What happened to my family during the Second World War?
Was grandpa a member of the NSB (Nationalist-Socialist Movement in the Netherlands)? Which concentration camp did my grandmother end up in? How were my uncle and aunt betrayed? Questions that eye witnesses to the Second World War often won't answer. Nevertheless their stories can often be reconstructed: where the mouths can no longer speak, archival material about the war years is increasingly better in its accessibility.
On this page you will find an introduction to the research into the wartime past of your family members: what sources are available, where can you find them, and where do you have to be careful as to how you use them?
The starting point of research into people who lived during the Second World War is Oorlogsbronnen.nl (War Sources), a search engine for available sources relating to people living in the Kingdom of the Netherlands during wartime. New sources are continually being added to the portal, and in the longer term also more information will become available about those who have survived the war.
Information about people in wartime is kept in institutions in the Netherlands and abroad. As a result of the computerized linking of the various databases, you will gain a better overview of what has happened to individual people during the war.
Oorlogsbronnen was developed and is managed by the Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen in collaboration with a number of organizations that have made their data available, including the CBG.
Across the border
Where can you search further when you have only a few details, when there are only rumours within the family that grandfather was in Germany during the years of war? Was he compulsorily sent there to work, was he in a concentration camp or had he perhaps joined the SS? It should be possible to find persons who might not have been in the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945 via the following archives and organizations.
In 1909 the Dutch government gave the Red Cross the task of informing the families of servicemen about the lot of their loved ones. These were men who had been wounded, taken as prisoners of war or died during a war. Directly after the Second World War they were given an additional task: tracing missing fellow countrymen. In this way the Red Cross has established a large collection of material that could possibly contain information about your family member.
Altogether the archive has documents relating to some 1.5 million people: from servicemen to men who within the framework of the ‘Arbeitseinsatz’ were set to work in Germany; from deported people with a Jewish background to people who were interned in Japanese prison camps; from missing Dutch SS members to executed members of the resistance. All that archival material relates not only to the war years in Europe, but also to the situation in the Dutch East Indies.
The Red Cross archive is located at the National Archive in The Hague. It is not yet made public. Access to information can be requested via the website of the Nationaal Archief (National Archive).
Red Cross cards
The CBG | Center for family history has more than ten thousand digitized Red Cross cards bearing information about Dutch people who died in Germany or Eastern Europe during the war. The collection was compiled from the card system that the Red Cross used to write down information about missing persons.
Shown on the Red Cross cards is the place where the person concerned died and whether or not there is a grave. Also often to be found are further particulars as to the circumstances under which the person died or was buried. The name and address of the person that has provided the information – the informant – are also on the card.
The collection can be consulted and researched via our website CBG Verzamelingen (CBG Collections). A search by family name gives all reports of Red Cross cards under the title Oorlogsbronnen (war sources).
After the Second World War the Allies ordered the German civil registry to provide copies of details concerning the births, marriages and deaths relating to foreign nationals who were living in Germany during the war, whether voluntarily or not. The copies relating to Dutch nationals are kept by the CBG in its collection of German records.
These concern birth, marriage and death certificates, in which the personal data of the parents of the person concerned can be included. The information in the certificates, such as the place where the death occurred, profession, religion or cause of death can provide insight as to why that person was in Germany.
Also to be found in the collection, albeit sporadically, are certificates relating to deaths in a concentration camp, as well as those created by German registrars in Dutch camps (including, among others, Camp Vught). Certificates from some municipalities were copied long before the Second World War.
The German certificates are digitized. Because of the current privacy restrictions relating to the civil registry, only the death and marriage certificates are available via our website CBG Verzamelingen (CBG Collections). A search by family name provides all the particulars of German certificates under the name Oorlogsbronnen (war sources).
Victims of the Holocaust, concentration camp prisoners, forced labour workers and their descendants can also enter an application for information with the Arolsen Archives (formerly International Tracing Services). The Arolsen Archives, located in Bad Arolsen (Hessen, Germany), is a continuation of the tracing service of United Nations and Red Cross Germany. With almost 26 kilometres of material that deals with some 17.5 million people, is the largest archive repository for research into persons who lived during the Second World War.
