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Determined mother foresaw need for national onderduik coordination

Tante Riek issued challenged to Frits de Zwerver

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

Onderduiken: a Dutch term, describing the act of purposely disappearing without a trace during the German occupation of The Netherlands; literally, to dive under (water).

Well over 300,000 Dutch people just disappeared from view, largely in the period of late 1942-1945 in their individual, passive response to the increasingly harsh Nazi decrees and measures. The verb onderduiken and the noun onderduiker are Dutch concepts still closely tied to the Nazi occupation. Anyone born of Dutch immigrant parents and ancestry in North America will hear about it sooner or later, but few people really comprehend the extent and complexity of this phenomenon in Dutch history. What does it take to make 300,000 people disappear and look after them?

To comprehend the magnitude, the number of 300,000 represents the entire city population of places such as Oshawa and Windsor, in Ontario, Canada, Utrecht in the Netherlands, and in the USA, Saint Louis, Missouri and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Disappearing without a trace is one thing, providing for people in hiding is quite another thing, considering that essentials were rationed and supply restricted and only available in exchange for commodity stamps, assigned to specific families?

What caused the Dutch to turn to this type of resistance in a small country with a fairly densily population, of which the German occupation authorities had presumed there would be no place to hide since there was no mountainous terrain and no forests like in Poland, Belgium and France.

The Prelude

How did ‘diving under’ start? First a brief introduction and overview.

In the Netherlands, there had been much apprehension about a possible invasion, which culminated in a general mobilization in August 1939, although it hoped to remain its neutrality as it had during World War I against many odds. It proved to be futile, because early May 10, 1940 the country was invaded. Unfortunately, the Dutch were no match against the fire power of the modern army of Nazi Germany.

Shell shocked and beaten, the Dutch soon resumed their lives under the German occupation. Initially, the Nazis tried to gain favour with the Dutch population by emphasizing a common Germanic racial origin. Warnings about the dangers of Nazi ideals now had a new context. Some Dutch theologians and politicians had already fought against the influence of Nazi ideas at home years before the invasion occurred, including Rev. F. Slomp of the Eastern Dutch village of Heemse (his best known alias is Frits de Zwerver, who we will meet later again in this feature article).

The early form of resistance, baby-steps perhaps, was the wide-spread attention given to the birthday of the Germany-born husband of Princess Juliana, Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfelt. Known as a carnation lover, the display of so many carnations on the Prince’s June 29, 1940 birthday went down like a lead balloon with the occupation authorities. They promptly moved to prevent such manifestations from reoccurring with Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday on August 31, normally a national holiday.


Even before 5) the August 1940 Queensday, a far more troubling Dutch collaborator-lead push surfaced: the beginning of the takeover of Dutch institutions such as the labour movement, schools, universities and the rise of the Hitler scouting movement, with the idea to position Nazi appointees as directors and principals. These measures were accompanied by the abolition of elections and parliament, and the introduction of censorship of press and radio. Slipped in between all these decrees was one to start the move towards the isolation of Dutch Jews.

To avoid creating opposition, this nazification process was cleverly subtle. It started with groups from which the least opposition was expected, the non-confessional groups.

Far less subtle were Dutch Nazi groups and sympathizers. They promoted their party newspaper aggressively on the streets and from door-to-door, going door-to-door in a fundraising drive for a Fall 1940 initiated relief campaign Winterhulp, holding parades to show their presence, volunteering street patrols in a para-military fashion, and brawling with opponents. These activities were abhorred by many, setting the stage early for emerging fault lines through society and many families, and worse.


It certainly is appropriate that a legal scholar rose to the occasion of protesting the disenfranchisement of Jewish colleagues who were being fired from their professorates. Orginally planned by Prof. E.M. Meijers, Prof. R.P. Cleveringa filled in for his fired Jewish colleague by turning it into a protest lecture on November 26, 1940, challenging the legal ground and authority of the Nazis for this and other anti-Jewish decrees. A furious Reichscommissar had the professor promptly arrested, causing the students to strike upon which Leiden University became the first one to be shut down by the Nazis.

