This article is based on the work of David Barnouw, Dirk Mulder, and Guus Veenendaal, De Nederlandse Spoorwegen in oorlogstijd 1939-1945. Rijden voor Vaderland en Vijand. Spoorwegstaking – Joden transporten – Herinnering (The Dutch Railway System During Wartime: 1939-1945. Driving for the Home Country and the Enemy. Railway Strike – Transportation of Jews – Memories). Published in 2019, the work describes the Dutch company’s acts of resistance (the railroad strike in September 1944) and collaboration as well as how this time period is perceived seventy-five years after the fact.Offering more than a simple historical and memorial analysis, the author highlights the path taken by the institution’s leaders, profoundly questioning the role of the Dutch railroads in the deportation of Jews and taking a step towards a moral (and financial) recognition of the victims.
May 2020 was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by Allied Forces. The year before, a book was published about the Dutch railways during the German Occupation. It covered not only the Resistance (the railway strike in September 1944), but also the collaboration and 75 years of memory. This article is based on that book.
Like most other national railways, the Dutch railways consisted of numerous independent companies that later merged into one. The Preußische Staatseisenbahnen had always been an example of state exploitation, but it was only in 1938 that the two main Dutch companies, HSM and SS, merged as the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). It remained a private company, but all the shares were owned by the state and the workers had semi-civil servant status. Also, they had no right to strike; after a solidarity strike by railway workers in 1903, the right to strike was suspended for civil servants, including railway workers.
Punctuality was the main concern of railways everywhere and the organization was almost military, including its uniforms. It was viewed as a family concern where grandfathers, fathers and sons were trained inside and stayed their whole life with the railways. Directors and executives were recruited from within, but that changed just before the Second World War: an outsider was appointed by the government, against the wishes of most of the railway family.
Railways had shown their importance in warfare from the beginning. They were perfect for transporting the army and military goods to the front in a relatively short time…
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