Once again on the February Strike: who were the first strikers?


We proudly present this small contribution from an eyewitness and participant in the historic strike against the persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands to our readers. The author is Maurice Ferares and in the footnotes that accompany his testimony, you can find more information on him.

On May 10, 1940, the German army invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium simultaneously (Code name Fall Gelb). Because he considered military progress too slow, Field Marshal Georg von Küchler decided to accelerate the surrender of the Netherlands with all available means. This involved the bombardment of Rotterdam that took place on 14 May 1940. This action served as a warning and provided a model for bombardments in the future. The entire historic town centre was razed to the ground. Between 650 and 900 people were dead and more than 80,000 people had become homeless. After the Germans threatened to bomb Utrecht, the Netherlands capitulated.

On November 26, 1940, the students began to protest in large numbers against a measure, imposed by the occupation authorities, which was to dismiss all professors and lecturers of Jewish origin. The strike lasted a couple of days. Subsequently, the university was closed. The discontent of the working population, which already existed before the war, came to an explosion on 17 February 1941. The first major labour conflict happened on a shipyard in Amsterdam, where 2200 workers laid down their tools in protest against the "compulsory labour service" (i.e. forced labour in Germany). Other reasons for the workers to strike were the low level of the social security benefits and the working conditions. Thus, they prevented that a 100 of their working mates went on a transport to Hamburg. With a large-scale boycott of the convocation notifications from the authorities in 1940, workers had already demonstrated that they did no intention to go to work in Germany.

It is against this background that, on February 25 and 26, 1941, a strike against the first anti-Jewish raid (on 22 and 23 February) erupted in several Dutch cities. This historically significant strike became known as the February Strike, the first strike against the persecution of the Jews. A combination of social misery and cruel persecution of their Jewish fellow citizens drove the workers of Amsterdam and other cities to use the only weapon in their possession. That weapon is the strike.

Marcel Souzain

PS: Maurice Ferares wished to insert a quotation from a publication of the Marx-Lenin-Luxembourg-Front in his original contribution, which was published in Dutch on March 2, 2016.

by Maurice Ferares (March 2, 2016)

From a participant in the historic February strike of 1941 in Amsterdam

It is an excellent thing that the February strike[1] is commemorated annually. However, in recent days, strange claims have been circulated[2]. Therefore, someone[3] who was actively involved in the strike is presenting here some comments.

Let us set the record straight. The strike broke out spontaneously and was not organized by the illegal Communist Party. Besides, the first call to strike was published in the illegal Marx-Lenin-Luxembourg Front[4] paper ”Spartacus” of Henk Sneevliet[5], Willem Dolleman[6] and Ab Menist[7]. At the end of January 1941, the MLL-Front had circulated the following address: “The horrific and cowardly hunt for our Jewish citizens has begun. Workers, technicians, small businessmen, make use of the protest strike against this brutal violence.” The MLL Front was the illegal continuation of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party [(RSAP][8]. That call had no effect, but perhaps it did contributed to the ripening of minds that resulted in the February strike. (Sneevliet, Dolleman, Menist and all the other members of the leadership were executed on April 13, 1942[9] by the Germans).

The strike began on February 25, 1941 at the Noordermarkt where a number of workers from the Municipal Waste Authority met. Piet Nak[10] and Willem Kraan[11], both of whom were members of the Communist Party Holland (CPH)[12], as the CPN was called before the war, addressed them.

Both were arrested. Piet Nak survived the concentration camps but the Germans executed Willem Kraan in November 1942. A statue of him stands in Amsterdam, on the corner of the Willem Kraanstraat and the Vlugtlaan.

The leadership of the CPH was embarrassed by the strike. Indeed, in August 1939, Hitler and Stalin had concluded a non-aggression pact, which, among others things, included the partition of Poland between Germany and the USSR and whereby the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and much of Finland and Romania, fell under the influence of the USSR.

Despite the German occupation of the Netherlands and without any impediment of the occupier, members of the Vereniging Vrienden der Sovjet-Unie [Netherlands-USSR Friendship Society][13] peddled the magazine ”Rusland van Heden” [Russia Today] until in June 1941 Hitler attacked Soviet Union.

On the day of the strike, workers from the Municipal Waste Authority were the first to lay down their tools. It is incorrect to state that the first to strike were the tram drivers of the Amsterdam Municipal Tramway. By noon, the writer of these lines, together with a group of people, halted a tram in the Rijnstraat and chased the passengers and the driver.

This writer, who was then a member of the illegal CPH, typewrote the famous leaflet of CPH, in which the word STRIKE was repeated three times consecutively. It is likely that the leaflet was reproduced on different locations in Amsterdam. The same thing was true for the illegal newspaper De Waarheid[14] [The Truth] for which we were (also) responsible. When I use ”we” I refer to the sculptor Huib van Lith[15], Cor Basart, a painter in the Ijsselstraat, another sculptor Cor van Teeseling and myself. Huib van Lith brought the texts to a studio belonging to Cor Basart[16]. This occured at a moment the strike had already broken out. Cor drew the headlines of the paper and leaflets. Cor van Teeseling[17], who would be arrested later and executed, assisted him sometimes.

