February 25th is the 80th anniversary of the Dutch General Strike, a rare example of mass resistance to the Nazi holocaust.
Our children know something of the Nazi terror through the extraordinary diaries of Anne Frank, whose tragic death just days before Auschwitz was liberated echoes the fate that befell three quarters of the Dutch Jewish population. Yet I know that even people of UK Dutch Jewish heritage do not know about this heroic general strike which took the Nazi conquerors completely by surprise .
Nine months into the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, preparations for the holocaust were well under way. Jews had been chucked out of the civil service; judges, politicians, doctors removed from public office, and all Jewish people and their businesses were being methodically catalogued in preparation for the final solution.
The strike was triggered by the arrest and murder of Erich Cahn, a German Jewish refugee who owned a popular Amsterdam ice cream parlour; and another 425 Jewish people being snatched from the street and deported to Buchenwald.
This was meant to suppress the revolt. Instead it provoked a call for a general strike. Led by tram drivers, dockworkers and street cleaners, it quickly spread to factories and offices. Shops and cafes closed. The strike spread to other Dutch cities: Amsterdam was shut down completely.
At least 300,000 people took part in the 3 day strike. Nine strikers were killed and many others injured. Members the Jewish Council appealed to the organisers to end the strike, worried that the SS would deport more Jews in retaliation.
By early March 18 protesters had been executed and by the end of 1942, most Dutch Jews had been deported to the death camps.
I wonder if our ignorance of this rare act of solidarity and resistance to the holocaust is that the leaders of the strike -Piet Nak, Willem Kraan and Henk Sneevliet – all had communist affiliations, and it didn’t suit the people who won the war to dwell on that. History is not static, it needs to be constantly revised.