The Nazi-occupied Netherlands was an important battlefield in the propaganda war between the Axis powers and the Allied countries during the Second World War. Both supporters and opponents of the Third Reich avidly used mass media, such as radio, to mobilise support for their respective causes and to discredit the other side. The German occupiers, aided by members of the Dutch National Socialist Party (NSB), centralised the radio stations in an attempt to nazify the Dutch population.1 In response, the Dutch government-in-exile broadcast a daily radio programme from its residence in London to the Netherlands, known as Radio Oranje.2 Although much has been written about the institutional context of this ‘media war,’ not much is known about the content of the propaganda. One problem is the sheer size of the repositories that makes it difficult to study these sources physically. Large-scale digitisation of wartime media sources that are available through the national platform for digital humanities research, CLARIAH Media Suite, makes it possible to initiate more content analysis. In 2020 the Mondriaan Fonds granted funds to the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision (NISV) for the project Mediaoorlog (media war) that pioneers a digital humanities approach to Dutch media history during the Second World War.3 Instead of departing from an institutional starting point, which is the perspective in traditional historiography, we start with keyword searches in digital repositories that include material from the media controlled by the Nazi regime and media supporting the resistance to identify moments in time when the two narratives interacted, which then can be further analysed by a team of historians. To achieve this we work with the CLARIAH Media Suite platform, which connects repositories of radio and newspaper material provided by different archival institutions (the Royal Library for newspapers and NISV for radio).

To contextualise the material, it is important to realise that the media landscape during the Second World War was asymmetrical and, as a result, that the available repositories vary in size. Considering the historical context of the Second World War, the media organisations supporting the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands created far more material than those resisting it, as is illustrated by the radio schedules. In, for example, December 1940 the Nazi-controlled broadcasting corporations in Hilversum aired a full programme (between 8am and 7pm) for two different stations, amounting to 22 hours of radio per day.4 In contrast the most important broadcasting station of the Dutch government-in-exile, Radio Oranje, at that time was granted 15 minutes airtime a day by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), after the Dutch-language news transmission of the British corporation. In the course of the war, this imbalance shifted somewhat as one Hilversum station was taken off air in May 1943 while the airtime of the Dutch government-in-exile expanded in the first half of 1941, with an extra 15 minutes per day on BBC transmitters.5 In September 1944 a new station was established on liberated soil in the Philips factories in Eindhoven, Radio Herrijzend Nederland (Radio Rising Netherlands), which aired a full programme with 13 hourly news bulletins that were alternated with gramophone music and speeches, which meant anti-Nazi radio became dominant from that moment onwards.6 Nonetheless, considering the whole period of the Nazi occupation in terms of broadcasting hours, the Hilversum radio system vastly outnumbered that supporting the Dutch government-in-exile.

The CLARIAH Media Suite contains 220 digitised audio recordings that are attributed to Radio Oranje during the war years. Considering that the station made daily broadcasts between July 28, 1940 and June 1945 (and for most of the period two broadcasts a day), probably some 3,500 broadcasts in total7, this means only a small part of the broadcasts is available in this repository. The metadata reveals that the audio comes from two categories of analogue audio sources that were digitised by NISV in the 2000s. One type of recording was made by listeners of Radio Oranje in the occupied Netherlands who secretly recorded broadcasts on glass plates, to their own great peril as listening to the station was forbidden. Such collections were kept in family archives for decades and several of them were donated to NISV in the first years of the twenty-first century, digitised and added to the digital repository.8 One interesting feature of these amateur recordings is that they allow historians today to hear the way that Nazi jammers disrupted the signal of Radio Oranje, which was often inaudible.9 But on the whole these recordings are difficult to interpret as they were random; the people who made them did not know in advance what Radio Oranje would broadcast because the station did not issue a schedule, and because of the dangerous circumstances people often acted ad hoc. As such these collections contain interesting bits of audio, but do not form a structured radio archive.

Radio Oranje also left archives, which provide a more systematic overview of its activities. One part is a set of gramophone records that have also been digitised by NISV. One curator noted that the programme makers of Radio Oranje created recordings of broadcasts that they expected to use again, so originally it acted as a production archive.10 These records were transferred from London to the Netherlands after the war and were kept for decades in the forerunner of the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) in Amsterdam. In the early 2000s the gramophone records were transferred to NISV in Hilversum where they were digitised and added to its online audio-visual archive. The Radio Oranje fragments, together with wartime material from other Dutch-language radio stations that broadcast against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, were made accessible via the NISV website in May 2016.11 The question remains, however, to what extent these recordings give a representative overview of the Radio Oranje broadcasts. To reflect on this question the team of Mediaoorlog also uses another set of relevant primary sources for Radio Oranje broadcasts: an extensive set of paper transcripts, containing the vast majority of texts that were read out on air. This collection was also transferred from London to the Netherlands after the war and it is still kept in the NIOD library. By juxtaposing the audio and paper sources the Mediaoorlog-project aims to analyse the broadcasting practices of Radio Oranje during the Second World War.

