"Strike!" - Seventy Six Years Ago, the Dutch Protested Against the Jews Being Sent to Concentration Camps

Mateusz Szczepaniak, 25th February 2017
The so-called "February Strike" (Februaristaking) began in Amsterdam on 25th February 1941. It was the first and only mass protest in occupied Europe against the policy of repression against the Jews. On that day, 300,000 Dutch stopped work as an act of protest against the events of 22nd and 23rd February 1941, when the Germans arrest 425 Jews from Amsterdam and Rotterdam. All of them ended up in the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Mauthausen. Of those Jews, only two individuals survived the war.

The strike began on Tuesday 25th February 1941 with the stoppage of trams in Amsterdam. Soon after, port workers joined the protest. Offices, shops and cafes closed. The decision to stage a protest had been taken the day before, during the first public gathering at Noordermarkt Square in the Jordaan district. Active in the underground, the Netherlands Communist Party (Communistische Partij Nederland) called upon the whole country to strike. They issued a pamphlet entitled "Staakt!!! Staakt!!! Staakt!!!"  appealing for "solidarity with the Jewish part of the community".

The next day, protests began in other cities - Zaanstreek, Kennemerland, Hilversum, Utrecht and Weesp.

On 27th February, the Germans, taken completely by surprise, took brutal measures to supress the strike. Nine people died, twenty four were injured and many were arrested. A few days later, twenty three years old Communist Party member Leendert Schijveschuurder was arrested. He had distributed posters calling for the next strike planned for 6th March 1941. Together with three other party members, and fifteen members of the Geuzen organisation, he was executed in the sand dunes of the seaside of Waalsdorpervlakte, which became a regular place of execution of members of the Dutch resistance movement.

Soon after, the Germans forced the Mayor of Amsterdam, Willem de Vlugt, to resign. He was replaced with the pro-German politician Edward Voûte. The city's budget was further burdened with a fine of 15 million guilders. The most impportant consequence of the strike was the establishment of a ghetto in the Jewish district (Jodenbuurt) of Amsterdam. At that time, around 140,000 Jewis lived in the Netherlands, of whom 80,000 lived in the country's city.

Today, in Amsterdam, public transport will stop again in memory of those events from seventy six years ago. Every year, the February strike is commemorated at De Dokwerker (The Dockworker) monument created by Mari Andriessen. Since 1952, the city's residents and Holocaust survivors gather around it, on Jonas Daniël Meyer Square, in the Jewish district - the place from where Jews were deported to concentration camps.

Our website will soon have more information about the attitudes towards Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. A series of articles will describe the help given to Jews in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Ukraine, together with the historical context of the German occupation of these countries.

Bibliography

Amsterdam marks anniversary of 1941 mass strike in support of Jews, World Jewish Congress, 25.02.2016 [accessed: 25.02.2017].

D. Michman, Społeczeństwo holenderskie i los Żydów: skomplikowana historia, "Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały", 2016, No.12.

The Persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands, 1940-1945. New perspectives, ed. P. Romijn, B. van der Boom, P. Griffioen, R. Zeller, M. Meeuwenoord, J. Houwink ten Cate, Amsterdam 2012.