…He learned a great deal by closely following the intense political controversy within the Dutch army during this period. He came to believe that only a thorough reform of the entire economic and political system could prevent the downfall of Europe…
For Holland and for Europe: The Life and
Death of Dr. M.M. Rost van Tonningen
Florentine Rost van Tonningen
What is the point of speaking about the past? Why take another look at the worldview of my late husband, who was a National Socialist? Is there any point in speaking about such things in the liberal democratic era in which we live today?
My answer is that there most certainly is, for it is only through an open-mindedness toward the past that we can understand the road to the future. An understanding of history guides us on that road.
My husband, Meinoud Marinus van Tonningen, was born on February 19, 1894 in Surabaja, Dutch East Indies, to a well-respected Dutch family, many of whose members had held positions of great national importance. My husband was brought up a patriot, and at the age of 15 he decided on a military career.
His father had also chosen that path, and had been decorated more than once for his loyal military service. At the zenith of his career, my husband’s father was appointed commander-in-chief of the Royal Dutch Army in the Eastern Colonies, that is, for the area now known as Indonesia. He led the three famous Bali, Lombok, and Atjeh expeditions, for which he was appointed an Adjutant-General to the Queen. He resigned in 1909, however, as a result of the parsimonious attitude of the Dutch parliament toward the armed forces.
When the youthful Rost van Tonningen told his father of his military ambitions, the latter discouraged him with the words: “Don’t, my boy. This parliament will never recognize the needs of our army and will prevent it from properly carrying out its mission, which is, above all, to withstand any foreign aggression. Believe me, my son, all your efforts would be in vain.” It was not until years later that my husband came to understand the wisdom and farsightedness of his fathers advice, which proved to be not only correct for my husband, but prophetic for his country and for Europe as a whole.
In 1912 my husband decided to become an engineer. But the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 intervened, and he served instead in the army as an officer in the Royal Artillery. He learned a great deal by closely following the intense political controversy within the Dutch army during this period. He came to believe that only a thorough reform of the entire economic and political system could prevent the downfall of Europe. And out of that realization grew his interest in politics. Despite his father’s protests, he did not resume his engineering studies after the end of the war in 1918, but instead registered as a law student at the University of Leiden.
The revolution which shook Germany and the immense economic crisis which loomed over Europe in the aftermath of the World War further strengthened Rost van Tonningen’s determination to devote himself to an idealistic career in politics. In 1921 he was awarded his doctorate by the University of Leiden. His dissertation, on international law, dealt with possibilities of alleviating the economic and political distress in Central Europe, much of it in consequence of the imposed peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain. At that time still a liberal by education and training, Rost van Tonningen believed that Central Europe could be rescued through the intervention of the League of Nations.
Eager to work for the League, Dr. Rost van Tonningen worked hard to improve his fluency in French, English, and German, so that he could deal with political and economic issues on a truly European basis. His understanding of international law and his close study of the operations and problems of the League of Nations made him a welcome volunteer at the League’s headquarters in Geneva in 1922.
In the following year Rost van Tonningen was appointed assistant to the Commissioner General of the League of Nations in Vienna, Dr. Zimmerman, the former mayor of Rotterdam, who was attempting to revive the economy of the shriveled Austrian state on the basis of the Balfour Plan of 1922. Dr. Zimmerman, the first man of pronounced anti-Semitic opinions whom Rost van Tonningen had met, attributed a portion of postwar Austria’s economic woes to the activities of Jewish speculators, many of whom had flocked to Vienna after 1918. Although Rost van Tonningen was not completely won over to the Commissioner General’s standpoint, he became aware for the first time of the Jewish question in Central Europe.
In 1928 Rost van Tonningen left Vienna and the League to work as a banker at Hope & Co. in Amsterdam and New York, but the world economic crisis of 1931, which followed the New York Stock Exchange crash of 1929, led him to return to his work for the League of Nations in Vienna. The collapse of the Credit-Anstalt, Vienna’s biggest bank in the spring of 1931 had been followed by financial disaster in Austria and Germany, and Great Britain’s departure from the gold standard in September.
Dr. Rost van Tonningen became the representative of the Council of the League of Nations in Vienna, with a mandate to promote Austria’s economic reconstruction. During the next five years he tried to work closely with the Austrian government in expanding Austrian productivity and trade with neighboring nations.
During that period Austria was beset by political as well as economic miseries. The Christian Socialists, strongly clerical and authoritarian, banned both the Marxist Social Democrats and the National Socialists, setting up a one-party state under the dictatorial rule of Engelbert Dollfuss (until his assassination in an unsuccessful National Socialist putsch in 1934) and Kurt Schuschnigg.
