Loyal cooperation

After the capitulation on 15 May 1940, the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans. Like all other Dutch companies, NS had to decide on what attitude it was to assume vis-à-vis the Nazi regime. The Dutch Supreme Command, led by General Winkelman, instructed businesses and government authorities to resume their operations as soon as possible 'in the interests of the Dutch people and as good Dutch citizens'. The NS management board was convinced that passenger transport and coal and food supplies would be jeopardised if the Germans took control of the railway company. For that reason, the board opted for a solution which it believed would best serve the interests of the Dutch people and of NS employees. In consultation with D.G.W. Spitzen, Secretary General of the Department of Public Works and Water Management, NS and the Germans agreed that the Dutch railways would remain independent, retain its Dutch management board and continue to respect Dutch laws and regulations. In return, NS would carry out all military transports required by German Wehrmacht. Until the day of the railway strike NS strictly abided by these agreements.

Agreement with the Germans

In an official instruction dated 20 May 1940, the NS management board informed all railway employees that the company was to resume operations in ‘loyal cooperation’ with the German occupying forces. This decision was far from unique: virtually all Dutch companies and government authorities chose to cooperate with the Germans. Like many other businesses, NS had opted for cooperation so as to prevent the Germans from taking control of the company. The idea was that this would provide better safeguards for passenger transport and coal and food supplies to the Dutch people, as well as curtail the influence of the Germans and pro-German Dutch forces within the organisation. The question that remained was how to achieve that cooperation in practice. Following consultation with the Dutch armed forces and state secretary Spitzen, NS and the Germans arrived at an agreement in principle on 21 June 1940. Under that agreement, the Dutch management board could remain in office in return for a pledge to carry out any service required of it by the Germans, without fail.


Before long, the NS management board nominated an individual who was to serve as their link with the Germans. They selected G.F.H. (Gustav) Giesberger (1885-1958) for this post, who had previously worked as Head of Scheduling Operations and had achieved fame in that position by introducing a fixed timetable for the whole country in 1938. This involved trains running at regular intervals, for example every thirty minutes, which made it easy for passengers to memorise departure times. No other European country had a system like that at the time. During the occupation of the Netherlands, Giesberger was Head of Operations and Chief Liaison Inspector. He worked intensively with German railway employees led by Bahnbevollmächtigte Matthäus Selzer, who were posted in the building that also accommodated the NS management board. Only a small part of the correspondence between Giesberger's department and the German railway employees has survived.

Resumption of services

Train services were soon resumed once the management board had decided that 'loyal cooperation' was the best way forward. The first priority was to repair the damage that had been done to the railways during the first five days of the war. Apart from that, operations continued as normal where possible. The contacts with the Germans were generally satisfactory, probably due to the fact that most of them were railway employees themselves and ready to cooperate. In fact this was entirely consistent with the policy pursued by the Germans, as they were keen to maintain an atmosphere of order and discipline and gradually win the Dutch over to their side. The occupation resulted in restricted capacity of road transport, owing to the scarcity of diesel and petrol. This greatly boosted transport by rail, and trains became quite crowded. In 1939 NS had 73 million train passengers, while in 1943 the number of passengers was increased to 209 million.

The Goudriaan issue

Despite director Goudriaan's later claims in his memoires that he had felt welcome at NS and got along very well with his staff, not everybody liked him. Higher-ranking staff in particular, and his two co-directors, were critical of his policies. The Germans themselves mistrusted him, on account of the strongly anti-German and socialist views he had expressed before the war. To make things worse, during the first five days of the war he had asked for a special diesel train to transfer his family from Hilversum to The Hague, although he had strictly forbidden his colleagues to take any such action themselves. His attempt to flee to England with his family aroused contempt among some colleagues, and suspicion among the Germans. Goudriaan expected to be arrested any moment, which undermined his position in negotiations with the Germans. His fears were justified: on 7 October 1940 the Germans arrested him and sent him to concentration camp Buchenwald. When he was released in May 1941, it was very doubtful whether he could resume his former position on the NS management board. Hupkes, Van Rijckevorsel and Giesberger were now pulling the strings and showed little inclination to relinquish their newly gained powers.

The Staff Council

The Germans tried to gradually transform the Dutch trade unions into National Socialist organisations. Not long after the invasion, in July 1940, the largest union, the socialist Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (NVV), was placed under the leadership of H.J. Woudenberg, a member of the Dutch National Socialist party NSB. In 1942, all trade unions were disbanded and replaced by the National Socialist Nederlandsch Arbeids Front (Dutch Labour Front, or NAF). This meant that the NS Staff Council, whose members represented the various trade unions, would also come under German control. Even so, director Hupkes insisted that the Staff Council should remain independent and he even threatened to resign. After a subsequent tussle, a temporary solution was reached that would survive until the day of the railway strike: NS was allowed to appoint a new Staff Council at its own discretion, but was forced to accept an NSB member as its vice chairman. This was J.H. Woudenberg, brother of the NAF chairman. In practice, however, the vice chairman was excluded from decision-making. The new Staff Council was quick to appoint local correspondents who had all been heads of local branches of the old unions, thus minimising the influence of the NSB and the Germans in the Council.