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Still van het perron in Kamp Westerbork, Westerborkfilm, 1944.

Research on the Dutch Railways during the Second World War

Published on 15 February 2023
In the spring of 2023, the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies will launch a large-scale research study on the Dutch Railways (De Nederlandse Spoorwegen, NS) during the Second World War. The study was commissioned by the NS and is expected to take around 3.5 years.

The functioning of the railways during the occupation

The research aims to produce an integrated analysis of the functioning of the railways during the occupation of the Netherlands, particularly with regard to questions about the railway company’s responsibility for and complicity in the facilitation of the German war and extermination industry. It will focus on the question of the functioning of various management levels, departments and individuals at the NS during the occupation, as well as their involvement in and responsibility for carrying out German (transport) orders in the course of the war. The study aims to produce new insights into how the NS operated during the German occupation of the Netherlands, by building on developments in the Dutch and international literature.

Responsibility for the deportation of victims of persecution

This broad research on the NS is a response to the social desire for greater clarity about the functioning of the company during the German occupation and its responsibility for the deportation of victims of persecution. The research will also help to improve historical knowledge about business organisations in times of war and occupation in general.

Exploratory preliminary investigation

The research design stems from the results of an exploratory preliminary investigation by NIOD, carried out by Dr Laurien Vastenhout and Dr Lennert Savenije. This preliminary investigation was conducted at the request of the NS, in response to a recommendation by the Commission on Individual Compensation for the Victims of NS Transports in WWII (Commissie Individuele Tegemoetkoming Slachtoffers WO II Transporten NS) in 2019. The commission recommended that ‘in-depth research into the role of the NS during the Second World War’ be conducted, focusing in particular on ‘transports during the war’. The commission stated that there is ‘a great need for more information and historical understanding regarding the role that the NS played during the war’, and that ‘the perspective of “the transports during the war” across the board has never been the subject of historical research’. The recommendation to conduct research was the last of the commission’s recommendations that had yet to be implemented.

Following this recommendation, the NS asked NIOD to conduct a preliminary study with the aim of identifying potential sources and themes that would be suitable for a large-scale investigation. In the final report, the researchers drew on a large quantity of source material to recommend a follow-up study based on five lines of inquiry.

The final report of the preliminary investigation, Beladen Transport. De Nederlandse Spoorwegen tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog, can be downloaded here [only available in Dutch].

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