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  • Writer's pictureGillis Kersting

The February Strike of 1941

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Letters from capitiviy, © Mike Bink photograhpy

The Dutch Resistance Museum, located in Amsterdam’s elegant Plantage area, has prolonged its exhibition on the February Strike of 1941. And rightly so. In protest against the pogroms in their city, over 300.000 workers of Amsterdam, mainly communists, took to the streets. A seldom seen act of solidarity with the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in occupied Europe.

The history of heroism is displayed through innovative features, by which the museum meets the demands of visitors today. As soon as they walk into the exhibition room, their attention is drawn to a delicately setup projection screen. On display are graphic designs which, in an illustrative way, explain how the February Strike came into being.

Dutch communists rose up against anti-Semitism

First, by the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940, then by the anti-Semitic measures carried through by the quisling authorities. Throughout these events, Dutch communists clashed with their fascist rivals from the Weerbaarheidsafdeling. After these street battles led to the death of a WA-combatant, killed February 11 at the Waterlooplein, and injured several officers, German troops came into action. On February 22 and 23, they rounded up 425 Jewish Amsterdammers and sent them, via Schoorl transit camp, to Buchenwald and Mauthausen. Photographs of these frightened young men put under arrest are displayed in the museum. They give visitors an unveiled image of anti-Semitism. Of all those arrested and deported, only two made it back.

The razzia’s testified to the villainous nature of Nazi-occupation. Its violent and merciless character upset Dutch society. Catholics and Protestants all together abhorred the treatment of Jewish citizens. Rushing into action, however, was the Dutch Communist Party, led by Piet Nak and Willem Kraan. Herman Misset’s painting Meeting at the Noordermarkt on February 24 grasps the atmosphere of solidarity among the city workers. The Amsterdam proletariat was incited to rise up for their Jewish co-workers. To underline the importance of the CPN rally, Misset’s painting is remodelled in a braille maquette. A gesture from the museum, that helps visually handicapped to have a picture of what is portrayed on the canvas. Other objects on display, such as the cobblestones and chipping hammer, typical attributes of the communist paviours, are showcased in such fashion that visitors are able to feel them.

Visitors are taken through the events of February 1941, thanks to detailed images on a projection screen. © Mike Bink photograhpy

Protests were quickly spread out throughout the city

When the February Strike broke out, on February 25, the Germans were caught completely by surprise. What added to their bewilderment was the velocity at which the protest spread throughout the city and surged into surrounding areas. Even reaching Utrecht the next day. Driving force behind the mobilisation were the dock workers in Amsterdam North. Crossing them over the IJ-river was essential, but complicated. Even though Amsterdam was known to have the most bridges in the world (5.172 registered bridges), there was not one overpass connecting the northern districts with the rest of the city. Protesters had to be transported by ferries, the only means of public transport still operating during the strike.

German troops ended the two-day revolt in bloodshed. Nine protesters were killed, dozens severely wounded and hundreds placed under arrest. Three activists, caught on March 13, were consequently shot because of their role in the protest. Willem Kraan, the communist foreman, was also placed under arrest and executed on November 19, 1942.

Communists excluded from commemorations

After the war, the leading role of the CPN in the February Strike was downplayed by the Dutch government. Since 1946, when the mass protest was first commemorated, communists were not allowed at the ceremony. Understandably so, argued government officials, because the about to begin Cold War didn’t leave room for compromise. To the communists, however, their exclusion was a flagrant misreading of historical events. Not only did the CPN take the lead in organising the strike (and did it take the brunt of German reprisal), but also, the communist party put forward that Amsterdam’s civil servants were responsible for aiding the Nazi’s in rounding op the Jews.

The infamous Stippenkaart, an atlas mapping all Jews in the city, was drawn up by city officials. It is showcased in the museum as well. A silent manifestation of compliance by the city authorities in wartime.

Be Brave! On view until November 14,2021

The Dutch Resistance Museum Plantage Kerklaan 61 1018 CX Amsterdam Tel: +31 (0) 20-620 25 35 Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 10:00 until 17:00 Saturday – Sunday: 11:00 until 17:00


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