In no previous war, and in no other
theatre during this war, have resistance
forces been so closely harnessed to the
main military effort, i.
At 4:00 a.m. on May 10, 1940, Queen
Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
awakened her only daughter, Princess
Juliana, with the words: ‘They have
come.’ She did not need to elaborate on
who ‘they’ were; she had been expecting
the Nazis for a long time. In this she was
almost alone in Holland. Even after
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland,
Denmark, Norway – the entire Dutch
nation refused to believe that we would
be next. When nevertheless the war
engulfed us, we didn’t have the slightest
idea what to do about it.ii.
The suddenness and the unprovoked nature of the German Blitzkrieg in 1940 gave its victims no opportunity to reflect or react, which was of course deliberate. There had been little that trained and organized troops, let alone civilians, could do to halt the juggernaut. With western Europe under German control from June 1940, the armies of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway had either been defeated or simply disarmed. Their heads of state were under house arrest (as in Belgium), had escaped to England (as was the case with the rulers of Norway and Holland), or had come to terms with the occupiers (as in France). Their populations, subjected to strict and increasingly draconian regulations, were cowed. An uneasy ‘peace’ settled over Europe and in many respects life could continue as before (the time of hardship hunger, air raids, conscription for forced labour and German reprisals – were to come later). Erik Hazelhoff, soon to depart for England to join the exiled Dutch forces, outlined the options facing those who remained:
Except for the Jews, the choice of
existence for every Hollander lay
between extremes. He could either live
in safety and comfort by complying with
the authorities, or in mortal danger by
defying them. In the latter case you
enjoyed life quite normally, in your
home, with your friends, in your job, on
the beach, at the movies and ballgames
and parties, until something went
wrong and you were beaten, kicked, and
sometimes shot to death. And once in
trouble, you were on your own.
Naturally, there were many in these lands who wished to continue the fight. Largely young men, they could attempt to reach Britain and enlist in the armed forces there, or they could remain at home, organize themselves into clandestine units and carry out as many acts of subterfuge, espionage or harassment as were offered by circumstances.
This resistance did not begin at full strength. It built up slowly (the best known of the underground armies, the French Maquis, did not come into being until 1943) as the harshness of German policies took an increasing toll on the conquered peoples. Its numbers swelled in response to the setbacks suffered by German armies in the field, whether at Stalingrad or in Normandy, just as defiance of the regime in Germany itself increased after these events.
Communications were a vital part of any resistance organization. London was the source of most necessities, whether weapons, money, medical supplies or military advisers, and therefore any cell that wished to be effective needed to be able to contact the Allies by