Back in the 1930's, when Adolf Hitler was elected Reichs Chancellor in Germany, Holland wasn't too anxious. Although most of the Dutch disapproved of German policy, everybody was absolutely sure that Dutch neutrality would be respected. It had not only kept the Dutch out of World War I, but had also been good for business. Just hours before the German invasion, Dutch prime minister Colijn had spoken the historical words: Don't worry, have a good night's sleep; the government is in control.
When German troops crossed the Dutch border on 10 May 1940, the Dutch were ill prepared, although there had been a general mobilisation. The 15.000 inhabitants of Wageningen were woken up in the early morning by the noise of aeroplanes, machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery. Later that day 12.000 people were hastily evacuated by 31 barges, finding temporary accommodation in small towns and villages downstream. Three days later the Dutch government left Holland together with Dutch Queen Wilhelmina for London. On May 14th, after the bombing of Rotterdam, Dutch troops surrendered.
A delegation of city officials returned to Wageningen to investigate the damage: the inner city had been reduced to rubble (only the city hall was more or less intact), most houses had been looted, the water supply and the gas works had been destroyed. A few days later, the first Wageningers returned home. Shopkeepers opened up provisionary shops in the Hoogstraat.
In the Autumn of 1940, Dutch resistance against the Germans carefully begins to get organized. Only one Wageningen professor, the legendary Professor Olivier, takes part. He starts to collect weaponry that was left behind at the Grebbeberg. Professor Smit also makes clear that he rejects the German occupation. The two are later followed by Tendeloo and Prins. It is hard to organize any resistance: people are afraid of the risks and the Germans don't seem that bad in the early days of World War II.
In October 1940, there is a German order to dismiss public servants who have Jewish blood. At that time there are 33 Jews living in Wageningen. Professors Smit and Olivier refuse to hold their lectures. Smit is fired by the Germans, Olivier is banned from Wageningen a few weeks later. Five Jewish students are no longer allowed to attend university lectures.
Wageningen's Rector, Jeswiet, makes numerous appearances in official gatherings with the German authorities and is condemned for his collaboration with the Germans after the war.
In 1941 the Jews have to register at Wageningen town hall. Everybody needs an identity card. The Germans also ban political activities other than pro-German. There are also bans on the Dutch flag, on pictures of the Royal family and on the Prince's favourite flower, the carnation. Later that year, Dutch political parties are dissolved and Jewish people are forbidden to enter public buildings and areas.
Three student clubs, SSR, KSV and Ceres, refuse to ban Jewish students and close down. Only Unitas stays open during the entire war.
In 1942, the Dutch resistance gains strength. German troops try to break the resistance by detaining former Dutch officers in German camps. The persecution of the Jews is becoming more harsh and the Germans start to detain more people who openly disagree with their policy.
In 1943, the Dutch resistance (among it a few students) raid the city administration council and all identity cards disappear. The Germans suspect the students and they are gathered in the Aula, where the University Board tries to persuade them to return the identity cards. Later that year, students have to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Germans. If they refuse, they will be taken to Germany for forced labour. Although the Germans threaten to kill the parents of students who go into hiding, many students take the risk and go underground. Another 150 report at a camp in Ommen to be sent to Germany.
Also in 1943, a German V-1 missile accidentally hits Wageningen. Sixteen houses are destroyed, 27 people killed.
The resistance kills Dutch traitor Ipprenburch in Pieter Pauw hospital, where he is being nursed after a first unsuccessful assassination attempt. Ipprenburch is responsible for the deaths of countless members of the resistance. As an act of revenge, hospital doctor, Boes is killed by the SS.
Although there are hardly any students left, the university does not close down in 1944. Almost the entire scientific corps is present to teach only a few, mostly fascist-oriented students.
In September, the advancing allied forces lose in the Battle of Arnhem against the Germans and are stuck on the south banks of the River Rhine. The population of Wageningen is once again forced to leave their home town because of heavy artillery fire. They have to stay away for seven and a half months until Wageningen is liberated in April 1945.
In May 1945, German troops in Holland want to surrender.
Capitulation talks are held at an old farm in the Nude district in Wageningen. On May 5th, the Allied General Foulkes and Dutch Prince Bernhard meet the German generals Blaskowitz and Reichelt in Hotel De Wereld to sign the prelimary surrender treaty. On May 6th all the papers are signed in the university Aula. Holland is liberated.
After the War, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture severely criticized the professors of Wageningen University because of their wavering attitude during the war, contrary to many students who had shown more patriotism and guts. Nevertheless only two professors were dismissed, in stark contrast to the expulsion of almost every student who had signed the declaration of loyalty. The fact that there were a great number of professors available to teach these students, and that these professors could go on teaching after the war, was felt as a major injustice.