This article proposes to critically examine these Radio Oranje collections, both digitised audio fragments from gramophone records and paper transcripts, by exploring how they came into being during the war and how the archive has been curated afterwards. First, it describes how Radio Oranje operated and how the material was generated and stored in London. It also traces how the material was transferred from London to the Netherlands after the war. The second part reflects on the knowledge production based on the collections. To do that, it is important to consider the main storage site of the Radio Oranje material, where it was kept for most of its existence: the NIOD, or rather the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (RVO) as it was named before 1999. In its first five decades, the curatorial practices and research agenda of this institute were dominated by Loe de Jong (1914–2005), who himself had been a prominent staff member of Radio Oranje. In the final part, this article explores which voices became canonised in the public memory of Dutch wartime broadcasting. This account of the archiving and curatorial practices of Radio Oranje is based on research of both secondary literature and primary sources, such as the correspondence files from the paper record of the broadcaster and reports of RVO. The aim of this contribution is to provide reflection on the audio from the Second World War that is available to us via the digital archive. In order to grasp the historical meaning of this material, it is important to realise that certain broadcasts have been kept and others have not, and on the following pages we will explore how this selection process took place over time. As such this article shows that a digital humanities approach to the media history of the Netherlands during the Second World War greatly benefits from a dialogue with knowledge and insights that have been passed on in paper collections.

Archiving Radio Oranje

Radio Oranje was a temporary broadcasting organisation that operated under exceptional circumstances, which led to an ad hoc way of working. It was founded in the chaotic months after the Dutch government evacuated from the Netherlands after the German invasion of May 1940. One of the priorities was to set up an organisation to manage its propaganda efforts: the Regeeringsvoorlichtingsdienst (RVD, government information service) that resided under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The newly appointed head of the RVD, the seasoned diplomat Adriaan Pelt, successfully lobbied the British Ministry of Information and the BBC to secure airtime at a fixed time every day so that the Dutch government-in-exile could address people in the occupied Netherlands.12 Radio Oranje was the first station that was granted this privilege by the British authorities and, although British military censorship was enforced before transmission, the people involved in compiling the broadcast operated under the auspices of the Dutch government-in-exile as part of the RVD.13 To underline its status, the offices of the station were initially located in Stratton House, where the Dutch government was located, and announcers had to commute to the BBC studios in Broadcasting House and Bush House. On July 28, 1940 Queen Wilhelmina inaugurated the Radio Oranje programme.

In the first months of its existence Radio Oranje struggled to find its form. The station had its own team of editors and presenters, which was formed out of the haphazard pool of Dutchmen that had fled to London in May 1940, which did not include experienced radio producers. The first director was Jan Willem Lebon, before the war a member of the executive board of the Dutch Social Democratic station VARA, who was a competent manager but not experienced with creating a lively radio programme.14 The first editors and announcers were journalists who had worked for newspapers, and as such did not know much of the medium either.15 In addition there were several institutional problems that caused problems with creating a programme. The evening programme of Radio Oranje was scheduled after the news bulletin of the Dutch Service of the BBC and the corporation had stipulated in the negotiations with Pelt that Radio Oranje was not allowed to broadcast news itself but only to communicate the commentaries and views of the Dutch government-in-exile. This moratorium on news made it difficult for the Dutch radio-makers to give urgency to their broadcasts.16 Moreover, in the early months several Dutch ministers read and edited all the texts in advance. In that phase of the war several high-ranking statesmen hoped that they could reach a deal with Nazi Germany and consequentially they tried to provide an ‘objective’ view on events, which undermined the propagandistic value of Radio Oranje. To make things worse they also drenched the texts in uninspiring, bureaucratic jargon.17 Another serious problem was that the broadcasters in London seemed to be out of touch with events in the Netherlands, as became painfully clear in February 1941 when they failed to mention news about a strike in Amsterdam – a unique protest against the repression of Jews by the Nazi regime.18 As a result of all these factors Radio Oranje in its early phase was broadcasting a programme that tilted towards defeatism and was not attractive to listeners.

