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Key players post-war property expropriation under the magnifying glass

When you think of the Second World War, you usually think of the years 1940-1945. What often remains underexposed is how the Dutch government reacted in the period after the occupation. In the coming three years, historians from Radboud University and tax specialists from the Fiscal Institute Tilburg will be putting the working methods of two Dutch institutions under the magnifying glass. These institutions managed and confiscated hundreds of millions of guilders of ‘enemy subjects’ after the war.

On October 20, 1944 – when the south of the Netherlands was already partly liberated - the Dutch government, in exile in London, issued the Besluit Vijandelijk Vermogen (Enemy Assets Decree). With this, all nationals of, among others, Germany were collectively declared enemy subjects. The assets of Germans living in the Netherlands automatically became the property of the Dutch state.

The Netherlands Management Institute (Nederlands Beheersinstituut, NBI) was established in August 1945 to manage all that expropriated capital. Not only Germans living in the Netherlands had to hand in their property, but also traitors, such as (alleged) NSBs and collaborators. The NBI was also charged with managing the assets of Jewish people who presumably had not survived the war. The NBI built up a large bureaucratic apparatus for this. Between 1945 and 1967, assets of more than 150,000 people, large and small, were traced: from cutlery and picture frames to houses, businesses and castles. Over a period of more than twenty years, German assets worth an estimated 750 million guilders were confiscated.

Beeld NBI

Rumours

‘Estimated’, because little is known about the ins and outs of the NBI. It was not until 2018 that the institute's enormous archive, which is now stored in the National Archives, was largely made public. With new research - a collaboration between the Tax & Customs Museum in Rotterdam, Tilburg University, Radboud University and the National Archives - it must now be made clear what the methods of the NBI were and whether they could be legally passed.

‘For a long time, the NBI was a virtually unknown and somewhat elusive institution. There are many rumours about its methods’, says Marieke Oprel, a historian at Radboud University and initiator of the project. For example, there would have been wrongful alienation of assets. Regardless of their behaviour during the occupation, the assets of tens of thousands of Germans, many of whom had been living in the Netherlands for years, were expropriated solely on the basis of their German citizenship. Maids, nuns, Jewish refugees from Germany: everyone was declared an enemy subject. They could only regain their assets if they were ‘de-enemied’, and the procedure was incredibly complicated. On the other hand, collaborators, whose assets were also taken over by the NBI, simply got their assets back as soon as they had served their sentence. Simply because they were Dutch’, explains Oprel. ‘Feelings of revenge and desire for reparations coloured post-war policy. We have always focused on the war damage and the effect of the war on Dutch citizens, but we have much less knowledge about what the Dutch government demanded or claimed from individual citizens.’

NBI - Bron oorlogsgetroffenen.nl
NBI claims found treasure Source: Algemeen Handelsblad. Date:10 January 1951

Tax authorities

Although much is still unknown, the archives already show that the Dutch tax authorities (Belastingdienst) had an important role in tracing assets. Oprel: ‘They had the best idea of ​​what kind of wealth people had. Persons classified as enemy subjects in the Enemy Assets Decree had to declare their assets themselves, either to a sub-office of the NBI or to the tax inspector. But how exactly did the interaction between the NBI and the tax authorities proceed? That is still a missing link in our post-war historical picture.’

Research into the NBI and the role of the tax authorities in these shadowy post-war practices is also socially relevant. 75 years after the liberation, restoration of rights in the form of recognition, regardless of any financial compensation, is still a topical theme for surviving  relatives. Oprel obtained her PhD in June 2020 for research into post-war policy towards Germans who were declared to be hostile, and has already been approached regularly by people who want to know more about their families. The historian hopes that this new investigation will prompt relatives to contact her. ‘It would be great if people who, for example, keep their father's archive in the attic or who know family stories, would like to cooperate.’

Exhibition

The research into the two main players in the asset expropriation of traitors, enemy subjects and Jews should ultimately result in a scientific publication and a (digital) exhibition in the Tax & Customs Museum. ‘We can already cautiously state that the methods of the NBI and the Tax Authorities were effective, for the purposes of that time’, says Oprel. ‘But were they also proportionally fair? Well, we'll see.’

The Mondriaan Fund supports the research project ‘Vermogensonteigening na de Tweede Wereldoorlog door het NBI en de Belastingdienst en ons vermogen daarvan te leren’ with the maximum amount of 300,000 euros. The project is being carried out by the Tax & Customs Museum in collaboration with Tilburg University, Radboud University and the National Archives. Marieke Oprel will lead the investigation into the role of the NBI, from Tilburg the role of the Tax and Customs Administration will be investigated by Sonja Dusarduijn. The project will run until the end of 2023.

For more information, please contact Marieke Oprel: m.oprel@let.ru.nl