Enemy of the Netherlands: 18 stories on the consequences of a post-war royal decree

Date of news: 8 September 2021

On October 20, 1944, the Dutch government declared all Germans in the Netherlands to be enemy subjects. All property was taken from them and their work and residence permits were no longer valid. The new book Dealing with the enemy (Afrekenen met de vijand) by historian Marieke Oprel contains eighteen stories of people who were given the status of enemy subject. ‘What happened back then was not something to be proud of.’

At the end of 1944, when the south of the Netherlands had already been partially liberated, the Dutch government issued the Enemy Assets Decree from London. All Germans in the Dutch kingdom were collectively declared enemy subjects. Immediately after the liberation, the government confiscated all of their possessions, regardless of their political affiliation or behaviour during the war. Men, women, children, maids, German Jews who had to flee home, nuns, orphans: everyone with a German passport was automatically an enemy subject after Royal Decree E-133.

Tens of thousands of Germans were affected by this decision. In order to get the property back, a request for ‘de-enemization’ had to be filed. The 'enemy subjects' were judged on their war and post-war behaviour and had to provide material with which they proved that they had behaved as 'good Dutch citizens'. What that meant exactly was not always clear or objective.

Far-reaching consequences

The Dutch policy had far-reaching consequences for German Dutch and theOprel afrekenen omslag hres generations that followed. Property ranging from furniture to insurances, businesses and castles were seized and liquidated. The entire operation had yielded more than 750 million Dutch guilders in the early 1960s. But in historiography the Dutch post-war policy towards German citizens is neglected, says historian Marieke Oprel. She published her dissertation on the topic in 2020.

Based on this, a book in Dutch is now being published for the general public in which Oprel describes the situation of eighteen families who were declared enemy subjects after the war, based on conversations with relatives and archival materials. 'When the archives of the Dutch Custody Institute (Nederlands Beheersinstituut, NBI, the institute that was established in 1945 to confiscate the property) became public in 2018, national media paid attention to the enemy status of Germans for the first time,' says Oprel. ‘Since then, I have received weekly emails from people whose (grand)parents were declared an enemy subject in the aftermath of World War II. I recently received a message from someone from Canada: he is the grandson of a Jewish man who had fled from Germany and who had been part of the resistance in the Netherlands. And yet was treated as an enemy subject after the war because of his German passport. An incredible story.’

The case of Otto Frank
Perhaps one of the most famous cases of someone who had to undergo the eviction procedure is the case of Anne Frank's father. Otto Frank was the only member of the Frank family to survive World War II. When he returned to the Netherlands after months of travel after the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of January 1945, he was told that his wife and daughters had died and that he had been classified as a hostile citizen by the Dutch State. Frank had started his company Opekta, a jam factory, in Germany before the war and maintained trade relations when the family moved to the Netherlands. For the Dutch authorities, the German ownership and continued trade with Germany during the war were reasons to accuse Frank of economic collaboration and confiscate the company as enemy property. Documentation in several Dutch archives provides insight into the complex, bureaucratic lawsuit Frank started to get his property back. On February 7, 1947, Otto Frank was informed that he was no longer considered an enemy citizen. In 1949 he officially became Dutch. (Source)


The stories in Oprel’s book Dealing with the Enemy are the stories of children and grandchildren of people who were declared enemy subjects, Oprel says. ‘About people who came to the Netherlands from Germany before the war, voluntarily or otherwise, and who settled here. Dutch nationals who automatically acquired German nationality through marriage. Jews who had fled from Germany to the Netherlands. Some were born in the Netherlands and were Germans only according to their passport. The common thread is that those people were declared enemy subjects on the basis of a decree of law. Their children and grandchildren wanted to know: why the enemy status? Based on the archive material and the additional stories of the children and grandchildren, I have tried to reconstruct the family histories from just after WWII. At the end of each story, a family member reflects on the consequences of the enemy status for the family.’


One of the stories in the book crossed Oprel’s path in week three of her PhD research. In September 2015, the historian was called by an employee of the NIOD: she had just received an archive. It turned out to be a very rich private archive of a family that had been declared an enemy subject. The owner of the archive lives in Canada but was in the Netherlands at the time. Oprel: 'In one fell swoop I was in conversation with a relative and had that private archive. He and his sister, who lives in Germany, wanted me to tell their father's story.’

But the youngest brother did not want the story to be published. Oprel: ‘An intergenerational trauma has emerged: the youngest brother was from after the war and did not want to draw attention to the enemy status of his father. He was afraid that incriminating archive material - there is a CABR file about his father in which the man is accused of collaboration - would be misinterpreted. The older family members wanted their father's story to be written down in detail, so that after all these years they could finally be recognised for the suffering they experienced during and after the war.' For years, Oprel had close contact with the family. Ultimately, the story appeared anonymously in her book, without a last name. ‘For the eldest brother and sister, that is still a bit of a sore point’, says Oprel. ‘They believe that history without a surname is not really family history.’

Page from history

Most of the people Oprel spoke to for her research were able to let go of the name clearing idea. Nor do they seek any form of financial compensation for their expropriated assets. They do think it is important that to shed light on this part of history. Oprel: ‘Almost everyone emphasised that this story from post-war history also needs to be told when it comes to the Second World War. The Dutch post-war policy towards Germans, who, regardless of their political affiliation or behaviour during the war, faced a long and often arbitrary evasion procedure, is not something to be proud off. The fact that, as fellow citizens, they were declared enemy subjects only because of their German nationality, still makes us think about the meaning of citizenship.'

'Afrekenen met de vijand' comes out on 10 September.
A new project by Marieke Oprel, together with Tilburg University, will start on 1 September, which will investigate at a legal level how it was possible for the NBI to expropriate millions of guilders in assets within a few years. Also read: Grant for research into key players in post-war asset expropriation