The February strike
Every year a gathering is held at the statue of a dockworker in Amsterdam's Jonas Daniel Meijerplein to commemorate the general strike of 25 February 1941. Unlike other strikes, this one was not for higher pay or world revolution. Instead for the first time in the occupied Netherlands, a city revolted against the Nazis' treatment of the Jews.
In the face of mounting attacks and raids on Dutch Jews, council workers in Amsterdam held a meeting on 24 February 1941 in the Noordermarkt district and decided to strike. That night the illegal Communist Party delivered a manifesto to all parts of the city, calling on the population to: "strike, strike, strike". Tram drivers, dock and metal workers, civil servants and factory employees of all persuasions — Christians, Liberals, Social Democrats and Communist — answered the call and brought the city to a standstill the next day. The work stoppages even spread to Zaanstreek, Kennemerland and Utrecht. The German authorities were taken by surprise as nothing similar had happened in the other countries they occupied in the early part of the Second World War. They responded with arrests, bullets and grenades. The strike was called off after two days. Nine people were dead, 50 injured and another 200 people were arrested, some of whom were to die in the concentration camps.
|The dockworker |
The Nazis went on over the next few years to round up 110,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews. Only 5,000 Dutch Jews returned from the concentration camps at the end of the war. The first strike commemoration was held in 1946 and has been associated every since with the need to protect the population against discrimination. The statue of the dockworker in Amsterdam's Jonas Daniel Meijerplein was erected in 1952 and gatherings have been held there ever since. The first article of the Dutch Constitution, according to the February strike remembrance committee, embodies this sentiment as it guarantees equal treatment and outlaws "discrimination based on religion, philosophy, political persuasion, race, sex, or any other grounds". Memories of the Nazi extermination of some 100,000 Jews may help to explain the absolute outcry generated when anti-immigration, openly-gay politician Pim Fortuyn called for the scrapping of Article 1 from the Constitution in February 2002. That and his demand that immigration be halted led to his dismissal from the leadership of the Leefbaar Nederland (LN) party. But in a clear sign that the attitude to foreigners is hardening in the Netherlands, his new LPF party soon eclipsed LN in the polls in the run-up to the general election on 15 May 2002. Sadly, intolerance won the day when a lone assassin gunned Fortuyn down nine days before the election. Animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf, 31, admitted killing Fortuyn "because he was a threat to society". Van der Graaf was jailed for life.
|Anton Mussert: The Jew-hating leader of the Dutch Nazi party NSB |
The date of his murder, 6 May, has in a small way been seen as almost as significant to the Netherlands as September 11 was in the US. Fortuyn was silenced, but his demand that foreigners living in the Netherlands integrate into Dutch society or leave has become a mainstay of political thinking in this country. This is a far cry from the flack he took for "attacking the very foundations of Dutch democracy", as one newspaper put it, for calling for the legal ban on discrimination to be dropped. "Fortuyn underestimated his role as a politician," Nijmegen University politics professor Kees van Kersbergen said at the time. "He raised the hackles of rival politicians by breaking the taboo of taboos: questioning Article 1 of the Constitution. He has proven to be an idiot in a political sense." Nevertheless, relations between the native Dutch population and immigrants have become increasingly strained since Fortuyn's death. Well-publicised remarks by one Muslim leader in 2002 that gay people are "lower than pigs" have not helped. In more recent times, the government has proposed a string of new requirements and rules for newcomers hoping to move to the Netherlands. In February 2004, the Dutch Parliament backed plans to deport 26,000 unsuccessful asylum seekers who have been waiting for five years or more to have their applications processed. It will be the largest deportation operation in Europe since the Second World War.
|Plaque commemorating the famous meeting |
The February strike commemoration committee has said that it is important at times of high ethnic tension to remind everyone of the day in February 1941 when Amsterdam stood up against intolerance as "respect, solidarity, and humanity are values that must always be held high". The 2006 ceremony takes place as always in the Jonas Daniel Meijerplein at 4.45pm on 25 February. Harry Borghouts, the Queen's Commission in Noord Holland Province, will begin the event with a short speech. This will be followed by a poetry reading by Remco Campert. The ceremony will conclude with a march past the Dockworker statue at 5pm to allow participants to lay flowers. From midday on 25 February there will be an exhibition in the Mozes and Aaronkerk church, next to Waterlooplein in Amsterdam, featuring photographs of the raids on the Jewish areas in Amsterdam that prompted the strike. Updated 22 February 2006 Subject: Life in Holland