BBC officials also noticed these shortcomings and, under guidance of a liaison officer (a Dutchman who had lived in London for decades), the makers of Radio Oranje started to include new programming elements. First of all, the BBC eased its claim on the news monopoly and Radio Oranje’s editors then started compiling their own news overviews.19 In addition they started experimenting with new formats such as radio plays (‘klankbeelden’) on historic topics and current European affairs. In February 1941 Radio Oranje also started broadcasting a weekly cabaret show called De Watergeus (a reference to sixteenth-century Dutchmen who fought against the Spanish Empire, the so-called Beggars). Each show contained songs based on famous tunes but with new lyrics that ridiculed certain aspects of the occupation of the Netherlands and specifically targeted prominent Nazi figures. The idea was that these songs would popularise anti-Nazi sentiments and could easily be disseminated as everybody knew the tunes already. It was hoped that whistling or humming them in public, even without the lyrics, would become a form of resistance.20 The popular tone and the style of comedy of De Watergeus, however, was not appreciated by BBC officials and the Dutch community in London, and the show was taken off air in the early months of 1942.21

In the summer of 1941 the BBC asked the Dutch journalist Henk van den Broek, a former newspaper correspondent in France who had fled to London, to start a new broadcast for Dutch seamen: De Brandaris, named after a famous lighthouse. Van den Broek was employed by the RVD but seconded to the BBC where he worked from an office in Bush House. Frustrated with the ‘defeatism’ of Radio Oranje, Van den Broek, using the pseudonym ‘De Rotterdammer,’ struck a combative tone in his talks for De Brandaris and also experimented with adding iconic sound elements to his broadcast (such as fragments from famous patriotic songs) to enhance the sense of familiarity amongst listeners.22 These new programming elements were applauded by BBC officials and members of the Dutch government-in-exile who tried to nudge Lebon and Van den Broek towards more cooperation, but these men had a great dislike of each other and they refused to work together. In October 1942 the Dutch government-in-exile broke this stalemate by announcing a reshuffle: De Brandaris was to be amalgamated with Radio Oranje, under the latter name, and Van den Broek became the new director.23 He instantly rebranded Radio Oranje as ‘the voice of the fighting Netherlands’, a phrase he used in a new station call that also included the musical frame of De Brandaris.24

Despite these innovations, which gave Radio Oranje a more outspoken identity, the station continued to encounter problems in its operations. The most substantial obstacle that remained was that it could not freely interact with its main target audience: the public in the occupied Netherlands. Indeed, the repression of the Nazi regime became ever more severe as was illustrated by the confiscation of radio receiving sets in May 1943, although a number of people continued to listen clandestinely and spread the content of the broadcasts in illegal newspapers.25 The lack of interaction made the makers of Radio Oranje insecure about their content and whether the listeners responded to their broadcasts as intended. The lingering war exacerbated their worries and added frustrations. Although fortunes on the battlefield started to change in favour of the Allies in the course of 1943, the invasion of Western Europe and liberation of the Netherlands did not materialise that year. In that context Radio Oranje cooperated in a ‘war of nerves’ in which the British propaganda outlets tried to give the impression that an invasion was imminent – in an effort to sap the morale of the German army and boost the morale of the resistance.26 However, the latter became increasingly difficult as months passed and disappointment about the lack of a breakthrough on the Western front grew.

When the invasion of Western Europe finally came with D-Day in June 1944, the Allied advance seemed to go quickly, initially. In early September the first towns in the southern part of the Netherlands were liberated and Van den Broek was sworn in as a military officer and ordered by the Dutch government-in-exile to set up a radio station on liberated soil.27 At that time the expectation was that the defeat of the German forces in the Netherlands would come soon, but the Allied offensive was halted at the Battle of Arnhem in the second half of September. This meant that the occupation of the northern part of the country continued, as it turned out, for eight more months. Despite this disappointment, Van den Broek managed to set up a transmission station in the factories of the Philips company, near the town of Eindhoven. In the first week of October a new daily broadcast was inaugurated there: Radio Herrijzend Nederlands. Initially the station did not have direct access to the British press, or the information circulated by the BBC, so it set up a monitoring service (luisterdienst) that supplied news editors with content that was also based on Radio Oranje broadcasts. The rest of the programme was filled with music from gramophone records.28 With these programme elements Radio Herrijzend Nederland tried to keep up morale in the parts of the Netherlands that were still occupied and where people were suffering from great food shortages in the so-called Hunger Winter. In the spring of 1945 the military stalemate was broken and the German troops in the Netherlands capitulated on May 5 (after an agreement that had been signed by generals of both sides a day earlier). Soon afterwards Van den Broek drove to Hilversum where he commandeered the national broadcasting studios located there and took over the management of Dutch national radio under the umbrella of Herrijzend Nederland.29 From that moment the purpose of Radio Oranje was over. The station stopped broadcasting in June, which prompted the question of what was to happen with its collections.

