, about one and a half time the size of Massachusetts is retrieved largely from the sea and mud.  About 20% of its area and 21% of its population is located below sea level and 50% of its land lies less than one metre above sea level. To say they are masters at "water-management" would be an understatement. One would be hard-pressed not to find a Dutchman or Dutch company involved with all major water disasters including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and more recently Hurricane Sandy.

Holland is surrounded by powerful and sometimes often hostile countries, which have been home to  armies of insurgents who have repeatedly invaded and brutalised the Dutch people in the past. Nonetheless, the Dutch have continued to prevail in their remarkably tolerant manner. One does not survive this type of depredation unless they learn the lessons of religion, cooperation, tolerance and humour.

Holland was the first country in the world to practice religious tolerance. During its golden age, it became a destination for thousands of refugees. As a result, the Dutch economy expanded and personal wealth increased so much that the country experienced the first "middle-class" with middle class values---those same values were captured later in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.


The Dutch in World War II

The Dutch respect their commitments with integrity and honour. When the country declared its neutrality in 1939, as it had for World War I, the Dutch were profoundly devastated and totally unprepared when the Nazis invaded on 10 May 1940. The country had not been at war since 1830.

Before I started researching my father’s family in Holland, I knew little about the country’s history. Personally, it has been a sobering and humble journey. I discovered that this small, dignified nation went through hell and back during World War II.

Nevertheless, 70 years on, one would be hard pressed to hear the Dutch lament about how much their population suffered under the Nazi occupation. At the end of the war, in their own inimitable, resourceful way, they just lifted their heads high and got on with their lives.

The fact remains that Holland had the highest death rate per capita of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe.  By the end of the war between 225,000 and 250,000 Dutch people had lost their lives. Included in that number are:


  • 104,000 Dutch Jews were killed -- only 3,000 returned to Holland
  • 34,000 Dutchmen who died in German forced labour camps
  • 25,000 Dutch civilians who died of starvation during the Hunger Winter of 1945
  • 22,000 Dutch civilians who died in bombardments
  • 13,000 Dutch civilians who died in Japanese internment camps in the Dutch East Indies
  • 10,000 Dutch political prisoners who were executed
  • 7,000 Dutch soldiers who died fighting in the Dutch East Indies
  • 4,000 Dutch soldiers who died fighting in Europe