Rost van Tonningen, who at first worked closely with Dollfuss and opposed the National Socialists, grew horrified at Dollfuss’ repression of his political enemies. At the same time, Dollfuss grew to oppose a union of Austria with Germany, which seemed to Rost van Tonningen to offer the only solution to Austria’s economic problems.
Dr. Rost van Tonningen had meanwhile concluded that economic liberalism and free trade were no longer suited to Austria or to a politically balkanized Europe of small, independent states. He had come to believe that only the formation of a controlled economy, based on the just needs of a racial community occupying a large area (Grossraum), could enable the Europeans to compete, in the long run, with such vast entities as the Soviet Union, the British Empire, and the United States. His idea was one of the first expressions of the need for a European economic community.
In 1935 and 1936 most European countries devalued their gold currencies and went off the gold standard, threatening monetary chaos. My husband, now a convinced National Socialist, saw that the usefulness of the League to Austria and the rest of Europe was at an end. Accordingly, Rost van Tonningen resigned his position in Vienna, resolved to return to the Netherlands to devote himself to his country’s National Socialist movement.
Before his return, my husband arranged through Germany’s ambassador to Austria, Franz von Papen, to meet Hitler at his mountain chalet in Berchtesgaden. They discussed the Führer’s policy toward England and the Germanic nations of the Continent; Rost van Tonningen learned that Hitler favored a united European economy, and that he believed that world prosperity would only be returned with the restoration of the purchasing power of Europe, a block of over 300 million people with a high standard of living.
In the Netherlands, Anton Mussert, leader of the Dutch National Socialist movement (Nationaal-Socialistisch Beweging), appointed Rost van Tonningen editor of the movement newspaper, Het Nationale Dagblad (The National Daily). The following year my husband was elected to the Dutch parliament, where he was able to observe first-hand how the party politicians obstructed their own experts, and those of the other parties, in solving the nations problems.
Within the Dutch National Socialist Movement, the N.S.B., there was at first no general agreement about the importance of large-scale economic thinking, or of racial unity. For example, Jews had been members of the N.S.B. since its founding in 1931. Before long, however, Dutch Jews organized a concerted campaign against the N.S.B., and it became impossible to ignore the Jewish question any longer. Mussert and my husband met to discuss this issue, and they agreed that it had to be solved in an orderly and peaceful way. They were convinced that the only solution would have to be an independent Jewish state.
Palestine was considered, but ultimately rejected as too small. Surinam, a Dutch colony in South America, was decided upon instead. Our party presented this plan to the Dutch parliament, where it was rejected by our political adversaries.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rost van Tonningen had been sent by Mussert to Germany to promote discussion of this “Mussert Plan” in the German press. Through Heinrich Himmler’s intervention, my husband was able to meet and discuss the resettlement plan with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. After some hesitation, the foreign minister agreed to its publication. The permission of Dr. Goebbels’ propaganda ministry for press treatment of the issue was also obtained, but in the end there was little mention made of the Mussert Plan. In 1937 my husband spoke privately for the first time with Heinrich Himmler, the “Reichsführer SS,” and soon became a member of his inner circle. Himmler held my husband in high esteem, and introduced him to leading German National Socialist figures in the fields of economics, sociology, and science. Next to Hitler, Himmler was the most significant personality in the Reich’s leadership. His basic views can be summarized as follows:
- Unification of all Germans in a greater German Reich
- cultivation of close ties between all Germanic people
- unshakable faith in the greatness and abilities of the Nordic race
- conviction that racial mixing, if carried too far, is disastrous
From early 1940 rumors spread that Hitler planned to attack our country. My husband believed that a German invasion would make the task of the Dutch National Socialists impossible. Accordingly, he traveled to Berlin that spring to discuss his and Mussert’s feelings with Himmler. Rost van Tonningen was unsuccessful in seeing the Reichsführer, but was able to speak with his chief of staff, Obergruppenführer Wolff. Despite their understanding for the dilemma of the Dutch National Socialists, it was clear that the Germans mistrusted Great Britain and France, and believed (not without cause) that the government of the Netherlands was secretly pro-Allied.
A week before Germany attacked, Rost van Tonningen was arrested by the Dutch government, and accused of high treason over the national radio. Dutch authorities shifted him from place to place, fleeing before the German blitzkrieg. My husband was taken as far south as Calais, from where the Dutch government planned to carry him across the Channel to England, but was freed when the Germans captured the city.
