The Dutch, hoping to remain neutral as they did in in the Great War, when they gave shelter to Kaiser Wilhelm II after abdication, did not expect Germany to attack. Germany did not expect determined Dutch resistance. But they did resist, inflicting high casualties on General Kurt Student’s paratroopers as they landed at Dutch airports. It was a lost cause; the Nazis had more men and weapons. It’s not clear if a mass bombing of Rotterdam was really unable to be recalled or if the Nazis wanted to punish the Dutch for resisting, but in any case the bombers burned out the old heart of the city.
Collaborators made themselves available to the Germans for a price, but most Dutch tried to return to something like normality in 1941. Shortages of most things were annoying, but if the Dutch really wanted something, it could be had on the black market. Most went without.
Deportations of Jews and laborers to Germany made that increasingly impossible by 1944, when the last train from Westerbork transit camp took Anne Frank and her family to Auschwitz. It was a relief when Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery’s “Operation Market Garden” invaded the Netherlands. While Market, the airborne landings, achieved some of its objectives, Garden, the armored thrust by XXX Corps, could not get through the single road allotted to the operation.
The Germans retook Arnhem and Nijmengen, starvation set in. Actress Audrey Hepburn, who was a Dutch civilian living in the Netherlands during the occupation outside Arnhem, nearly died from her family’s diet of ground tulips in the Spring of 1945. Her sister sold cigarettes from Allied soldiers after the war to buy medicine to nurse her back to health.
The Netherlands had endured five years of occupation, and retribution for collaborators was swift. Men were shot and women were stripped and their heads shaved; expelled with their half-German children in some cases, they didn’t know where to go, just some of the millions migrating around Europe in 1945.
The Dutch struggled to rebuild Arnhem and other communities devastated by the war. Some had lost everything. But Dutch soldiers who had fought with the Allies were welcomed home, and the dead mourned. The Netherlands lost 7,900 soldiers in combat and 2,860 wounded or missing. Some 200,000 civilians were killed.