Hunger, Fighting and Surrender
In May 1940 the Netherlands was occupied by German forces. It would take five years before they could be ousted. The final drive to liberate the whole country was launched in February 1945 after the so-called ‘Hunger Winter’ had led to 20.000 fatalities in the still occupied territory.
In May 1940 the German Army crossed the border into the Netherlands. The Dutch Army had to surrender after five days of fighting. The German occupation of the Netherlands had begun. It would take five years before the country would be freed by Allied forces.
The liberation of the Netherlands was remarkable in the sense that most of the Southern part of the country was liberated in September 1944 during Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Scheldt while the Northern part remained in German hands until the spring of 1945.
After the failure of Operation Market Garden the Allied forces decided to give the highest priority to a thrust eastwards towards the Rhine and the German heartland. The Northern part of the Netherlands would be liberated later on. This resulted in the strange situation that the final Allied drive to clear the Netherlands from German forces was launched from Germany. The fighting at this point of the war was sporadic and depended largely on the willingness of individual German commanders to continue offering resistance.
Meanwhile a food and fuel shortage, in combination with one of the harshest winters of the war years, led to the death of some 20.000 civilians in the Western part of the Netherlands. This winter would come to be known as the ‘Hunger Winter’.
In the first week of May 1945 the Germans were finally prepared to cooperate in Allied food transports but they were not yet willing to surrender. But when the news of Adolf Hitler’s suicide came out, the end of the war was near.
Operation Market Garden managed to liberate a large part of the Netherlands, but failed in its main objective: outmaneuvering the Germans with a surprise crossing of the Rhine. The Nijmegen-Groesbeek area, conquered during Market Garden, remained in Allied hands and served as a springboard for the successful Rhineland Offensive in February 1945.
During the harsh winter of 1944-1945 a large part of the German-occupied Netherlands suffered from severe shortages of food and fuel. This would result in the death of some 20.000 civilians. The famine, known as the ‘Hunger Winter’, would last until the surrender of German forces in May 1945.
The last phase in the battle of the Scheldt was the capture of the island of Walcheren. Walcheren had been incorporated into the German Atlantic Wall and had been heavily fortified during the war. The Allied commanders therefore viewed the capture of Walcheren as the biggest obstacle in the clearing of the Scheldt estuary.
The Liberation Museum Zeeland takes us back to a special part of Zeelands history. During the Second World War Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen of various nationalities united in the fight against the German occupation forces. This struggle resulted in a lot of dead and wounded on both sides. The local population in Zeeland also suffered heavy casualties.
A group of granite and brick stone memorials, commemorating the French soldiers who were killed in May 1940 during the battle of Zeeland and the Scottish and Canadian soldiers who were killed during Operation Mallard in November 1944.
The Freedom Museum is located in the beautiful green and hilly landscape of Groesbeek. The museum is close to Germany and right in the area of two of the most important operations on the Western Front during WW2: Market Garden and Veritable.