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Hendrik Colijn, leader of the main opposition party and a former Prime Minister called together representatives of all the Dutch political parties (except the Communists) to found the Nederlandse Unie ‘in a grave hour in the history of our fatherland, in order to gather together all Dutch people for resolute work for the preservation and strengthening of fatherland and community’.10 The Netherlands Union promised to work in a ‘loyal relationship’ with the German Reichskommisar telling its supporters to back the new Nazi Labour Service, and to contribute to the new ‘Winter Aid’. Its political themes echoed those of the Fascist movement in Germany, calling for ‘a strong Dutch people closely linked with the overseas colonies … under the leadership of a rigorous and enterprising authority’;
society, thought the NU, should be an ‘organic structure’. The Union was ‘against Communism’ and willing to cooperate ‘gladly in anti-Communist propaganda’ with the Reichskommisar – the one element of German NSDAP policy that was missing from the Dutch NU was its anti-Semitism.11 Very quickly the Netherlands Union grew from 250 000 members in the first two weeks, to 800 000 in February 1941 and published its own paper Die Unie. Colijn, though, had misjudged the occupation authorities, which were not interested in allowing any independent expression of Netherlands’ patriotism, and wanted instead to see the much smaller National Socialist Movement of Anton Mussert act as a figurehead leader. The Union tried to prove its worth and issued an instruction to its members on 10 January 1941 saying that ‘a loyal attitude to the occupation authorities is a precondition and that members must keep to this’. Later that year the NU started to purge itself of Jewish members.12 No amount of crawling to the Reichskommisar helped – on the same day as its instruction of loyalty was issued, the NU offices were occupied by the Gestapo and its leaders briefly arrested. Later that year Colijn was arrested again, and this time interned in Ilmenau Camp near Erfurt in Germany, possibly as a potential go-between to talk to the Allies, but instead he died on 16 December 1944.
The Netherlands Union failed to become a Dutch Vichy, not for want of trying, but because the occupation authorities did not think they needed it. Dutch business, though, boomed under the occupation, as manufacturers made armaments and other goods to feed the German war effort. Between January and September 1942 the Netherlands Armaments Inspectorate recorded 154 big guns made, 2155 gun parts, 1126 machine-guns, 150,000 machine gun parts, and large amounts of ammunition. The value of exports to Germany grew from 159.2 million guilder in 1938, to 313.1 million in 1940, 497.1 in 1941 … peaking at
523.3 million in 1943. At the same time the value of German exports to Holland rose from 308 million in 1938 to a peak of 500 million in 1941, whereafter it declined again to pre-war levels. The Dutch Economic Secretary General Dr Hans Max Hirschfeld attacked violent acts by the resistance because they put ‘unreasonable extra pressure on the fabric of the political and economic order’.13 To the North, in Norway, Vikdun Quisling was ‘a believer in the germanic racial community’.14 Forty-five thousand joined Quisling’s Nasjonal Samling Party – one in seventy of all Norwegians. To the South in Belgium, de Clercq and his Flemish movement painted French influence as ‘oppression’ and identified with German ascendance. In Wallonia there was Degrelle and his ‘Rexists’, also there were other parties of the right La Rocque and his French Social Party, Doriot and his French Popular Party.
In Czechoslovakia Hitler relied on the sizeable German minority to justify the 1938 occupation. The following year Germany made Bohemia and Moravia a ‘Protectorate’, taking control of foreign policy and matters of state, while leaving domestic affairs to a local regime. Germany also gave the authoritarian leader of Slovakia, Father Tiszo, rights of succession, gaining greater mastery over both states.
France’s National Revolution On 10 May 1940 the French Army had twice as many wheeled vehicles and 4,638 tanks to the German 4,060.15 On the Western Front, where France had followed Britain’s ultimatum, ‘the phoney war continues’ wrote German Colonel von Vormann in his diary on 6
So far not a shot has been fired on the Western front. On both sides there are just huge loudspeakers barking at each other, with each side trying to make it clear to the other how impossible their behaviour is and how stupid their governments are.16 On 17 May 1940, the French armies were ‘broken on the Meuse’, said Sir John Hammerton.17 In fact French resistance melted away, and General Rommel was surprised to see that commanders surrendered before battle had been engaged.18 Pierre Mendès France, a Minister in the government of Leon Blum and later part of de Gaulle’s Free French, said that the Generals ‘tackled the war unenthusiastically’: ‘This attitude of preferring Hitler to Leon Blum was an attitude that had become very popular in Bourgeois circles and this was a world to which many of the soldiers belonged’.19 Mendès France was talking about the great reservoir of reactionary feeling among the well-to-do. They nursed a lingering resentment at the way that Blum’s government let the working classes carry on protesting and striking, and looked jealously at Hitler’s repressive measures. To these people ‘France was in decay thanks to the Front Populaire and the côterie of corrupt politicians, Freemasons and Jews’, wrote Arthur Koestler, who was imprisoned as an enemy alien. The leaders of this reactionary outlook ‘in the ministries and on the General Staff’ were ‘scared by the bogy of a social revolution, they regarded Hitler as their saviour’.20 Indeed with the German army bearing down on the capital, the French cabinet’s greatest fears were summed up in the false report from General Weygand on 13 June that the Communists had seized Paris and installed their leader Jacques Duclos in the Elysée Palace. Four days later Marshal Pétain announced that he had formed a new government and was seeking an armistice: ‘With a heavy heart, I tell you today that it is necessary to stop the fighting’.21
