Over a decade ago I participated in a conference at Kampen sponsored by the theological institute of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands Liberated. After clearing my head from the cobwebs of jet lag, I looked out my downtown hotel window to observe teams of Dutch cyclists. They were not out for exercise but dressed in business attire on their way to work.
David Danelo finally helps make sense of that arresting sight.
About 230,000 Dutch citizens died during World War II, or 2.5% of the wartime population of nine million, many from disease and famine as much as violence. Before World War II, bicycles had come quickly to Holland, and the flat terrain made cycling the most affordable and functional form of public transport. After Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands in 1940, soldiers confiscated bicycles and recycled the metal and rubber for war materiel. Dutch citizens responded by making bicycle possession a protest symbol; as Nazi convoys careened through Amsterdam’s streets, Dutch cyclists would join hands, up to four abreast, and slow their pace to thwart the convoy’s progress. Even today, Dutch football fans are often seen holding bicycle signs during matches against Germany, and Dutch citizens feels no shame in asking new German acquaintances to “give me my bike back.”