Rost van Tonningen returned to the Netherlands at the start of June 1940. Since not only Queen Wilhelmina but the Dutch government as well had fled to England, General Winkelman, commander-in-chief of the Dutch land and sea forces, surrendered not only the army and navy but also the Dutch civil administration to the Germans. Hitler appointed the Austrian Arthur von Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar; the delicate situation which Rost van Tonningen feared had come to pass.
For a year Rost van Tonningen devoted himself to working politically with the German authorities. He was entrusted with closing down the Marxist parties, including the Communists and the Social Democrats, and building up a new organization, The Workers’ Front (Arbeitsfront) for labor. Rost van Tonningen assumed control of the Het Volk (The People), the Social-Democratic daily; as long as the paper refrained from criticizing the occupation, Rost van Tonningen did not intervene in its workings.
Several parties were tolerated under the German occupation, including Mussert’s National Socialists; “De Nederlandsche Unie” (Dutch Union), made up of members of several prewar parties; and the NSNAP (National Socialist Dutch Workers Party), which advocated the total incorporation of the Netherlands into the German Reich. When it became clear to my husband, a Dutch patriot, that the initial German policy of free development of political parties (not hostile to the occupation) had been abandoned, he ceased his political work. With war against the Soviet Union looming, Rost van Tonningen volunteered for service in the Waffen SS.
To Rost van Tonnigen’s surprise Seyss-Inquart opposed his plans; the Reichskommissar prevailed on Himmler to reject Rost van Tonningen’s application. Together with Anton Mussert, Himmler and Seyss-Inquart convinced my husband to accept the post of President of the Netherlands Bank and Secretary-General of Finance. Rost van Tonningen’s mission was a difficult one. Customs duties had been abolished between Germany and the Netherlands in January 1941; the resignation of Rost van Tonnigen’s predecessor, Dr. Trip, had been prompted by the abolition of the foreign exchange barrier between the two countries on April 1, 1941. Although my husband was assured that these two steps had been taken with the ultimate aim of setting up a continental free trading community, this never came to pass.
Rost van Tonningen represented Dutch interests within the German-dominated wartime continental economy to the best of his ability. Although Hitler and Himmler were broadly sympathetic to the Dutch desire for autonomy, my husband’s efforts met with much resistance in administrative and business circles.
After the Dutch capitulation the Netherlands Bank had become virtually a branch office of the Reichsbank. Various occupying authorities made big demands on the Dutch treasury: Göring wanted 500 million RM per month, and so forth. In early 1942 Dr. Fischböck, Seyss-Inquart’s economic adviser, reached an agreement with Count Schwerin von Krosigk, Reichminister of Finance, obligating the Netherlands to contribute 50 million RM per month, retroactive to July 1, 1941, to the fight against Bolshevism. Despite these challenges, my husband was able to institute a thorough reform of the Dutch banking system. He defended the interests of Dutch business and workingmen alike. He devoted considerable energy to building up the Netherlands East Company, which joined in German reconstruction and development in the occupied Eastern territories in summer 1942.
Capture and Murder
M.M. Rost van Tonningen and I were married on December 21, 1940. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was best man. Our matrimonial vow echoed the SS oath: “Our honor is loyalty.”
Before the end came for the German Reich, my husband and I were given the chance to escape to Brazil. He refused, determined to see things through to the end and ready to take responsibility for his acts. Finally granted his wish, he took up arms as a member of the Dutch Waffen SS.
Although my husband had let me decide for myself whether I should flee with our two children to South America, naturally I declined. With the birth of my third child imminent, I made a perilous escape from advancing Polish troops across lands which the Germans had largely flooded to hinder the Allies’ progress. A German ship then brought me to the island of Terschelling, in West Frisia, far from the front.
There, in a small room, unaided and alone, I brought my third child into the world, hale and hardy. My husband was never to learn of the birth of this son.
Soon the people of the village knew, however. My child’s arrival was entered into the local register of births and, following the local custom, the town crier, after blowing on his great horn, proclaimed that the new-born child was the son of Rost van Tonningen. At virtually the same time the islanders learned of the official announcement of their country’s liberation by the Allies, and the streets blossomed with little Dutch flags.
My husband was well known; his name adorned every Dutch bank note. The frenzied crowds, discovering that the wife of a notorious “collaborator” was in their midst, dragged my children and me from our room and would surely have lynched us in their wild hysteria had not the ship’s doctor of the German vessel which brought me to the island happened by in his car just then. Driving into the crowd, he pulled us into the car and drove off at high speed.
