Contemporary historical context
On May 10, 1940, one month before Anne Frank celebrated her 11th birthday in Amsterdam, Nazi Germany invaded the small neutral Kingdom of the Netherlands. The German invasion came as a great shock to the population. Hundreds of people, including many Jewish citizens, committed suicide. As early as the third day of the German invasion, Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands left the country on board a British war ship. The Prime Minister and the whole cabinet followed suit. The people reacted with outrage and disappointment to the flight of the queen and the cabinet. It was only later that people started to understand that the decision had been necessary. Hitler took advantage of the power vacuum created on May 13, 1940 to establish a German civil administration, the Reichskommisariat of the the Netherlands.
The initially reserved behaviour of the German soldiers and the initial lack of arrests of Jews and "political opponents" pacified the Dutch people at first. However, after the failed invasion of England, the true colours of the occupational policy became discernible over time. In February 1941, employees of the Amsterdam transport company and workers from the metal industry and shipyards went on strike in reaction to the deportation of 400 Jewish men. The uprising was beaten down in a bloody manner.
Soon after, close cooperation developed between the Dutch authorities and the National Socialist occupying power. This collaboration also included the police and judiciary.
Marginalisation in all areas of life
The two most dramatic events of the Nazi reign in the Netherlands, as was the case in most European states, were the deportation and murder of the Jews, and the enforced deportation of Jewish men and women for labour duty in Germany.
The persecution of Jews in the Netherlands started with administrative measures at first. In January 1941, a statistical survey showed the precise number of Jews living in the Netherlands: at the time: there were exactly 140,245 Jews. The majority of them (about 118000) were Dutch citizens; in addition there were about 15,000 German refugees and approximately 7000 citizens of other nationalities. In addition to these "full Jews", as they were known in the racial jargon of the Nazi regime, there were about 20,000 "mixed Jews" (individuals who had fewer than two Jewish grandparents or who were living in a German-Jewish "mixed marriage"). Initially, the anti-Jewish measures of the occupying power affected only the 140,000 "full Jews". Marginalisation was not limited only to the professional and economic spheres: in January 1941, Jews were prohibited from going to the cinema, and posters and other announcements forbidding them from entering public institutions (such as museums and other cultural establishments) began to appear.
These acts of administrative and social repression were soon followed by the first examples of physical violence against Jews in the Netherlands. At the same time, a Jewish Council was established in Amsterdam. This Council was conceived as a vehicle for communicating the problems of the 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam to the German authorities. For the occupiers it was an instrument for maintaining peace and order. All Jews were now forced to transfer their entire wealth to banking establishments, and individuals were only allowed access to 250 guilders. At the same time, the occupying power almost completely limited the Jewish population's freedom to move. Jews had to hand in their bicycles, were no longer allowed to use public transport, could only shop in special shops at certain times, and had to stay at home from eight o' clock in the evening until six o' clock in the morning.
In early July 1942, about 4000 Jews, most of whom were living in Amsterdam, received a written summons from the "Central Office for Jewish Emigration", a department of the Gestapo. Those who received this summons had to make their way immediately "to attend a health examination in the Westerbork transit camp/Hooghalen station, where their personal details would be recorded with a view to possible participation in labour duty under police supervision in Germany."
Deportations to Auschwitz concentration camp
In the night of July 14 and 15, 1942, a first train carrying 962 Jews left Amsterdam main station for Hooghalen/Westerbork. However, Westerbork was only a transit camp. The terminus of the goods trains was Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. By the end of February 1943, 49 transports with 46,455 Jews of all age groups had gone to Auschwitz. By October 1, 1943, 86,000 Jewish men, women and children had been deported to Auschwitz and Sobibor, and a further 2000 to Mauthausen, Buchenwald and Ravensbrück.
Of the 107,000 Jews deported from the Netherlands, only about 5000 survived the German concentration and extermination camps. A further 20,000 to 25,000 Jews, predominantly younger people, went into hiding in the Netherlands and were thus able - with the support of courageous non-Jewish helpers - to survive the period of persecution.
Three quarters of all Jews were murdered
Only few Jews, including the Franks, went into hiding during the Second World War. The majority of the Jewish population considered themselves to be safe because they saw themselves as "integrated", "equal" and "fully-fledged Dutch citizens". This false sense of security proved to be the undoing of more than 75% of the pre-war Jewish population and they did not survive the German death machinery.
From Gerhard Hirschfeld: Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank – der historische Hintergrund (The diary of Anne Frank - the historical background)