by wjw on September 29, 2018

This last week marked the death of Freddie Oversteegen, 92, the Dutch resistance heroine who at the age of 14 joined a resistance cell dedicated to sabotage and assassination.  (She would meet German soldiers in bars, lure them to a secluded place, then shoot them.)

She sabotaged railways, killed soldiers and collaborators, and sheltered Jews, gays, and political refugees.  (Her family had actually begun harboring Jewish refugees before the war started, and saw no reason to stop.)

Ms. Oversteegen also rebutted criticism that the resistance had provoked German retaliation against innocent civilians.

“What about the six million Jews?” she said. “Weren’t they innocent people? Killing them was no act of reprisal. We were no terrorists. The real act of terror was the kidnapping and execution of innocent people after the resistance acted.”

Her mother gave her only one rule: “Always stay human.”

The_Resistance_BankerThis has sort of been Dutch Resistance Week for me, since I viewed the Netflix film The Resistance Banker, based on the true story of Walraven van Hall, who ran an underground bank and financed the resistance.  How to finance an underground movement engaging in a broad spectrum of activities is something you tend not to think about, but in a place like the Netherlands it’s pretty well necessary.  As one of the film’s characters explains, “In Holland only the sunrise is free.”

Someone, after all, had to pay for Freddie Oversteegen’s bullets.

Banker Van Hall and his group of financiers ended up raising the modern equivalent of 500,000,000 Euros through a number of ingenious means.  He would sell rich people stocks and bonds from defunct companies and countries (like Imperial Russia), which would be redeemed by the Dutch government after the war.  (If the Germans got them, they’d only be worthless certificates.)

At one point van Hall’s group forged millions of guilders’ worth of government savings bonds.  But he couldn’t sell forged bonds, because that would be fraud, and as a Dutch banker he could never contemplate such a thing.  Instead he managed to get into the vaults of the National Bank and exchange the forged bonds for the real thing, which he could then sell with a clear conscience.  (And again, the collaborators were left with worthless paper.)

As a result of these hijinx, this war film at times resembles a caper movie.  (Except, y’know, true.)

At one point in 1944, the entire Dutch railway system went on strike.  30,000 people, all committing what was in wartime a capital crime.  Van Hall paid the striking workers their salaries in full, and his organization sheltered them from retaliation.

All of this required meticulous record keeping.  When the books were delivered to the legitimate government after the war, they balanced.

Van Hall’s own personal story had a less happy ending, but then he was a genuine resistance hero, and most of those did not survive, Freddie Oversteegen being very much an exception.

I rate the movie as 500,000,000 Euros of fraudulent stock.   Check it out if you’re into depressing World War II resistance films, which I am.

Minx September 29, 2018 at 7:12 pm

This sort of financial legerdemain sounds like something that will eventually end up in a book of yours.

wjw September 30, 2018 at 12:41 am

Lucky I hadn’t read about it before writing Conventions of War, or that book would have been even longer.

pecooper October 2, 2018 at 9:11 am

Bless Freddie Oversteegen and bless her again for not accepting that there was anything wrong with defending her country.

And I am in awe of Walraven van Hall. Running an underground bank to finance the resistance is such a quintessentially Dutch thing, as is the fact that the books balanced, as is the government keeping it secret after the war because bankers (even heroic resistance bankers) aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing.

And it might be too late for it to appear in Conventions of War, but I could see Quillifer becoming involved with something like that. Low finance is also a Renaissance thing.

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