'Germanje': Dutch empire-building in Nazi-occupied Europe

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Recent historiography on Nazism has taken what has been coined ‘the imperial turn’. The key issue at stake is to what extent Germany’s expansionist policy between 1939 and 1945 could be considered a variant of the more general historical phenomenon of (modern) imperialism. Over the course of the last two decades, all sorts of continuities and parallels between traditional European colonialism and Nazi imperialism have been analysed. In these studies, a top-down approach is prevalent, concentrating on ‘Berlin’, Nazi politics and leaders. This article chooses a different perspective, bringing actors of a lower level to the fore. The focus is on the Dutch contribution to the Nazi policy of ‘Germanization’ of the occupied East. Between the summers of 1941 and 1944, over five thousand Dutch civilians voluntarily left their homeland to be employed in the so-called German occupied eastern territories. Although their contracts were often temporary, they were seen (and saw themselves) as the first group of ‘pioneers’ of a giant colonizing project. This article investigates the Dutch organizations coordinating their recruitment and employment, and zooms in on the expectations and experiences of individual recruits. With the Dutch case as an example, the article points at the broader historical context of the Dutch efforts. At the same time, it shows that this junior partner of the German had his own colonial agenda. The incompatibility of both agendas inevitably led to false expectations, caused a general sense of disillusionment on both sides and led to many frictions ‘on the spot’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-257
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Genocide Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2017


  • Netherlands
  • Germanization
  • Volksgemeinschaft
  • Lebensraum
  • colonialism


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