Lest We Forget
Lest We Forget: May 10, 1940 - May 5, 1945. The Opposition of the Christian Reformed Churches - Gereformerde Kerken Nederland (GKN), her leaders and members to the Nazi Regime.
Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men" (Ps. 43: 1). During World War II in occupied Holland, "deceitful and wicked men," called Nazis, feared neither God nor respected people. They exhibited pride, deceit, hatred and evil. After the German invasion on May 10, 1940, it seemed at first that the occupation forces were rather civil. But the Dutch were quickly awakened to harsh reality. Already on September 10, 1940, the exiled Queen Wilhelmina told the Dutch nation that the true character of the war was a battle between God and conscience on the one side, and on the other side the powers of darkness - a spiritual battle. The Queen declared that the Dutch know, that despite all their hypocritical talk, the Nazis hate Christ and His teachings. Indeed, the war was more than a horrendous struggle for power, land, oil and economic gain. It was above all a struggle "not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12).
Nazism was a betrayal of the Gospel. If the Nazis had won the war, they would have tried to wipe the Church off the map. Nazism was a new religion based on the supremacy of the Aryan race and the vilification of the Jews. Adolf Hitler saw himself as the new Messiah. In his address to Nazi party leaders at the 1936 Nuremberg Rally, Hitler focused on a sustained identification with Christ the Redeemer. Nazi racial ideology reverted Western culture to pagan nature religions. Civil-legal freedom and equality were abolished. A person's legal status depended on "blood and soil "(race and nationality). Nazi racists believed that Christianity must separate itself from the Old Testament. They also divorced Jesus from His Jewish origin and made Him the ancestor of the Germanic tribes, a sort of Siegfried-Christ. Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler, known as the "Black Jesuit," had his own catechism questions and answers for the infamous SS soldiers, as for example: "Question: Why do you obey? Answer: From inner conviction, from belief in Germany, in the Fuhrer, in the Movement and in the SS, and from loyalty."
Dutch churches considered their calling to guard against the principles and practices of Nazism. On January 5, 1942, eight representatives of Protestant churches and one Roman Catholic met with a Nazi government official. In their Memorandum, they addressed the lawlessness of the regime, the merciless deportation of Jews, imprisonment without hearings, and the imposition of Nazi ideology on the Dutch population. They said that the Nazis made it increasingly impossible for Christians to live according to their convictions. In the same year, during an audience with Dr. Arthur Seyss - Inquart, Hitler's Commissioner for the Netherlands, the Reformed (NHK) Prof. Dr. W. J. Aalders (1870-1945), argued that Christian faith penetrates all of life. Therefore, conflicts with the imposed Nazi world and life view were inevitable.
The Christian Reformed Churches (GKN)
Immediately after the Dutch government capitulation, some GKN leaders proclaimed already that there was no peace and no time for compromise. Various ministers clearly saw the implications of the German occupation and the danger of the Nazification of the Dutch nation. One of the first influential opponents of the Nazis was Prof. Dr. K.Schilder (1890-1952). Already, before the outbreak of the war he had warned against the poisonous, anti-Christian spirit of Nazism. His famous and deeply moving June 21, 1940, article Out of the Bomb Shelter and Into Uniform, published in The Reformation, was a clarion call to action: He declared that
The one hour of catastrophe is not the very worst of all. After that hour comes the real danger - the danger of the gradual disarming of the spirit, the gradual psychical and spiritual infection of our people, as we get used to the idea that although we can leave the bomb shelters that protected us from shrapnel, still , because of the uncertainty in the political atmosphere, we would do well to buy tickets to a spiritual bomb shelter, tickets good for an indefinite time until - who knows? - the storm has passed.
But not all pastors were courageous. Some were overly cautious in their preaching and congregational prayers. But many took great risks, boldly proclaimed the Word of God, and either gave spiritual assistance to the resistance movement or they themselves were involved in it. Many suffered for their convictions, even to the point of death. Of the 106 pastors seized by the Nazis, 24 spent a shorter or a longer period in concentration camps in Germany. Thirteen of them never made it home. A few of the arrested are well known in Canadian CRC circles. Rev. Francois Guillaume (1905-1972), who came to Canada in 1953 and served the Rehoboth CRC in Toronto and the Third CRC in Edmonton, was a minister in Sneek when he was arrested by the Germans. He was accused of anti-German preaching and stirring up his congregation against theThird Reich. He was imprisoned on May 14, 1942, sent to Dauchau on August 24, 1942, where he suffered unspeakable hardships until May 21, 1945. Rev. H.Veldkamp was imprisoned in February 1942, for preaching the Gospel.
