Early History: 1900-1939
The first traces of the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands go back to 1908. That year The Divine Plan of the Ages—the first part of the Studies in the Scriptures—was translated, published, and distributed in Dutch. Brothers would compile excerpts from the Society's publications, which were then circulated in small study groups.
When a Witness from Germany moved to the Netherlands in 1914, Rotterdam became the center of our activities. Then in 1921, Brother Rutherford appointed Brother Adriaan Block as the first country servant. Amsterdam was home to a branch office from 1922 through 1926. The first edition of The Watchtower in Dutch appeared in 1926.
Among other important milestones were Brother Rutherford’s visits to the Netherlands. His Bible-based talks were broadcast via radio. The first broadcast was aired from the Amsterdam Diamond Exchange in 1923.
In 1927, the branch moved to Haarlem. Later, in 1931, it moved to Heemstede. Brother Rutherford revisited the Netherlands in 1933 and the media again extended an invitation for a radio broadcast. That year, our activities continued to expand and the first Dutch edition of The Golden Age (now Awake!) appeared in July.
The number of pioneers continued to grow. An earnest effort was made to reach as many people as possible to share the good news. Groups of pioneers often lived in the same house, sometimes called pioneer homes. They usually traveled by bike, to reach people in distant territories, pioneers also made use of small boats to sail the canals and rivers. Sound cars, portable phonographs, testimony cards, and information marches were used to spread the Kingdom message.
In the summer of 1939, a printing operation was set up in Haarlem. However, this would prove to be only temporary, because that same year Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands.
Second World War and Reconstruction: 1940-1949
By the time Germany invaded the country, there were about 500 Witnesses in the Netherlands. The Nazis lost no time in trying to stop the activities of the Witnesses, and a ban was issued. On July 6, 1940, the German authorities closed the branch office in Heemstede and confiscated the printing equipment in Haarlem.
Not long afterward, some brothers and sisters were arrested. The brothers started using different covers for The Watchtower and Consolation (now Awake!) in order to continue spreading the magazines despite the ban.
Throughout the country, more and more Witnesses were imprisoned and 310 were deported, 117 of whom died in the concentration camps. Witnesses who were not deported fell victim to the vicious persecution as well. A number of concentration camps were situated in the Netherlands, and several of our brothers and sisters lost their lives there. Some were executed without trial.
In total, 131 Dutch Witnesses lost their lives during Nazi persecution. Most Witnesses were brought to camps Amersfoort, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Vught. Others were deported to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, Natzweiler-Struthof, Neuengamme, and Westerbork. Shortly after World War II, a convention was held in Amsterdam on August 5, 1945. Some 4,000 attended. Clearly, an amazing growth had taken place despite harsh opposition!
On December 4, 1945, a meeting was held with Brother Knorr. As a result, that same winter relief goods were shipped to the Netherlands to be distributed among the brothers and sisters. Soon thereafter, in May 1946, the brothers purchased property from which the preaching work in the Netherlands could be organized. In the meantime, the number of Witnesses kept increasing to 5,716 in 1950.
Recent History: 1950–Today
During the war the brothers and sisters continued to meet in small groups. But after the war the meetings began to be more structured and the number of meetings increased. Gradually, congregations started having public meetings. Large conventions were held, and Jehovah’s Witnesses became well-known. During such a convention in The Hague, 450 were baptized in the North Sea.
During World War II, the Witnesses usually held their meetings in private homes. After the war, public facilities, classrooms, or community centers were rented for meetings. The need arose to build their own places of worship. Now meetings are held in 204 Kingdom Halls.
July 10, 1963, was another theocratic milestone for the Netherlands, as the governing body released the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Dutch during an international convention at Yankee Stadium in New York. Six years later, the Dutch edition of the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was released at the International “Peace on Earth” convention in Nuremberg, Germany.
Other memorable events were the dedication of two Assembly Halls. Before that time, the brothers held their large assemblies in theaters or sports halls. However, in 1974 property was bought in the city of Bennekom. Fortunately, only few adjustments were needed in order for the building on that property to serve as an Assembly Hall. On May 12, 1975, the first Assembly Hall was dedicated to Jehovah. Three years later, an additional Hall was built in Heereveen, but it was lost to a fire in 1989. The brothers immediately made plans for a new Hall in Swifterbant, which was dedicated to Jehovah on September 21, 1991.
What about the increase in the Netherlands? In 1950, there were over 5,500 Witnesses in the Netherlands. Ten years later, the amount of Witnesses had increased to more than 12,500. By 1970, there were over 18,000 Witnesses, and in 1980 more than 26,000. Now the Witnesses in the Netherlands number over 30,000. Last year’s Memorial was attended by 51,743.
Because of the growing influx of immigrants into the Netherlands, great efforts have been made to reach people in their mother tongue. Currently, there are 19 foreign-language congregations and 70 foreign-language groups in the Netherlands. All these efforts have had one primary purpose—to bring praise and glory to Jehovah’s great name.—Psalm 96:2, 3.