Probe into secret resistance group set up to stop Cold War invasion

Photo: Wouter Engler via Wikimedia Commons

The government has commissioned a study into a group of hundreds of volunteers who were recruited during the Cold War to defend the Netherlands against a potential Russian invasion.

Relatives of the Stay Behind group, as they were known, have been calling for years for the government to release its records on the group’s membership and activities.

Between 1945 and 1992 several hundred citizens were recruited into the secret resistance organisation and given training, with orders not to tell even close relatives about their work.

They were also responsible for dozens of caches of weapons, some of which fell into the  hands of criminal gangs after the organisation was disbanded.

When some of the guns were used by members of Willem Holleeder’s gang in the 1990s, the government covered up the theft to stop Stay Behind’s existence coming to light, the Volkskrant reported.

The Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH) has now been asked to compile an inventory of documents about Stay Behind and interview surviving witnesses. The institute is due to report back in October, after which the government will decide whether to order a wider investigation.

Opening doors

Relatives want the government to acknowledge both the group’s work and the tensions that it caused in families who were implicated. Some families only found out that a relative had been recruited after they died.

Hadewych Jansen op de Haar, whose father Gerard Pelt was a member of Stay Behind, said: ‘We hope that this commission will actually mean the NIMH can open doors that until now have been closed.’

Pelt spent 30 years as head of sabotage in the operations division, during which time he made notes of around 40 locations where weapons including bazookas were stored underground.

Prime minister Mark Rutte and the then defence minister Ank Bijleveld broke the official silence on Stay Behind in February 2021 in a letter to relatives on behalf of the government, in which they praised the ‘impartial, extremely conscientious, and professional’ work done by the group ‘in the interests of our kingdom’.

‘This caused considerable tensions in many families and enforced restrictions in the personal and family environment. Their efforts deserve the highest respect.’

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