Give us your bicycle or die- The story of the Bicycles in WWII in the Netherlands.


30.-stalen-ros-met-houten-bandenThe Dutch are known for their love of bicycles, for most Dutch people it is the first choice of means of transport.

Needless to say that the bicycle did play an important role in WWII. There is a long running joke about the Germans giving back dutch bikes, this comes from WWII, The German occupiers demanded all Men’s bikes to be handed over to the Germans. In July 1942 additionally to the demand of the confiscation of bikes, all Jews were also forbidden to even ride a bike.


Some exemptions were made to some groups who were allowed to keep their bikes, often they would be people working with the Germans or people working on a farm. A pamphlet was distributed  in Amsterdam in relation to those exemptions.


As the end of the war approached the Germans stole a great number of bikes either to escape to Germany or to get to the allies to surrender.


At the later stages the reprisals of not handing over bicycles to the German occupiers became more severe. The picture below shows a notification posted in the town of Heilo sating that all bicycles had to be delivered to the town hall on October 9th 1944 at before 15:30, failure to fully comply would result in 10 citizens being executed.


The bicycle was also used by many Dutch to generate light during times of power outages.

The German occupier abolished freedom of the  printed press. An illegal press was established  in response to this. The first newspapers appeared occasionally , however  by the end of the war the number of illegal publications had increased to 1300.

Creating and distributing these papers was very dangerous work, punishable by death. Even having a single copy in your possession put your life at risk. Along with the growing shortages caused by the war, for instance of paper, these illegal presses also faced other difficulties. Members of the Amsterdam Resistance used a bicycle-powered mimeograph machine to stencil underground newspapers, most likely from late 1944, when the electricity in the city was cut off more and more frequently.

(drawing by Jan Sanders)16.-NIOD-976191


So next time you visit the Netherlands and you see the millions of bicycles, just remember it is not just a means of transportation, It is also a cultural heritage that people have died for in order to preserve it.




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Verzets Museum


  1. Dirk, you might like my friend Aaron’s cycling history site.


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