The Netherlands surrendered to Germany in May 1940, and the first anti-Jewish measures (the barring of Jews from the air-raid defence services) began in June 1940. These culminated in November 1940 in the removal of all Jews from public functions, including universities, which led directly to student protests in Leiden and elsewhere. At the same time, there was an increasing feeling of unrest amongst workers in Amsterdam, especially the workers at the shipyards in Amsterdam-Noord, who were threatened with forced labour in Germany.
As tensions rose, the Dutch pro-nazi movement NSB and its streetfighting arm, the WA (Weerbaarheidsafdeling - defence section), were involved in a series of provocations in Jewish neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. This eventually led to a series of street battles between the WA and Jewish self-defence groups and their supporters, with as high point a pitched battle on February 11, 1941 on the Waterlooplein in which WA member Hendrik Koot was badly wounded. He died of his injuries on February 14, 1941.
On February 12, 1941, German soldiers, assisted by Dutch police, encircled the old Jewish neighbourhood and cordoned it off from the rest of the city by putting up barbed wire, opening bridges and putting in police checkpoints. This neighbourhood was now forbidden for non-Jews.
On February 19, the German Grne Polizei stormed into ice-cream salon Koco in the Van Woustraat. In the fight that ensued, several police officers were wounded. Revenge for this and other fights came in the weekend of February 22 and February 23, when a large scale pogrom was undertaken by the Germans. 425 Jewish men, age 20-35 were taken hostage and imprisoned in Kamp Schoorl and eventually sent to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps, where most of them died within the year. Out of 425, only 2 survived.
Following this pogrom, on February 24, an open air meeting was held on the Noordermarkt to organise a strike to protest against the pogrom as well as the forced labour in Germany. The Communist Party of the Netherlands, made illegal by the Germans, printed and spread a call to strike throughout the city the next morning. The first to strike were the city's tram drivers, followed by other city services as well as companies like De Bijenkorf and schools. Though the Germans immediately took measures to suppress the strike, which had grown spontaneously as other workers followed the example of the tram drivers, it still spread to other areas, including Zaanstad, Kennemerland and Utrecht. The strike did not last long. By February 27, much of it had been suppressed by the German police. Although ultimately unsuccessful, it was still significant in that it was the first direct action against the Nazis' treatment of Jews.
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The book De februaristaking ("The February strike") by Historian Ben Sijes about the strike was published in 1954.
The strike is remembered each year on February 25, with a march past the Dokwerker, the memorial made for the strike in 1951 and first revealed in December 1952. This statue was made by Dutch sculptor Mari Andriessen. All political parties, as well as the city public transport authorities and organisations of Holocaust survivors participate in the remembrance. Although three communist organizers were shot to death after the strike and 12 communist organizers were sent to jails in Germany, during the cold war the communists were forced to remember the strike separately. Many years officials denied publicly the organization of the strike by the communists.
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