On 5 May 1945, the liberation of the Netherlands is an official fact, although the first American troops crossed into Limburg in September 1944. By the end of 1944 parts of Zeeland, Limburg, Gelderland and Noord-Brabant have been liberated. Because of the fierce resistance by the Germans and the long, cold winter, it takes until May 1945 for the rest of the Netherlands to be liberated from the occupying forces. On 5 May 1945 the Germans sign the official capitulation in the Netherlands, but the Dutch East Indies have to wait another three months before the Japanese surrender on 15 August.
The liberation of the Netherlands is cause for much rejoicing and happiness among many people. However, besides these happy emotions, sorrow, confusion and fear of reprisals also play an important role.
From September 1944, many American, British and Canadian troops enter the Netherland. These Yanks and Tommies, who have come to liberate the country, are enthusiastically welcomed everywhere. They hand out chocolate and cigarettes to the people. Following the liberation in May 1945, a shortage of shipping delays the repatriation of the Canadian soldiers, many of whom remain in the Netherlands throughout 1945. A range of information is published to familiarise them with the Netherlands.
The sense of elation among the people is such that many women entered into relationships with Allied soldiers and got pregnant. The children born from these relationships are known as 'liberation babies'.
Amid the joy there are discordant notes as well. There are individual acts of misbehaviour among the Allied soldiers, though they are emphatically not ordered by their superiors (as was the case with the Germans). Some are guilty of plunder; they burn farms, kill livestock and loot factories.
The liberation of the Netherlands leads to a power vacuum. In the areas that have already been liberated the administration is in the hands of the Netherlands Military Administration (NMA) led by Major General H.J. Kruls. The NMA is responsible for ensuring that the administration can be transferred in an orderly manner to the Dutch government in due course. In March 1945, Queen Wilhelmina returns - temporarily at first - to the Netherlands. She hopes for political modernisation. The popularity of the monarchy increases dramatically during the last phase of the war. This is partly due to the bundling of resistance forces in September 1944 to create the Netherlands Interior Forces (NBS) commanded by H.R.H. Prince Bernhard. As time passes, the NBS become a cause for concern as they engage in armed conflicts in the cities and take matters into their own hands. Prime Minister Gerbrandy deplores the presence of 'dubious elements' in the NBS and would prefer to see the role of the monarchy restricted.
On 12 September 1944, American soldiers cross into Limburg, making them the first liberators on Dutch soil. Enthusiastic crowds await them, waving flags and climbing on the jeeps and tanks of the liberators. The soldiers hand out chocolate and cigarettes to the people. Spontaneous street parties erupt, combined with Old Dutch games and traditions. On 6 May 1945, the Germans sign the official capitulation in the Netherlands. The Dutch East Indies have to wait another three months before the Japanese surrender on 15 August.
On Queen's Day, 31 August 1945, the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam is the setting for a large-scale re-enactment of the occupation of the Netherlands. Their Royal Highnesses Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard are both present. In the period immediately following the liberation, large numbers of posters, cards and broadside poems are printed. Personal letters give an impression of how people experienced the liberation.
Dutch people who chose the side of the occupier during the war are interned and tried as collaborators. NSB followers (the Dutch national socialist movement) in particular are abused and humiliated and their leader Anton Mussert is convicted of high treason and executed. According to statistics, there are more than 300,000 Dutch people on the 'wrong' side. The Central Archive for Special Jurisdiction (CABR) contains more than half a million dossiers. Around 130,000 collaborators are interned in various camps, often under terrible conditions. Hygiene is poor, the guards intimidate the prisoners, and some people have been interned without any clear charge brought against them. Various ideas are put forward for dealing with these NSB followers, for example deporting them to New Guinea.
People vent their anger and dissatisfaction on those who collaborated with the enemy. Their frustration is directed at the 'moffenmeiden' for example: girls who had contact with the Germans. They are publicly humiliated and their heads shorn.
Many Dutch people were forced to leave their homes as a result of the war. Survivors from the German concentration camps, as well as those sent away as forced labourers, prisoners of war, those forced into hiding and evacuees, return home after the war. Yet many do not return, for example the 106,000 Dutch Jews who have been killed. Government institutions and private organisations such as the Red Cross work hard to help the repatriates. Far more attention is paid to their material needs than to repairing the psychological damage inflicted by the war. Both the government and public opinion, as well as the interest groups of the war victims themselves are focused on rebuilding the country. It will be many years before the emotional damage caused by the war begins to be recognised.
The liberation of the Dutch East Indies sees another 300,000 repatriates arriving in the Netherlands. They too experience little sympathy for what they suffered in the Japanese prison camps.
After the liberation the balance is drawn up. Many cities, towns and villages, particularly in the front-line territory in the centre of the country, have been destroyed and must be rebuilt. The bombing of Rotterdam in 1940 has left deep scars in the cityscape. Deliberate flooding has caused great problems for farmers in the countryside of the Betuwe and Zeeland. The shortage of workers means that the industrial sector is only operating at half speed.
The Netherlands has been heavily plundered by the Germans. Soldiers loot houses and factories because their own heimat has suffered greatly from Allied bombing. The theft of bicycles is also commonplace. But the liberators are also guilty of looting and burning farms.