In the different phases of Radio Oranje the organisation produced a substantial amount of archival material that is scattered over various collections. The files of the RVD contain a number of folders with correspondence about certain topics, mainly related to management issues.30 But there is not much material that provides insight in editorial policies.31 The lack of a clearly structured central institutional collection is a general feature of archives of the Dutch government-in-exile during the Second World War which, in fact, was only an executive branch that operated without a parliament and a full-bodied judiciary to keep checks and balances. Some authors argue that the Dutch government-in-exile, and especially the Royal House, deliberately did not keep archives, to escape later democratic scrutiny.32 Others explain the lack of clearly structured institutional archives as a result of the chaotic circumstances under which the Dutch officials in London had to operate.33 In addition, the Dutch government-in-exile in London was small. Most officials worked in the adjacent Arlington House and Stratton House, and, as a result, most decisions were taken in person and on a rather ad hoc basis.

In their daily operations the staff members of Radio Oranje depended largely on the facilities of the BBC. This was most apparent looking at the use of studios and transmitters but the input of the British corporation was also vital in terms of documentation. Radio Oranje received the bulky BBC Monitoring Report (80,000–100,000 words every day) that contained information on broadcasts in Nazi-occupied Europe.34 In addition, the Radio Oranje programme makers had access to the audio archive of the BBC which contained recordings of speeches of Nazi leaders that could be used in Allied broadcasts to highlight ‘important or ridiculous fragments.’35 But the RVD also generated its own material. In Stratton House it operated a small listening service (luisterdienst) that mainly monitored broadcasts from Hilversum and produced a daily report in Dutch. This was a useful addition to the general BBC Monitoring Service that only provided English translations, so that radio makers (from Radio Oranje and the BBC Dutch Service) could use the RVD reports to retrieve original quotes. In addition, the RVD produced a biweekly digest of newspapers they gathered from the occupied Netherlands that was also a valuable source of documentation.36 The RVD gathered and archived these various sources, as well as newspaper cuttings, in a documentation centre that was restructured in the autumn of 1942 to make it more accessible.37

Radio Oranje did not only use the documentation of others, it also added material to the daily information streams that circulated in London. All texts that were read out on air were typed out in full as they had to be checked by censors before broadcasting. These bulletins were reproduced and disseminated to various parties – mainly within the BBC and the government-in-exile (including the RVD documentation centre). This reproduction took up a lot of labour which was provided by anonymous female typists (typistes) who are barely mentioned in Radio Oranje sources. One letter written by an RVD official from October 1942 refers to them, complaining that he had not received the bulletin for weeks, which he blamed on them.38 The patronising tone of the letters does not acknowledge the vital role these women played in the daily operations of the broadcaster. Despite some hiccups, it seems that the RVD usually distributed the transcriptions generally without problems and even granted a number of requests for extra copies of the Radio Oranje bulletin, mainly from diplomats of Allied Powers.39 One request by a newly-founded organisation for repatriation of Dutch displaced persons for 60 extra copies in March 1945, however, was denied due to a shortage of paper and personnel.40 In all, Radio Oranje’s working method resulted in bulky sets of full transcripts that probably give an almost complete overview of its broadcasts.41

In addition to the written transcripts, Radio Oranje also produced a number of recordings of its broadcasts. As gramophone records were scarce and expensive this practice was only reserved for special occasions. One reason was to facilitate speeches delivered by inexperienced speakers; transmission time was strictly limited by the BBC to the 14 minutes and 40 seconds that were allocated per Radio Oranje broadcast and, while regular announcers were good at timing their contributions and could either cut sentences or improvise extra content at the last moment, speakers who were not used to this were pre-recorded to prevent mistakes. Although the downside was that the talks were less animated than live broadcasts, it meant the staff could make an exact plan.42 All of the Queen’s speeches, 34 in total, were recorded in this way.43 A letter confirming the availability of a studio at Bush House for her Christmas speech of 1941 shows that she had the studio for an hour so that there was also time for rehearsal before the recording.44 Another programme element that was usually recorded was the cabaret show De Watergeus, which was rehearsed and recorded on Wednesdays and broadcast on Saturdays.45 After transmission, copies of such recordings that could be reused were kept by the staff of Radio Oranje in their offices as a production archive. In November 1942 the staff moved from Stratton House to Bush House and, a few months later, to a room in Clun House in Surrey Street, 200 metres round the corner.46 The gramophone records were stored in that latter space up until the end of the war.

