Last year one of the teams I work in had their Xmas lunch at Siem Reap, and while I stared jealously at the people who’d opted for the set menu (I didn’t realise it meant all of the dishes, banquet-style, as opposed to one from each course), I got talking to one of my favouritest workmates about Europe, where she was about to travel. She has a Dutch background, so was really interested to know that I’m half Dutch (just don’t ask Mum where her accent is from), and quickly she started interrogating me about what Oma & Opa did during the war. I was able to say that Opa was a prisoner of war, but that he and some others had escaped by cutting a hole in the bottom of the train with a Swiss Army knife, and had lain on the tracks while the train passed over them. When I heard that story when I was about six, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. A pocketknife! My grandfather was as cool as the super cool Macguyver.
It wasn’t until I was older that Mum told me that there was a guard standing on the back of the train, that most of the escapees were shot, and that my grandfather was recaptured and spent the war in a prisoner of war camp. Meanwhile, I know my Oma became a nurse, and that’s how they met eventually. But that wasn’t enough detail for my colleague, and as I’d had a glass of wine, I took her urging and started to text Mum more questions about it all. Sadly, I have deleted all my texts from Mum showing her how it worked on her new iPhone, but I was really interested to learn more about it, though there were gaps in her knowledge as well. Especially around the Milk Strikes! I use an exclamation mark because my colleague told me to study up on the milk strikes while on holiday, and has been reminding me about that ever since. Well, you know I did buttfucknothing over the holidays, which was great, but in honour of my colleague moving to the desk right next to mine a couple of days a week, I thought I would make her a little tribute. And since it’s 2015, of course there are animated gifs. I know a lot could be written about glibly summing up some really bad shit with pictures of cats, but
Here now, I present to you a summary of the Milk Strikes, cribbed largely from The Verzetmuseum but also Wikipedia of course. Now I’d love to know more about your family’s history too…
The involvement of the Netherlands in World War II began with its invasion by Nazi Germany on 10 May 1940. The Netherlands had originally proclaimed neutrality when war broke out in 1939, but Germany invaded anyway. On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered. The Dutch government and the royal family escaped and went into exile in Britain.
On April 29, 1943, the Germans announced that 300,000 Dutch army soldiers, who had been captured and released in 1940, were to be recaptured and sent to German labor camps.
Spontaneous strikes broke out in the eastern region of Twente and spread like lightning across large parts of the country.
Femy Efftink, switchboard operator at the Stork machine factory in Hengelo, helped distribute the news about the strike:
‘At Smit Printers the rumour went round that the prisoners of war would be transported to Germany. We sent out a few messenger boys from Stork to make inquiries. ‘
‘After three years of occupation the time had come for us to resist. In less than half an hour the factory had emptied out. When people phoned us I asked them, “Will you go on strike with us?” And I called a number of other factories one after the other. That’s how it got started.’
‘As soon as this was announced, workers in the town of Hengelo walked off their jobs in a protest strike. Word of the strike spread throughout the provinces. In the city of Eindhoven, every Philips factory shut down.’
In the province of Limburg, over 10,000 miners went on strike, followed by 40,000 total miners striking the next day.Rural Dutch farmers supported the strike by refusing to deliver milk to dairy factories.
To combat these strikes, Nazi troops began shooting at the strikers throughout the country, and those strikers who were arrested were sentenced to death. This caused the strikes to be suppressed everywhere except in Limburg. To put down the strikes in Limburg, a German police force was sent to suppress the strikes with violence.
A housewife from Lemmer wrote in her diary:
‘That morning, strange things had happened in the area. The farmers had gone on strike — they refused to deliver the milk to the factories. So everybody went to the farms to get milk. You could have as much as you wanted. I had three two-litre canning jars full. People came lugging buckets and washtubs.There was tension in the air, because you thought: this is going to lead to violence.’
The strikes later become known as the April/May strikes, or the Milk strikes, because the strikes were mainly in the countryside and in many places farmers refused to deliver milk to the dairy factories.
Piet Stavast was a technical school student in Pekela
‘At the town hall work was still going on under pressure from the NSB mayor. The strikers didn’t agree. They said they’d wait until 11 o’clock.
‘The mayor didn’t want a strike and threatened to call in the Germans. We just looked at the clock and waited until 11. At that moment a huge group of strikers stormed in and drove the staff out.’
The occupiers responded with force. Eighty strikers were summarily executed.
Their names were printed on posters as a deterrence.
Shots were fired on groups of strikers. On May 3rd most of the strikers went back to work. After days of carnage, the strikes had resulted in over 180 deaths, 400 casualties, and 900 prisoners of war being sent to concentration camps.
The strikes marked a turning point. After Amsterdam in 1941, the rest of the Netherlands had now experienced the German terror. Support for the resistance increased sharply.
A pamphlet published by illegal newspaper Trouw stated:
‘Finally the enemy has fully stripped off his mask. The myth of the Führer’s magnanimity is at an end. Now the Germans recognise us for what we truly are: enemies, and not part of the pan-Germanic Community.’