The news of the 22 February 1941 raid of 427 Amsterdam Jews made a deep impression on the Amsterdam population. Out of solidarity with fellow-Jewish citizens and resentment of the Nazis’ actions in the capitol, a general strike, was announced for 25 February 1941.
The call, which came from several members of the illegally operating Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN), was spontaneously and massively heard. The strike spread to the Zaanstreek, Haarlem, Weesp, Hilversum and Utrecht.
The February Strike was the most extensive, open mass protest against the persecution of Jews in Europe. In total, at least 4,400 civil servants and work men from the municipality of Amsterdam took to the streets on 25-26 February in solidarity with the persecuted Jews in their city. The trams were standing still, and municipal services were not working. The strike spread to surrounding towns and other parts of the country, but then violence erupted from the Nazis.
Willem Kraan worked in the Amsterdam Municipal Street Building Department, and his friend Piet Nak, who worked for the Sanitation Department, were active members of the Communist Party. On Sunday, 23 February 1941, they initiated a strike in protest against the Germans for the inhuman manner they treated the Jews. They approached as many working people as possible and asked them to strike on behalf of the Jews. The strike did not come off immediately. However, on a Monday evening, Piet made an inspiring speech at the Noordermarkt, and the next day all the services in Amsterdam and some in the neighbouring towns went on strike. It was the first time that non-Jews openly showed their concern for the plight of the Jews. The strike lasted two days before being put down by the Germans. Following the strike, the Germans made a supreme effort to apprehend the organizers, but their identities were never discovered. After a while, Piet was caught in connection with other illegal activities and brutally mistreated. Piet did not break, and when the Germans finally let him go he went temporarily into hiding. On 15 November 1941, Piet, Willem, and their friends were caught. Willem and 17 others were executed, but Piet was released and once again went into hiding. In May 1943, he was arrested and jailed for the third time. In June, he was freed, once again. However, the Germans had treated him so brutally that he was declared unfit for work and could never again hold a regular job. After the war, a bust of Willem Kraan was placed in a street that bore his name. On 31 May 1966, Yad Vashem recognized Wilhelmus Johannes Kraan and Piet Nak as Righteous Among the Nations.
After the war, Piet Nak started a career as a magician and illusionist under the stage name Pietro Nakaro, also known as Nakaro the Magician. He also remained politically active and was involved in the establishment of the Amsterdam Vietnam Committee (later the Vietnam National Committee) and the Dutch Palestine Committee. In the 1950s, it came to a break with the Communist Party of the Netherlands, which, in his opinion, used the annual commemoration of the February strike for its political gain.
Eduard Carel Frederik Hellendoorn was a painter and Dutch resistance fighter. He was born on 29 November 1912 in Amsterdam. He studied the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (Den Haag) (Royal Academy of Art, The Hague). In 1931 Hellendoorn married Johanna Maria Drayton Lee, with whom he had three children. The couple divorced in 1939. The 1939 exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum included Hellendoorn’s Onze Kunst van Heden (Our Art of Today).
In 1940 Hellendoorn joined the communist artists’ resistance. In 1941 he took part in the February strike. Subsequently, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Oranjehotel in Scheveningen Hellendoorn and executed on 13 March 1941 at Waalsdorpervlakte.
These were just a few of the heroes of the February strike. They make me proud to be a Dutchman.