Diet Eman lay awake in her bed. Who could be beating their rugs at this hour? It was early morning on May 10, 1940. Hours before, Hitler had announced that he would respect the neutrality that the Netherlands had maintained during World War I.
As the popping continued, Eman and her parents scrambled to the front lawn. Planes buzzed through the night sky and fire shot upward, shattering Hitler’s assurances. Stumbling back inside, the Emans turned the radio on: “We are at war. German paratroopers have landed.” Diet’s blood boiled; Hitler had lied.
Then a new question rattled around in her mind as she sat in her nightclothes: What of my Hein?
A few days later, she found out. A card from Hein Sietsma, smudged by fire, arrived at the house, saying he had survived fiery blasts in Rotterdam, South Holland. She also discovered something else. As Eman later said, “I did not know until the danger of war that I was in love with him.”
She also did not know how war would shape their relationship, how many sacrifices it would require of each of them. Together and then separated, sometimes imprisoned, scheming hideaways and stealing ration cards, and transporting Jews. Always hoping that the Allies, and victory and justice, might be near.
When daylight came, whole regions of the Netherlands lay in ruin. In the two years prior, the Dutch had watched passively as Hitler seized Austria and Poland. Now it was their turn. But with an anemic military and a compliant population, the Dutch were hardly prepared to resist Nazi rule. Queen Wilhelmina and her government fled the country, and the Netherlands officially surrendered to Germany in five days.
But the invasion didn’t change things immediately. Hitler considered the Dutch almost 100 percent Aryan. Many Dutch believed the Nazis would not commit atrocities in their homeland and decided to obey their occupiers until the war ended.
Many Dutch Reformed believers saw things differently. They debated intensely whether German authorities should be obeyed in light of Romans 13:1–7. The debate divided family members and friends. Some, including one of Hein’s brothers, would later declare fidelity to Hitler.
Others resisted, in part because of Hitler’s attitudes toward Jews. Many German Jews had fled to the Netherlands in the late 1930s to avoid persecution. Now they found themselves trapped in a country about the size of Rhode Island, with no neutral surrounding countries to which they could escape. Dutch Reformed Christians (who made up an estimated 8 percent of the population) had long seen the Jews as God’s chosen people and thus worthy of protection in such an environment.
Escalating Nazi anti-Semitism convinced many Dutch that Hitler planned to annihilate the Jews. At the beginning of the war, 140,000 Jews resided in the Netherlands. By its end, 107,000 (76 percent) had been deported to concentration camps or otherwise killed. Only about 5,000 survived in the general population, while another 30,000 survived by hiding or other means.
As Hitler’s henchmen turned up the heat against Jewish men, women, and children, the Dutch Resistance movement was born and grew. Historians estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 (many, like Eman and Sietsma, motivated by their Christian faith) were active in the Underground, and more than 10,000 sacrificed their lives in the cause.