Visiting Vaals, The Netherlands and its main border crossing with Germany: complex in 1940, now benignly so
A thorough metamorphosis of Dutch-German relations
At the western end of Vaalserstrasse, Aachen, Germany, the road becomes Maastrichterlaan, Vaals, The Netherlands. Across this border on May 10, 1940 rolled the Nazi German war machine.
As the Nazi Germans consolidated their position a few hundred metres into Dutch territory, they found a house on Maastrichterlaan, which members of the thoroughly odd NSB (Dutch: Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging; English: National Socialist Movement) used as their local headquarters. The Nazi German invaders took over the building and used it as headquarters for the Nazi Party.
The NSB was led by Dutchman Anton Mussert. Interestingly, prior to World War Two, the infuence of the NSB under Mussert, already low, was waning. What is possibly significant is that the NSB had the strongest support in Drenthe, Gelderland and Limburg (in which province Vaals is located); all of these provinces have a sizeable border with Germany. However, the NSB, with or without Nazi German patronage, never gained popular support among Dutch people. Such collaboration as took place between Dutch people and their Nazi German invaders was mainly on opportunistic, rather than ideological, grounds (1).
Having singularly failed to win the hearts and minds of his Dutch compatriots, NSB leader Mussert found it difficult to be taken seriously by his Nazi German friends, either. In 1942, during the course of the occupation, Mussert was given the title of Leader of the Dutch People, a powerless office, which gave also rise to a sick joke enjoyed by Nazi Germans. In the now archaic Dutch of the day, this title was: Leider van het Nederlandsche Volk, the first word of which means 'unfortunately' in German.
However, the last laugh (if one can even use this term) was on the Dutch firing squad which dispatched 'Leider' Mussert, duly condemned for high treason, at The Hague in 1946.
Many decades have now passed since the unappetizing and unlamented NSBers liaised with their Nazi German guests in and around Vaals in World War Two.
Today 26% of the population of Vaals (total population in 2012: 9776)(2) are German nationals. This makes Vaals the Dutch municipality with the highest proportion of German citizens. These peaceful residents have absolutely nothing to do with the sinister politics of 70 years ago. Some German residents of Vaals have been elected to serve as municipal representatives. The benignly administered border between Germany and The Netherlands is open. A local
entrepreneurwas recently trying to sell fries from the building formerly used as a customs post!
The main photo, above, shows Vaalserstrasse, Aachen, in the foreground, which leads to the Dutch border; the tall buildings at the rear of the photo are in The Netherlands, with the slope of the Vaalserberg to the left. Another photo shows the beginning of Maastrichterlaan, where Vaals begins.
May 15, 2013
(1) Interestingly also, before World War Two, Mussert was noted for wanting to welcome Jews as members of his movement, and the macabre, racial fantasies of Germany's Nazi party did not become part of the NSB's prewar ideology. His compatriots' views of him was also made more pronounced by Mussert's personal life, which was regarded as unusual. In 1917, 23 year old Mussert announced he wanted to marry his aunt, Maria Witlam, 18 years his senior; this union would have been technically incestuous in The Netherlands had not Mussert appealed to Queen Wilhelmina for a special favour in this instance, which was granted. Shortly before the German invasion in 1940, the New York Times was reporting that Mussert and his NSB colleagues were planning to kidnap Queen Wilhelmina, but, if these reports were accurate, events soon overtook the suspected plotters; Queen Wilhelmina in any case went into exile. After The Netherlands was completely liberated in 1945, following the deaths of over 200,000 Dutch citizens during the harsh Nazi German occupation, inlcuding of many Jews, Mussert attempted to oppose his death sentence, somewhat of a foregone conclusion, by again appealing — this time in rather different circumstances — to the Dutch monarch. Queen Wilhelmina, however, this time, was thoroughly unimpressed. After his execution and burial, his remains mysteriously disappeared. In all, 'Leider' Mussert had basically been regarded as an unusual and unrepresentative individual by his Dutch compatriots (and also, for maybe different reasons, by his Nazi German friends).
(2) Statistical sourcing: wikipedia
Also worth seeing
Near Vaals itself, the wooded hill known as the Vaalserberg reaches a height of 322.5 metres and is where the borders of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet; there are some interesting church buildings, and several others properties designated as national monuments.
At Holset (distance: 5 kilometres) is situated an ancient, stone church building; this locality is reckoned to have Christian associations from over 1600 years ago.
How to get there: The nearest large city to Vaals is Aachen, Germany. Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. A46/A61/A44 lead to Aachen. The German railroad company Deutsche Bahn (DB) links Duesseldorf to Aachen (distance: 93 kilometres). You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information is advisable, as is also referring to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting Holset, The Netherlands: the undulations of history in South Limburg
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- Visiting Schoonloo, The Netherlands: rural woodland and receding memories of a labour camp
- Visiting the Kenaupark, Haarlem, The Netherlands: remembering spirited and patriotic Dutch women in
- Visiting the City Hall, Aachen, Germany: focal point of symbolism far beyond municipal affairs