In Amsterdam tensions boiled over, after the Dutch pro-nazi movement NSB and its para-military arm, the WA (Weerbaarheidsafdeling - defense section), provoked street battles in the city’s Jewish neighbourhoods, pitching the WA and Jewish self-defense groups and their supporters against each other. These confrontations reached a new low on when a WA member was severly injured and subsequently died. By February 24, 1941, the situation had turned into a full-blown strike in Amsterdam and other cities, the first such an occurrence in defense of the Jews in all of Nazi occupied Europe. In the immediate aftermath of the strike an initial group of Jews was deported, heightening the urgency of ‘diving under’ but an option which had not yet gained traction or a support system. New strikes and brutal putdowns helped prepare the willingness to seek shelter away from home and for others to offer it.


Drenthe-born farmer’s son Rev. F. Slomp served the Reformed Church at Heemse, a village near the old city of Hardenberg, a short distance away from the border with Germany. After Hitler’s rise to power, Slomp studied Nazi ideology and took subscription to various Nazi publications while helping fleeing German Jews find accommodation in the Netherlands. He opposed Dutch efforts to place unemployed workers at German jobs and urged farmers to hire extra help to get people to work. In 1937, German authorities banned Dutch ministers, such as Slomp, from leading services as guest ministers.

Around Heemse and Hardenberg people knew Rev. Slomp’s views on Nazidom. He did not moderate these after the Netherlands had been occupied and openly encouraged non-compliance when the authorities decreed that radios had to be turned in and useful metal for the war industry was being collected.

By July 1942, the Nazis were on their way to arrest the firebrand minister when he was tipped that they were coming. He hid just in time to become a hospitality wanderer, who found a refuge in the shelter-rich Achterhoek, a region further south towards Arnhem. Being sidelined this way turned out to be a very hard thing. During this time, Slomp became acquainted with Helena Kuiper-Rietberg, also known by her alias Tante Riek (Aunt Riek), who already had been placing people at hiding places but who correctly foresaw the need for coordination of this work on a far greater, even national scale.


The task of energizing people into active participation of this rather passive form of resistance to Nazi ideology and its extremely ugly side fell to Slomp, who over time was known by several aliases (the earliest one was Elder Van Zanten) and the best-known one, after the war was over, Frits the Wanderer (in Dutch: de Zwerver). From there on, he was constantly on the move, an unannounced and unidentified speaker at meetings frequently organized by local young men’s Bible study groups at meeting rooms in Reformed church (GKN) buildings. There are suggestions that even those in attendance were there by invitation to keep awareness of it from becoming widely known. Slomp challenged his audiences on the basis of the Bible passage found in Exodus 1:15-17, which summarizes the response of the Israelites to the command of Pharaoh to kill newly born baby boys. How they responded can also be read in the book on Arie van Mansum.

It is almost impossible to comprehend the growth of the restrictions Nazi lords placed on Dutch society, chiseling away at its hard-fought freedoms rule by rule, rationing essentials and controlling transportation and communication, how they forced general labour conscription (March 1942) on all able bodied Dutch men between the ages of 18 and 40, followed up by frequent manhunts to seize the unwilling and brutalizing those who dared to facilitate objectors. Well before the March 1942 date, the Nazis required the unemployed to report for labour duty in Germany and employers to send anyone they could do without, so that they already had compelled over 165,000 to replace Germans drafted into their army. This number had risen to about 500,000 by early 1945 and included about 120,000 men who had been rounded up in the manhunts (known in Dutch as razzia’s). Were filling job vacancies in Germany the only reason for these hunts?

Dutch journalist Dick Verkijk, who reviewed German documents from 1944 and early 1945 for his book De Sinterklaas Razzia van 1944, found that a significant factor for the Germans was the removal from the country of those men who could become a threat in case of an Allied invasion. He documented the debate among Nazi authorities about holding such manhunts, which started in the cities Rotterdam, The Hague and Haarlem, and expanding from there. Did they fear Dutch civilians that much? This feature is our response to the many questions that are being asked about the onderduik phemenon of which numerous postwar Dutch immigrants were a part, one way or other.

To obtain the entire 4-page illustrated article on the Dutch wartime anti-Nazi resistance, request a copy of the March 9, 2012 issue of The Windmill Herald (as long as supply lasts).