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Thesis Award for historian Marieke Oprel

11 May 2022
Historian Marieke Oprel will be conferred a Thesis Award by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation for her doctoral thesis ‘The Burden of Nationality: Dutch citizenship policies towards German nationals in the aftermath of the Second World War (1944-1967)’, which she successfully defended at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on 24 June 2020.

The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation annually confers Thesis Awards for outstanding theses in the field of the humanities and social sciences. Oprel will receive a cash prize of €3,000 and a certificate. Four other young researchers in the humanities and social sciences who successfully defended a doctoral thesis of outstanding quality will likewise receive a Thesis Award.

‘The Burden of Nationality’

On 20 October 1944, with the end of the Second World War seemingly in sight, the Dutch government in exile in London decreed that all German nationals resident in the Kingdom of the Netherlands were ‘enemy subjects’. Regardless of their political allegiances or behaviour during the war, they were stripped of their assets to obtain reparations. Farmers with land on both sides of the Dutch-German border, German maids, Germans living in Surinam or the Dutch East Indies, and even German Jews who had fled to the Netherlands and survived the war, were all excluded from Dutch society because they were or had previously been German nationals. Some were arrested, interned or even deported; others saw no other option than to leave the Netherlands. 

Many German nationals resident in the Netherlands filed an objection to their ‘enemy subject’ classification in hopes of clearing their name and regaining their assets. Over 20,000 of such ‘de-enemisation’ requests are kept in the National Archives in The Hague. They give insight into the long period of uncertainty facing German nationals, many of whom had been living in the Netherlands for years. Their case files raise questions about the speed, severity and justice of Dutch post-war policies towards German nationals. To qualify for ‘de-enemisation’, German nationals had to prove they had conducted themselves as ‘good Dutchmen’. But what did this mean, and who was qualified to judge this? While the confiscation of assets added a considerable sum to the coffers of the Dutch treasury, it left German nationals who were are integral part of Dutch society impoverished and with a deep sense of injustice. Oprel’s doctoral thesis shows that many of them undeservedly paid a very high price for their German nationality.

Marieke Oprel recently discussed her thesis on the Dutch radio show Dr Kelder & Co; you can watch the interview here: Nederland plukte ook de goede Duitsers kaal | NPO Radio 1

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