While he was in his cell in Leeuwarden, Veldkamp learned that they intended to send him to an annihilation camp in Germany. With the aid of a prison doctor, he pretended to have a psychiatric illness. Before the Nazis realized what had happened, he was already in a Psychiatric Institute in Franeker where he stayed until December 1943. During this time period, Veldkamp wrote his exposition of Jeremiah, a paraphrase of the Psalms, and a commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.
The Nazi attack on Christian education was viewed as a total warfare against the very existence of Christian culture in the Netherlands. In 1941, the Van Loben Sels School in Arnhem became a glaring example of the insidious intentions of the Nazis. They planned to remove the principal and replace him with a Nazi indoctrinated collaborator. If the plan had succeeded, the Christian school would have been reduced to a propaganda institution for National Socialism. Most parents refused to bow their knees before the Nazi Baal. Their pastor, Rev. J, Overduin, decided that on Christian Education Sunday, February 8, 1942, he would "proclaim a concrete and unambiguous word from the pulpit." Knowing the possible consequences of his plans, he asked his wife for her full support. She gave it him. In his sermon on Matthew 5: 11,12, he reminded the parents of their baptismal vows. "Children belong to their parents, "he said," not to the state, and because these children have been baptized, only Christ has a right to them; no one else." That very same Sunday Overduin was arrested. He spent time in the Arnhem prison, and the concentration camps of Amersfoort and Dachau. He was freed on October 15, 1943.
Out of principle a few GKN leaders resisted their church's opposition to the Nazis. One of the best known was A. Janse, an influential author, who wrote about Christian politics, Christian education, and theological topics. In his brochure Our attitude in this time, Janse condemned listening to the "English" radio as a grave danger for the church. Although he recognized Queen Wilhelmina as his sovereign, he asked Dutch Christians to obey the Germans as they were now the ruling powers. Although Janse made some worthwhile observations, his comments about Hitler were inexcusable. The impact of Janse's view was slight.
GKN printers had a large share in publishing "illegal" newspapers. Their work, which they did for free, was extremely dangerous. Traitors and spies were everywhere. But they laboured as soldiers on the frontline of battle. One of these brave people was S.P.J. Bakker of Amsterdam, a Christian publisher who loved his work with heart and soul, and used his talents in the service of his Lord, his Church, and his fatherland. We knew him well. As a family we owe him a debt of gratitude. He was our godly and faithful district elder of great support to my mother when my father was prisoner of war. I also remember the meals his wife provided for my brother and me during the horrible hunger winter of 1944-45. Bakker was arrested on January 29, 1945, and executed on February 9. I will never forget him.
The GKN deacons were very active during the war years. After September 1944, the situation in Western Holland had become critical. There was no fuel, no hydro and no gas. Tulip bulbs and sugar beets, if they could be obtained, were on the menu for many families. The Kinderuitzending (child outsourcing) was one of the programs from which my brother, sister, and I benefited. Thousands of children were taken to the Northern Netherlands. My sister went by bus to a little village near Franeker, Friesland, a dangerous journey. My brother and I spent three days in the cargo hold of a ship to get to the same Frisian village, where the three of us spent the last part of the war. I will never forget the fine Christian farmers, who became my foster parents, who fed and clothed me.
Obviously, this article has a narrow focus. Dutch people from various religious and political backgrounds took part in the resistance. And although the GKN got all the attention, mainly for personal reasons, I do want to pay tribute also to Christians of other persuasions who worked alongside GKN believers.
Why did the Reformed community resist the Nazis? They refused to surrender their Christian world and life view to the Nazis. They fought for freedom of worship and association, and for liberty to hear the Gospel preached without compromise. They could not serve the Lord and the gods of the Nazi at the same time. They obeyed the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me."