A brief historical background to Steven’s Story

Steven Frank was born in Holland and as a young boy he experienced life under Nazi occupation. His story tells of what happened to him and to his family.

Despite Holland’s attempts to stay neutral as World War 2 took hold in Europe, German forces invaded the country on 10 May 1940.  After five days of fighting, and the loss of 5,500 soldiers and civilians, the Dutch forces surrendered.   This began five years of Nazi occupation, during which the persecution of Holland’s Jewish population was ruthless and efficient, resulting in the highest percentage of local Jews being sent to their deaths, more than double than any other European country.

The discrimination and persecution of the Jews started immediately after the invasion. Jewish citizens were repressed, forced from their homes and forced to work in factories.  Jewish people were forbidden from visiting public places and fired from government positions.

Many Jewish people went into hiding while some gave up their children to virtual strangers in an attempt to keep them safe.   Unlike anywhere else under Nazi occupation, the Nazis employed Dutch collaborators as bounty hunters, paying a reward for every Jew, adult or child, who was turned in to the authorities.  Most of those handed over were deported and murdered.

On 22 and 23 February 1941 German forces raided the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, arresting and deporting more than 400 Jewish men to Buchenwald concentration camp.  The local Dutch people were outraged by the round-ups and called a General Strike which, at its peak, involved 300,000 people.  The Nazis brought the strike to a violent end, executing some of the leaders and forcing the Dutch back to work.  The strike was the largest civil protest of its kind against the Nazi’s treatment of Jewish people and to this day is commemorated in Holland every 25th February.

By 1942 Jews were forced to wear Star of David badges on their clothing and all their basic rights and freedoms were curtailed.  Deportation to concentration camps and death camps occurred in greater numbers (mostly to Auschwitz-Birkenau) with many being sent from Westerbork transit camp which was known as ‘the gates of hell’.  Concentration camps were also built in Vught and Amersfoort.

In September 1944, Dutch railway workers went on strike to try and help the Allied forces who had by then landed in Europe.  The Germans retaliated by suspending food supplies.  Hampered further by a harsh winter, 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation in the famine.  The ‘Hunger Winter’ as it came to be known made life even harder for those hiding Jewish people and some were given up simply for food.

Holland was not liberated until the very end of the War, by which time almost three-quarters of Holland’s Jewish population had been deported to concentration and extermination camps.  Only a quarter of Dutch Jews survived the War.