In World War I, the Netherlands remained a neutral country, but the army mobilised when war broke out in August 1914. The German invasion of Belgium that same year led to a large flow of refugees from that country (about 1 million). The country being surrounded by states at war, and with the North Sea unsafe for civilian ships to sail on, food became scarce; food was now distributed using coupons. An error in food distribution caused the so-called Aardappeloproer (Potato-rebellion) in Amsterdam in 1917, when civilians plundered a food transport intended for soldiers. In November 1918 the leader of the Sociaal-Democratische Arbeiders Partij (SDAP, Social-Democratic Labour Party, founded in 1894), Jelles Troelstra, called for a socialist revolution among the workers, but his plan failed.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Netherlands declared their neutrality again. However, on May 10, 1940, Germany launched an attack on the Netherlands and Belgium. The Germans overran most of the country quickly, fighting against a poorly-equipped Dutch army. On May 14, a small number of battlefields was left, among others at Rotterdam. The Germans invited the Dutch to surrender the city, to which no reply came in time. The result was a massive bombardment of Rotterdam, killing about 800 people and destroying large parts of the city, leaving 78,000 homeless. Following the bombardment the Dutch capitulated to the Germans. The royal family had already fled to England. The German civil administration of the Netherlands was headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
Persecution of the Jews, of which about 140,000 lived in the Netherlands at the start of the war, including some 20,000 refugees, started immediately after the invasion. In 1942, a transport camp was erected near Westerbork. Concentration camps were built near Vught and Amersfoort. At the end of the war, only about 20,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews remained alive. Among those who died was Anne Frank, who later gained world-wide fame when her diary, written while hiding from the Germans, was found and published.
After the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, they proceeded quickly towards the Dutch border. In September of the same year a daring operation, Operation Market Garden, was staged to make a quick incursion into the southern Netherlands and capture bridges across the three main rivers. The bridge at Arnhem, across the Rhine, could however not be captured. Most of the Dutch, who thought the liberation had already started - the day the operation started is known as Dolle Dinsdag (Mad Tuesday) - would have to wait until 1945, although the part south of the rivers was liberated at that time.
The winter 1944 - 1945 was very harsh, and many Dutch starved, giving the winter the name Hongerwinter (Hunger winter). On May 5, 1945, following Allied victories in Germany, Germany finally surrendered, signing the surrender to the Dutch at Wageningen. This day is still remembered and there is an official committee, see National 4 and 5 May Committee. On January 11, 1942, the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies had started. The Dutch surrendered on March 1, when Japanese troops landed on Java. Dutch citizens were captured and put to work in labour camps. The Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, after the Americans had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
Next: recent history of the Netherlands