Typically, the news of the capitulation of the German forces in the Netherlands on May 4, 1945 reached the staff of Radio Oranje in London too late to be broadcast that day – five minutes after the end of the evening transmission.47 After a celebratory programme the next day the realisation dawned that the purpose of the broadcasting station was now gone and the final radio broadcast by Radio Oranje from London to the Netherlands took place in early June. As the Dutch government gradually moved to The Hague, logistical measures had to be taken to transfer people and goods to the Netherlands in order to start the work of post-war reconstruction. As there was great scarcity, people took care not to lose any goods that might be of use. Also the ‘liquidation’ of Radio Oranje, as those involved called it themselves, led to a thorough inventory. In the summer of 1945 a staff member who had remained in London received the order to pack and move material that could be useful for Van den Broek’s Radio Herrijzend Nederland. The packing lists of the 70 boxes show that they contained almost all objects in the rooms – including the studio clock and clothing belonging to staff members. A substantial part of the shipment contained bound volumes with transcripts of ‘Radio Oranje broadcasts’ and reports of the ‘listening service’ and in addition the list mentions ‘some 300’ gramophone records. This suggests that the complete production archive of Radio Oranje was transferred to Radio Herrijzend Nederland in September 1945.48 After the shipping company had picked up the material, however, it appeared that 263 gramophone records had been left behind – it is not clear if the movers forgot to include them in the original shipment or that they were found afterwards – and they were sent to Radio Herrijzend Nederland some weeks later.49

As Radio Oranje institutionally was part of the RVD, and therefore the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the shipment was first sent to the Ministry in The Hague and afterwards forwarded to Radio Herrijzend Nederland, which had taken over the national studios in Hilversum in May 1945. The liaison at the Ministry was the head of the newly founded foreign information service J.A. van Houten.50 Van Houten was well known to staff members of Radio Oranje as in May 1940 he had started working for the RVD in London, where he had been working previously as a correspondent for the Dutch Catholic newspaper De Maasbode. Van Houten became chief editor of the RVD’s press office and, as such, was an important figure in management of the organisation’s documentation centre. In September 1944 he went to the liberated parts of the Netherlands to become spokesman for the Dutch military authorities and, after the capitulation, started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.51 In that capacity, and with his knowledge of wartime propaganda, he was in a good position to help transfer RVD material from London to relevant organisations in the Netherlands who could reuse the information. Van Houten was therefore also involved in the transfer of Radio Oranje material to the most prominent archive institution to document the Second World War in the Netherlands: the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (RVO, the National Institute for War Documentation, currently known as NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies). This transfer and the relationship between staff members of the early RVO and Radio Oranje will be explored in the next section.

Remembering Radio Oranje

The histories of Radio Oranje and the RVO are closely connected, as is illustrated by the biography of Loe de Jong, who worked as a radio broadcaster in London during the war and became a long-standing director of the RVO from 1945 until his retirement in 1979.52 De Jong, educated as an historian at the University of Amsterdam, was of Jewish descent and worked as a journalist for Social Democrat newspapers. He managed to leave the Netherlands with his wife on one of the last ships to leave the Dutch harbour of IJmuiden for Great Britain in May 1940. In London he was recruited to work for Radio Oranje and he was the only presenter that worked for the station from its very beginnings to its very end. De Jong became known for his weekly digests of war news and became an influential editor. In this capacity he managed to persuade the Minister for Education Gerrit Bolkestein to make a plan for a national institute to gather historical sources about the Second World War, a plan that was announced in a radio speech by Bolkestein (but written by De Jong) in March 1944. Some of De Jong’s former professors who had remained in Amsterdam developed similar plans at the same time. In the summer of 1945, when the Netherlands had been liberated and Radio Oranje was closing down, De Jong went back to the Netherlands and took up a position as leading manager of the RVO.

