Februaristaking: The 1941 February Strike in the Netherlands
Organised by the Communist Party of the Netherlands, the Februaristaking - or February Strike - of 1941 saw the people of Nazi-occupied Netherlands stand up in defence of persecuted Dutch Jews and against the anti-semitic laws enforced by the Nazis.
Taking place on February 25 and 26, 1941, the Februaristaking marks an exceedingly significant point in Dutch history. Even eight decades on, the people of the Netherlands continue to honour the values associated with the strike. Let’s delve into what happened exactly on this day in Dutch history.
Violence against Jews led to rising tensions in occupied Netherlands
The Februaristaking was organised as a direct response to the increasingly oppressive policies of the Nazi occupation forces and Nazi collaborators and sympathisers in the Netherlands during the Second World War.
The strikes were the result of rising tensions and anger among the Dutch people, and were triggered by the harsh treatment of Jewish citizens. After the Netherlands surrendered to Nazi forces in May 1940, the first anti-Jewish measures came into effect in June and, by November of the same year, Jews were removed from all public positions, including in universities. Workers in Amsterdam were also concerned about the threat of forced labour in Germany.
Throughout February 1941, a number of incidents occurred between the Dutch Nationalist Socialist Movement (a pro-Nazi organisation), German soldiers, Dutch police forces, and the Jewish members of the Amsterdam population. Ahead of the strike, on February 22 and 23, Nazi officers captured 425 Jewish men aged 20 to 35, imprisoning them in a concentration camp in Schoorl. Ultimately the men were sent to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps - only two of the 425 survived the war.
Februaristaking 1941: How the Dutch stood up against the Nazis
Following the imprisonment of these men, tensions came to a head and, on February 24, 1941, at a meeting on the Noordermarkt in Amsterdam, the Communist Party of the Netherlands called for industrial action on February 25. Thousands of workers took up the call, striking in Amsterdam on February 25 and 26, 1941.
Of course, the Nazis were quick in their attempts to quell the strike and while their attempts were initially unsuccessful, they eventually managed to suppress the protest action by February 27. While the strike was short-lived, it remains an extremely significant event in Dutch history, as it is remembered as the only large-scale and direct action in Europe against the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.
Photos of strikers in the Februaristaking 1941-1981 exhibition at the Amsterdam Historical Museum, 1981. Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo.
How the February strike spread to different Dutch cities and towns
While the most famous strikes were held in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital wasn’t the only city that went on strike in February 1941. Over the course of the two-day strike, the action spread to a number of different Dutch cities and towns, including Hilversum and Zaandam.
The strike kicked off in the Dutch capital, where ultimately 300.000 workers downed tools - everyone from tram drivers and others employed by the municipality to teachers and De Bijenkorf employees - effectively bringing the city to a standstill. Thousands joined a march through the city, meeting to demonstrate on the Rozengracht, Marnixstraat and Damrak.
The strike action was quick to spread to Hilversum on February 25, where thousands of members of the public gathered to protest in the centre of the relatively small city. On the second day, the news had spread, and around 10.000 are believed to have gathered together on the Groest to demonstrate against the Nazis’ violence and anti-Jewish policies.
Striking in Utrecht, Zaanstad, and Haarlem
On February 26, the strike also spread to other Dutch cities and towns, despite some of them being relatively far away from the centre of the action in Amsterdam. Workers in areas around Zaandam, Haarlem, Utrecht and Weesp joined the strike, with workers from the Zaanstad region organising a spontaneous procession to the Dam in Zaandam. Nazi forces reacted swiftly and harshly, shooting at protesters from raid vehicles. One person is known to have died during the march.
Commemorating the strikes of February 1941
Over 80 years on, the February strike remains an integral part of the history of the Netherlands, and is unsurprisingly a point of great pride for many. There are various monuments dedicated to the strike dotted across the country, including the Staakt, staakt, staakt statue at the top of the Wilhelmina Bridge in Zaandam, where an annual memorial ceremony is held.
In Amsterdam, the strike has been commemorated at 4.45pm on February 25 every year since 1946. Since 1951, the ceremony has taken place at the site of De Dokwerker statue on Jonas Daniël Meijerplein - in the heart of the city’s former Jewish quarter. The statue, which is modelled after Ter Metz, a carpenter from Haarlem who took part in the strike, symbolises the strength of the average man against a great power or evil. There is also a plaque on the south side of the Noorderkerk which remembers the original meeting that started it all.
The Febuaristaking also had a long-term impact on the city’s identity after Queen Wilhelmina, in response to the bravery and integrity of strikers, granted the municipality of Amsterdam the motto Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig ("Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate"), which has since become a part of the city’s coat of arms.
According to the 1941 February Strike Commemoration Committee, the annual ceremony is a way to remember “the values associated with the 1941 February Strike - standing up for others, standing up against injustice,” and hopes they can serve as an inspiration for today’s society.
Thumb: Dutchmen Photography via Shutterstock.com.