This writer did all the type work for the production of the articles on stencils. The printing was done at the Dekker family’s home[18] (a family with six children and a father who was unemployed for long periods), which was located in the Noorderstraat. There was no question of a successful and extensive organization of the CPH. For security reasons, very few pre-war rank-and-file members of the party were involved in illegal work. Repeatedly the leadership of the CPH was able to save face, thanks to spontaneous actions of grass-root members. This was also the case with the February strike. Subsequently, nobody has the right to instrumentalize the strike. The entire population of Amsterdam carried out this act of resistance against the anti-Jewish measures taken by the Nazi occupiers.

The footnotes are the responsibility of the translator.

[1]The February strike was a general strike that lasted for 2 days. It started in Amsterdam on February 25, 1941. It spread to other parts too (Zaandam, Haarlem, Utrecht, Hilversum, Velsen).
[2]Not only in the Netherlands, false information has been widely spread, but on Wikipedia too, one can find misleading information on the Strike (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February_strike).
[3]Maurice Ferares: born in Amsterdam in 1922. He joined the Communist Party in December 1940. Joined the Dutch section of the Fourth International (RCP) immediately after the war. He is the sole survivor of his family. Maurice Ferares is still politically active and writes poetry too.
[4]The Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, sometimes also referred to as the Third Front, was founded after the RSAP was declared illegal on May 14, 1940 and lasted until the first half of 1942. The Nazis arrested the entire leadership in March 1942 and executed them all together on April 13, 1942. Its leadership was composed of Sneevliet, Dolleman and Menist. (https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/holland/dutch01.htm), (https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/holland/dutch02.htm)
[5]Henk Sneevliet (1883—1942): Main leader of the RSAP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henk_Sneevliet
[6]Willem Dolleman (1894—1942): member of the small ”red” trade union Nationaal Arbeidssecretariaat (NAS), since 1912, a member of the SDP (which split from the main Social-Democratic Workers Party (SDAP) in 1902), forerunner of the CPH. He was a member of this party until 1927, co-founder of the RSV (Revolutionary Socialist Association) in 1927, of the Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1929 and of the RSAP in 1935. In the MLL-Front, he continued to defend Trotsky’s position on the defence of the USSR.
[7]Ab Menist (1896-1942): actually Abraham Menist, was active in the ”red” trade-union Nationaal Arbeidssecretariaat (NAS), became a member of the CPH from 1920 to 1927. Co-founder of the RSV (Revolutionary Socialist Association) in 1927 and of the Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1929. Ab Menist was an important leader of the RSAP and was elected onto the City Council of Rotterdam and of province of South-Holland. After the Nazi-invasion he was an editor of the illegal publications of the MLL-front and was responsible for the organisational structure until his arrest.
[8]RSAP (Revolutionair Socialistische Arbeiderspartij) resulted from a fusion in 1935 of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Independent Socialist Party (OSP — Onafhankelijke Socialistische Partij). The OSP was founded in March 1932, after the left wing of the social-democratic SDAP left it after a fight over its democratic rights.
[9]Each year, the Sneevliet Herdenkingscomité commemorates them all, around the time they were murdered. (http://sneevlietherdenking.nl/, Dutch language only).
[10]Piet Nak (1906—1996): born in a typical working class family in Amsterdam. Joined the CPN in the thirties and worked as a road worker. After the strike, the Germans arrested him but not knowing that he was one of its initiators, they let him go. He continued to print and distribute the illegal paper of the CPN, was again arrested but managed to conceal his activities. After the war, with a permanent handicap, a result from the questioning by the Nazis, dismissed by the city authorities, he was forced to become a magician to earn a living. In 1958 he was expelled from the CPN with other members of the so-called Brug-group (Brug, bridge, was the name of their paper). For years, during the commemoration of the strike, the CPN abused Nak and his comrades. Nak opposed the instrumentalization of the memory of the strike.
[11]Willem Kraan (1909—1942): a road worker, member of the CPN, arrested on November 16, 1941 and murdered on November 19, 1941 with 32 other prisoners by the Nazis.
[12]The Communist Party Holland, as it was internationally known, changed its name at a party congress in December 1935.
[13]The Vereniging Nederland-USSR called itself first Vereniging Vrienden der Sovjet-Unie (VVSU) second half of 1941. It was set up in 1931, made illegal in 1941 and resurrected in 1947.
[14]De Waarheid: illegal paper of the CPN, first issue in November 1940, denouncing an inter-imperialist war. It continued to be published during the war. The first legal issue came out in May 1945. The last issue came out in April 1990, a couple of months after the CPN was dissolved.
[15]Huib van Lith (1909—1977): a sculptor and medallist who helped the resistance and hid several of his Jewish friends.
[16]Cor Basart (1925—1991): a painter and printmaker, helped on the technical preparation of the illegal CPN press.
[17]Cor van Teeseling (1915—1942): plastic artist, member of the CPN from the beginning of 1941, helped in the production of its illegal press. He was arrested in August 1941 and, together with 32 other prisoners, amongst whom Willem Kraan, murdered by the Nazis on November 19, 1942
[18]The Dekker family: a working class family from Amsterdam who helped the resistance.