On 26 May the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. A humiliating defeat was turned around by government propaganda that the British had courageously fought a rear-guard action against overwhelming odds. The truth was that the combined British, French, Belgian and Dutch forces of 3.7 million were much greater than the German force of 2.7 million. In spite of the tales of heroism, the British Parliament heard in secret session that officers had pushed in front of their men to escape from the beach. In disgust many soldiers had thrown their equipment from the trains carrying them back from the coast, and others had asked their families to meet them, with civilian clothes to change into.22 In fact the British troops were saved by Hitler, who held back while they departed. He told his staff that he wanted a ‘reasonable peace agreement’ with Britain immediately so that he would be ‘finally free’ for his ‘great and real task: the confrontation with Bolshevism’.23 Collaboration was not just a pragmatic policy for Pétain’s government. His Foreign Minister Paul Baudouin made it clear in July 1940 that this was a positive chance to fix the
problems that he felt had beset France:
The total revolution of France has been prepared by twenty years of uncertainty, discontent, disgust and latent insurrection … The war has burst open the abscess … This possibility of doing something new thrills men of every walk of life.24 The point was reiterated by Pétain in a broadcast of 30 October: ‘in the framework of the active construction of the New European order, I enter today on the path of collaboration.’ 25 Far from being a reluctant victim of occupation, the French government used the new balance of power to press on with a ‘National Revolution’ whose themes were ‘Travail, famille, patrie’ – work, family, country – to replace the now too radical ideals of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’. Pétain suspended civil and political rights, put the workforce under military discipline, instituted ‘national education’ and organised a youth movement, the Compagnons to act as the vanguard of the National Revolution. Ominously, the ‘Institute of Jewish Questions’ hosted ‘Jews and France – a morphological exhibition’.26 On 3 July 1940 the Royal Navy attacked the French fleet at Mers El Kebir, off Algeria, killing 1,297. Four days later Pétain’s minister Pierre Laval contacted the German Generals Huntzinger and Walther Warlimont at the Armistice Commission at Wiesbaden ‘to discuss the possibility of change the armistice clauses to allow military collaboration’, and so the terms were discussed ‘which are now known as collaboration’.27 The Limits Of The National Socialist Revolution In Europe In Britain, the cynics at the Economist wondered out loud that The odd thing about the extent to which this prospectus of the “new order” coincides with the plan of reformers of both Right and of Left in democratic communities. The union of Europe has been under discussion for two decades. Now it is an accomplished fact.
With more than a suggestion that they saw the merits of the national socialist revolution in Europe, the Economist went on to say that ‘the lesson of the New Order’ is that ‘the age of free enterprise has given place to the age of security’. Europe’s business leaders, mused the
Economist’s editors, seemed to prefer the New Order:
The extent …to which the Nazis have found willing collaborators is not altogether surprising. Industrialists have, of course, been driven into collaboration by the need for raw materials, but there is no doubt that many of them would have been ready for it without this compulsion. It is after all only extending to the whole of Europe the practice of monopoly which has been the goal of the average businessman and his associates.
According to the businessman’s in-house journal, big business was itself welcoming
Hitler’s new Order in Europe:
The heavy industry of France, Belgium and Holland were already inextricably bound up with German industry and one of the reasons why there was so little resistance is that the Nazis are not altering economic relations so much as abolishing the economic frontiers which, until 1940, hindered the unlimited cartelisation and merging from which many industrialists were perfectly prepared.28 In April 1941, with Poland, the Czech lands and western Europe under occupation an over-indulgent George Kennan at the US Consulate in Berlin wrote that Germany’s leaders did not want to ‘see other people suffer under German rule’ but that they were ‘most anxious that their new subjects should be happy in their care’ -indeed that they were making ‘important compromises’ to see that happen.29 Certainly, Belgian business leaders profited by the decisive victory over organised labour that came with the occupation. They took heart from the end of trade union consultation (commission paritaires) and boasted that the disappearance of labour unions and the elimination of the commission paritaires prepare the way for a rapprochement between owners and workers by the establishment of a relation that does away with the class struggle.30 The unification of Europe, though, foundered on the German exploitation of Europe.
Some Danish farmers, Belgian and Dutch industrialists, and the French haute bourgeoisie prospered, but the people did not. If there was a question mark over whether the occupation was soft or hard it is because different classes of people did better or worse. The main cost of the occupation fell on the working class, who had their rations cut and their sons taken away under Fritz Sauckel’s detention of workers for the Reich.
In August 1941 Goering gathered a meeting of those in charge of the Occupied territories, and attacked them for what he saw as the kid treatment of their subject peoples: ‘I see people there are stuffed full of food [sic] while our people are starving’. The field marshal scorned the military commanders and Reich commissars complaining ‘I have reports of what you are planning to deliver in front of me’ and that ‘it seems like nothing at all’. Goering revised the amounts upwards – doubling France’s grain requisition to 1.2 million tons, and pushing Norway’s fish target up to half a million tons. Total European grain deliveries rose from two million tons to more than five million in 1942-3 (helped by a bumper harvest).
Goering gave a special Harvest Thanksgiving speech, boasting that the Reich had beaten Churchill’s blockade.31 ‘As far as I am concerned I propose to loot’ Goering said to the Reich Commissars of the occupied territories and military commanders of 6 August 1942, ‘and on a large scale’.