Since the Kriegsmarine [German navy] had capitulated, there was no chance of escaping on the ship which had brought me to Terschelling; like the rest of the German warships in the harbor, it was under embargo. Even my brave rescuer believed there was no hope for me; he offered me a poison capsule.
There was, however, one German vessel at anchor there which hadn’t been seized, for it wasn’t a warship. I begged the captain to help my children and me escape. Without wasting any words he weighed anchor and we sailed off into the North Sea, negotiating dangerous minefields until we reached Cuxhafen, at the mouth of the Elbe. I was eager to reach Germany because I believed, following the death of Adolf Hitler on April 30, that the Allies might cease hostilities against the Reich and march, together with the remaining Waffen SS formations, against the Red Army. Himmler had transmitted just such a proposal, through Count Bernadotte, to the British and Americans, and my husband, close to the Reichsführer’s circle, had gotten wind of it. Like my children, I was half-dead with hunger and fatigue, but I still hoped that I would meet my husband somewhere in Germany. That was not to be, however. As I was to learn later, M.M. Rost van Tonningen died brutally at the hands of his captors.
Shortly after arriving at Cuxhaven, where my children and I were admitted to the hospital, I learned that I was about to be arrested and extradited by the British. With the help of a nurse I escaped and, fleeing by foot with my children along country roads, made my way to Goslar in the Harz, where I was reunited with my family. After a few days, however, I was arrested by the British and returned to the Netherlands. It was only after returning that I learned something of my husband’s fate.
At first I was kept prisoner in the subterranean dungeons of Ft. Honswijk, where I endured terrible treatment from the embittered and vengeful so-called Dutch “democrats.” After my release, I was able to locate and regain custody of my three sons. but all our property had been confiscated.
My Fight for the Truth
I was then forced to make a living for my family and myself, not an easy thing for the widow of a prominent National-Socialist sympathizer in postwar Holland. Before the war I had studied biology under the great ethologist Konrad Lorenz, and my studies had brought me to China and the Dutch East Indies. Like other “collaborators.” however, I was excluded from work in my own field.
At first I tried to support my sons by painting lampshades. No sooner had my persecutors learned of this than the rumor was spread that the lampshades were made of human skin (the same lie that was spread about Ilse Koch). I had to give up that enterprise. Thereafter I started an electrical equipment business. Trained as a biologist, I made myself into a businesswoman and technical expert. Beginning with 100 florins, over the course of 34 years I built up my business to a factory employing 25 men.
Since my release from prison I have worked tirelessly to establish the truth about my husband’s death, of which I learned in my captivity. Due to the refusal of the allegedly “humane” and “democratic” regime which the Allies restored in the Netherlands. I have so far been able to learn very little.
In April 1945 M.M. Rost van Tonningen was captured by Canadian troops during the Allied invasion of the Netheriands. At first he was held, together with other Dutch SS officers, at a concentration camp in Elst. Following a visit by Prince Bernhard, consort of Queen Wilhelmina, my husband was transferred to Utrecht and then, on May 24, to a jail in Scheveningen, near The Hague. Thirteen days later he was murdered by his captors in Scheveningen.
I never received official notice of my husband’s death, which authorities later claimed was a suicide. They have never produced any evidence to support this claim: the records pertaining to my husband have been sealed until the year 2069.
I was presented, however, with a bill from the municipal sanitation service of The Hague, for on June 6, 1945, the day of my husband’s death, his remains were transferred, first from the prison to a hospital and then to a cemetery, in a garbage truck. It was given to me by a policeman named Gross, who carried a dossier with gruesome details of my husband’s mistreatment.
When I visited the hospital to which my husband had been taken, the physician-in-charge was badly rattled when he learned who I was. When I asked him about my husbands death, he stammered, “No, no, Mrs. Rost van Tonningen, I can’t talk about it.” Then he took of his white coat and led me out of the hospital, where he hailed a taxi and directed me to the Witte-Brug Cemetery.
When I arrived there, it was the same story. The director was frightened, for he had been told to say nothing regarding my husband. He simply pointed to a row of portfolios, labeled “Secret,” on a shelf, and told me that one of them told the story of my husband’s death, of which he could say nothing more. Then he showed me the grave, a mass-grave set aside for paupers, into which my husband’s body, without coffin, had been tossed.
Although I tried for years to obtain permission to reinter my husband in our family plot, I was unsuccessful. My request was taken under consideration by the Council of State, which procrastinated for some time before informing me that the grave had been cleared.