During the years of occupation there were some Dutch people who supported the German occupiers, for example by helping the persecution of the Jews, betraying those who were in hiding or who were members of the resistance, or by joining the German armed forces. After the war these people were prosecuted. What documentation remains can help you answer questions about the possibility of a family member having been involved in collaboration.
After the Second World War some three hundred thousand Dutchmen and women were accused of collaboration. Some of them were given severe sentences by the Special Judiciary, for example because the person convicted was involved in the hunting down of Jews and resistance fighters. But the charge could also concern less grave matters, such as merely joining the NSB, and sometimes the accusation was groundless.
The Central Archive Special Judiciary (CABR), which is lodged with the National Archive, containes dossiers of the more than three hundred thousand suspects. In addition to the judicial documents in these CABR dossiers, you can also find items of a personal nature, such as photos, diaries, letters and other evidence that was confiscated from those accused.
Because the CABR dossiers contain information that falls under the Dutch Personal Data Protection Act, public access to the archive is limited. You can find the terms and conditions of access via the website of the Nationaal Archief (National Archive).
Foreign military service
Approximately 25,000 Dutch joined the German armed forces during the war. Although a large number of documents relating to their time in foreign military service have been lost, the Militärarchiv (Military Archive) in Freiburg (part of the Bundesarchiv, the Federal Archive) and the Deutsche Dienststelle/WASt (German Department) in Berlin have personal files of foreigners who fought for Germany. You can fill in a form on both websites requesting information, if any, about your family member.
Via the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, or German War Graves Commission, you can ask for information about Dutch soldiers who possibly died or were missing whilst serving in the German armed forces. The Red Cross is an important starting point.
Whilst there is still a relatively large amount of material about those Dutch citizens who were ‘on the wrong side’ in the war, a search for details of people in the resistance is often less simple. Nonetheless there are possibilities of looking into stories about family members who resisted National Socialism. Resistance took on many forms: large and small, organized and spontaneous, violent and peaceful. Via the sources shown below you can make begin your search for the answer to the question as to whether a person was in any way engaged in resistance activities.
Domestic Armed Forces
In September 1944 the most important resistance groups joined forces to form the Domestic Armed Forces. In the National Archive there are personal dossiers of some of these forces containing documents such as registration forms, pay lists and in a few instances details of a military award. The dossiers almost never contain details about resistance activities, and access is restricted. The National Archive can provide information from dossiers on request; the terms and conditions for this can be found on the website of the Nationaal Archief (National Archive). The Ministry of Defence holds personal dossiers of the Domestic Armed Forces. You can put in a request for details from these dossiers via the website of the persoonsarchief (Persons archive) of the ministry.
Resistance Memorial Cross
On the 35th anniversary of the liberation of our country, it was decided in December 1980 that members of the former resistance movement could apply for the Resistance Memorial Cross. Some 15,000 people in total were awarded the cross. Their names are recorded in the Commemorative Book Resistance Memorial, published in 1985 by the National Commission Resistance Memorial Cross and can be found, among other things, in the CBG Bibliotheek (library). The documents relating to the request and awarding of the crosses are held by the Ministry of Defence and can be requested via the website of the persoonsarchief of the ministry. For other decorations, see Onderscheidingen (decorations).
Europeans who had helped allied pilots during the Second World War were honoured in 1946 by the United States. The National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland (USA) holds what became known as the Helpers’ Files: the documentation of the research that was carried out in order to assess who and why someone was eligible for the honours. The list of persons can be searched via the website of the National Archives.
During the occupation Scheveningen gaol was used to lock up political opponants of the Nazi regime. It is estimated that in total some 25,000 to 30,000 people were incarcerated in the Oranjehotel (Orange Hotel), as the prison was quickly dubbed. More than 200 of them were shot on the nearby Waalsdorpervlakte. A further 500 prisoners met their end in German concentration camps.
After the liberation, to commemorate all these who lost their lives four Dodenboeken (Books of the Dead) were compiled, listing the names of those who had died, a photo and a brief description of their lives. On the website of the National Archive you can search by name in the Dodenboeken; the information is provided in the form of a scan.
For resistance fighters who ended up in a German concentration camp, see above under 'Across the border'. The names of those who paid with their lives can be found on the Roll of Honour of the Fallen.