Controversial services

Its agreement in principle with the Germans meant that before long, NS was involved with war operations. For one thing, NS was under an obligation to transport all German soldiers and their gear, as well as all Wehrmacht goods. In addition, NS was forced to hand over any equipment and rolling stock that the Germans needed in their battle against the Soviet Union. NS was also tasked with transporting Dutch POWs and political prisoners up until the German border, as well as Dutch men assigned to forced employment in Germany. The NS transports that have remained its most controversial up to the present day started in 1942: the deportation of Jews, Roma and Sinti from several Dutch cities to the Westerbork transit camp in the province of Drenthe, and from there on to the German border. NS sent the bills for these transports to the Schutzstaffel (SS). Few photographs and documents of these and other controversial services to the German occupiers have survived. This may have to do with the strict obligation of confidentiality imposed on NS employees regarding all transports they performed on behalf of the Wehrmacht. In addition, the Germans are known to have destroyed a great deal of evidence in the days before the liberation.

Handing over equipment

It was not long before the Germans asked the NS management board to hand over equipment necessary for warfare. While rails and sleepers could initially be provided from stock, in 1942 several railway lines had to be dismantled or reduced to single tracks to satisfy the Germans' requests. NS was also forced to lease rolling stock to the Germans, even though the management board had warned them that this might jeopardise the transports on behalf of the Wehrmacht. In all, some 3000 goods carriages, 200 passenger carriages, 53 shunting engines and 15 locomotives were made available to the Germans.

Military transports

Even before the French capitulation to Nazi Germany, on 17 June 1940, NS faced a dilemma as Dutch firemen and engine drivers were required to execute military transports into Northern France on behalf of the German army. This meant they were actively involved in German warfare. However, the agreement that NS had made with the Germans was unequivocal: NS could retain its independence if, and only if, it agreed to perform all transports required by the Wehrmacht. This involved the transport of military equipment, such as weaponry and ammunition for the German armed forces, as well as supplies and troops. To make matters worse, in regular trains - already overcrowded - seats had to be reserved for German military personnel.

POW transports

Right from the start of the occupation, NS was also obliged to transport prisoners of war on Dutch territory. After the capitulation, of the total of around 280,000 Dutch soldiers, approximately 20,000 were taken as prisoners of war and transported to Germany. However, not much later, in June 1940, Hitler sent them home again as a gesture of goodwill. Late in April 1943 however, large sections of the Dutch population came out on strike in response to the decision by the Germans to send Dutch POWs on forced labour to Germany after all. The POWs were required to report at the Amersfoort railway station, from where NS transported them up to the border in third-class passenger carriages and closed goods carriages. Many soldiers managed to escape forced labour by securing an exemption, when they were able to demonstrate that they worked for companies that were crucial for food supplies or for the German war industry. This category initially also included NS employees. Eventually around 10,000 Dutch soldiers were sent to Germany on forced labour.

NS and the Arbeitseinsatz

To make up for the shortage of manpower, the Germans selected Dutch men for their Arbeitseinsatz, or forced labour in Germany and occupied France and Belgium. NS facilitated the transport of Dutch citizens sent on forced labour up to the border. Initially the Germans tried to encourage people to volunteer for assignment to Germany, also among NS employees. In addition, unemployed people were forced to work in Germany and, incidentally, groups of men were arrested collectively for that purpose. This was followed in May 1943 by a general summons for all men between 18 and 35 years of age to report for labour. Many of them went into hiding or managed to secure an exemption, In response, the Germans widened the age bracket and rounded up conscripts. The Arbeitseinsatz also affected NS, eventually sending 10% of its male workforce on forced labour. In this context, NS President Hupkes proved a tough negotiator. Again he threatened to resign to prevent his personnel from being sent to Germany, and he maintained he could not afford to let them go so as not to jeopardise NS transports for the German army. In the end, the NS management board was able to limit the Arbeitseinsatz to 374 of its permanent employees and 1600 seasonal workers.

Deportations of Jews, Roma and Sinti

Hitler and his National Socialist party considered Jews, Roma and Sinti to be inferior to what they believed was the superior ‘Aryan race’. The Jews in particular were demonised as the arch-enemy of that race. The gradual implementation of more and more restrictive measures meant the Jews were eventually removed from public life altogether. In early 1942, senior members of the Nazi party devised a plan for deporting the entire Jewish population from Germany and German-occupied territories and exterminating them in concentration camps in Eastern Europe. This ultimate objective remained secret. Starting in July 1942, the Dutch Jews were ordered to report for transport to a transit camp in Drenthe, Westerbork, as part of a so-called ‘eastward employment scheme’. NS organised the transports to Westerbork and on to the border with Germany, where German locomotive crews took over and continued the transports to the extermination camps. Like other railway companies in Europe, NS punctually fulfilled its task in these deportations – with such zeal, apparently, that it earned the praise of the organiser of the transports, Adolf Eichmann, during his trial in 1961: ‘Die Zuge Rollten, dass man sagen kann, es ware eine Pracht’ (The trains ran so efficiently, it was simply fantastic). In several hundreds of operations, NS transported around 107,000 Jews and 245 Roma and Sinti on Dutch territory, of whom only 5,000 and 31 returned, respectively. The NS management board or the engine drivers and firemen involved in the transports are not known to have organised any protests or sabotage. Neither did the Allied forces, the Dutch government or the Dutch resistance movement take any action to sabotage or prevent the deportations. For those who would like to know more about the role of the railways in the deportation of Jews, Roma and Sinti, the Railway Museum has made available a permanent exhibition and a separate website since 2013: www.beladentreinen.nl. The exhibition can be visited in the museum grounds and online.