In 1950, which had been proclaimed a Holy Year by Pope Pius XII, I visited the Pope in Rome. He was aware of the mistreatment and murder of my husband, and he promised to help me. On my return to Holland, I visited the papal nuncio in order to obtain a document concerning my husband’s death. I was unsuccessful, however, since the Minister of Justice, a Catholic who was cooperating with the nuncio, was suddenly transferred to the West Indies, where he had been appointed governor. His successor, who was Jewish, was not friendly to my case. My attempts to present my case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague were similarly frustrated.
When I reached seventy years of age, I fell ill, and required two operations. My sons were not interested in taking over the running of my factory, and during my convalescence some of my enemies, allegedly former members of the resistance, were able through various tricks, to gain control of my business.
During the past five years I have received over one hundred bomb threats, and my windows have been smashed many times. My brake cables have been cut. For my opponents, everything is allowed.
The press has stepped up its campaign against me as well. Since my husband had been a member of the Dutch parliament, I am entitled by law to a small pension. In 1984 a Dutch magazine discovered this, and the professional “anti- Nazis” succeeded in pressuring parliament to hold a hearing on whether my pension should be canceled. So far they have been unsuccessful.
Nevertheless, I have become something of a judicial “muscle-meter,” called “the Black Widow,” on whom litigants and lawyers can try their strength. After my periodical Manuscripten published a picture of an unknown woman in the costume of a fisherman’s wife, I was astounded to receive a letter from a lawyer demanding 50,000 florins for his client, an actress. Since we had (quite unawares) used her picture without obtaining permission, I was eventually forced to pay her 2,500 florins, as well as assume the costs of the lawsuit, an additional 10,000 florins.
My home has been twice searched by police looking for allegedly anti-Jewish literature. On their first search the police found a brochure which questioned the factuality of the Holocaust. The court found that to challenge the Holocaust was anti-Jewish, and I received a three-month suspended sentence. The second search resulted in the police confiscating Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the Great Holocaust Trial. My trial for possession of these books will begin on March 9, 1989 [Mrs. Rost van Tonningen was subsequently convicted of possessing these forbidden books. — Ed.].
I hope that I have been able to communicate successfully to an American audience something of my husband’s life and the ideals for which we both struggled. My husband refused to abdicate his responsibilities or abandon his people. He stayed and fought honorably, only to be butchered. Why? I believe not merely because Rost van Tonningen was a Dutch National Socialist, but because he knew too much about those of his countrymen who cooperated with the Germans in the beginning, then went over to the Allies as Dutch patriots, “heroes of the resistance,” and the like. Had my husband stood trial, his defense might have proved embarrassing for many Dutchmen in high places.
In my life I have experienced many high points, as well as low points. I have tried to be equal to each situation, always attempting to live in accordance with the spiritual basis of life, the mission that is given each of us to carry out on the earthly plane. The life of each of us is merely a thread in the larger fabric or plan.
I still count our meetings with Adolf Hitler as highlights in my life. For us he was a leader who dedicated, and sacrificed, himself for his people, one who eminently fulfilled his life’s mission. He united his countrymen, of all classes and stations, from the aristocracy to the farmers and laborers, as had no man before him. His soldiers fought heroically to the last, particularly the men of the Waffen SS, not only Germans but from across Europe. Like my beloved brother, who died in combat in the ranks of the SS, and my husband, I think of Adolf Hitler as the first European.
I shall close with the words of Rudolf Hess, the martyr who earned, but was never awarded, the Nobel Prize for Peace. After being sentenced to life imprisonment at Nuremberg despite his flight for peace, he told the court:
“If I were standing once again at the beginning, I would act again as I acted, even though I knew at the end I would burn at the stake. No matter what people may do, one day I shall stand before the judgment seat of God Eternal. I will justify myself to Him and I know that He will absolve me.”
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1989 (Vol. 9, No. 4), pages 427-438.
This item was first presented at the Ninth IHR Conference in February 1989 in Huntington Beach, California.
About the Author
Florentine Rost van Tonningen (1914- 2007) was the wife of Meinoud Rost van Tonningen, a leading figure in the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB), and President of the country’s central bank during the German occupation (1941–1945). In the decades after the end of the war, she boldy spoke out in defiance of the hate that prevailed in her country toward those who had supported or collaborated with Germany. Until her death at the age of 92, she vigorously defended her late husband’s reputation and honor, and continued to support and propagate the ideals of National Socialism. Her memoir, titled Op zoek naar mijn huwelijksring (“In Search Of My Wedding Ring”), was published in 1990.