In its early existence the RVO organised several publicity campaigns to ask people to donate material about their wartime experiences to the institute. De Jong, who had a famous voice thanks to his years of broadcasting for Radio Oranje, went on radio 32 times to tell people about the institute and the collections they were looking for.53 Those calls led to an overwhelming flux of material: photos from the early years of the RVO show big piles of paper that filled the rooms and corridors of the institute.54 Quarterly reports of the RVO from that period show that Radio Oranje material was stored amongst those piles. Also in this case J.A. van Houten acted as liaison: in the third quarter of 1946 he arranged the shipment of 68 boxes with RVD material from London. Looking at the description of their contents, in addition to a number of transcripts of Radio Oranje and reports from the ‘monitoring service’, there was also much newspaper material, likely from the RVD documentation centre.55 In 1947 Van Houten sent more copies of Radio Oranje transcripts and the archivist reported that there was ‘a big chance that this collection will become complete’.56 The archivist also reported that he had started to compile an index to make the collection more searchable, a job that he finished in the latter half of 1948.57

Although the RVO became an important archival repository of Radio Oranje sources, this material did not play a prominent role in the institute’s agenda. The main incentive for the archivist to make the index on Radio Oranje transcripts was an external request from the parliamentary inquiry committee that studied the conduct of the wartime policies of the Dutch government-in-exile.58 Besides this there are no other references to uses of the material. In addition, it seems that the RVO management did not make much of an effort to expand the collection of Radio Oranje. In May 1947 Van Houten reported that he had received an offer from an official of the RVD wartime office in New York to donate a set of recordings they made of London news broadcasts.59 Loe de Jong replied that one record was enough: ‘It seems to us, however, that it is not necessary to transfer all the gramophone recordings (…) from America.’60 In the late 1940s or early 1950s, however, the Radio Oranje gramophone discs that had been sent to Radio Herrijzend Nederland were brought to the RVO which made an inventory of the collection that was finished in 1955.61 There is no indication that this material was used by the institute’s researchers.

This neglect is remarkable since Loe de Jong, who knew these broadcasts intimately, was a leading manager and therefore set the research agenda of the RVO. In addition, from the late 1960s onwards he became a famous national public figure thanks to an influential TV series and 14-volume publication on the occupation of the Netherlands which remains an authoritative handbook presenting a moralistic view, dividing the Dutch wartime society into ‘right’ (resistance) and ‘wrong’ (collaboration).62 In his bulky publications De Jong paid much attention to the role of Dutch media in the Second World War. Every volume contained sections on the Dutch press, both the Nazi-controlled newspapers and the illegal publications of the resistance.63 He also regularly addressed radio broadcasting from the Nazi-controlled station based in Hilversum. In these latter sections De Jong even quoted his own wartime publications on one of the most notorious Nazi propagandists Max Blokzijl.64 In contrast, he described Radio Oranje only ‘sporadically.’65 Looking at other research about the history of wartime radio propaganda this disparity is also present. Under the auspices of De Jong, two monographs appeared about Nazi radio broadcasting in the occupied Netherlands: in the 1970s Dick Verkijk published a bulky book on Radio Hilversum 1940–1945 and in the 1980s René Kok wrote a book about Blokzijl’s radio propaganda.66 The first academic monograph on the history of Radio Oranje – by Onno Sinke, based on his PhD thesis – appeared in 2009, four years after Loe de Jong’s death.67

To explain this hiatus in academic publications about Radio Oranje in the second half of the twentieth century it is relevant to consider the way De Jong himself looked back on his radio work. In his memoirs he penned a verdict on the London broadcasts, to which he had fully devoted the five most eventful years of his life, that was remarkably negative: ‘[Radio Oranje] lacked the capacity to imagine the way of thinking of the Dutch in occupied territory’.68 This statement can be explained by considering De Jong’s wartime experiences, as a person of Jewish descent. Although he and his wife managed to flee to London, where they lived safely, the rest of their family and friends remained in the Netherlands and most of them perished during the Holocaust. The most dramatic loss was De Jong’s twin brother, Sally, who in all likelihood died during a death march from Auschwitz in January 1945. It has been argued by his biographer that the confirmation of Sally’s death, in the summer of 1945, was traumatic for De Jong who silently suffered from survivor’s guilt for the rest of his life.69 Looking back on his work at Radio Oranje, the most painful fact for De Jong must have been that, although the Dutch government-in-exile did receive information about the extermination camps in 1944, the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis was not mentioned in the London broadcasts.70 The painful silence about the Holocaust among Dutch government officials in London, including those working for Radio Oranje, also became a controversial point in historiography.71 From this perspective, the wartime radio broadcasts from the Dutch government-in-exile were not something to be proud of.

In contrast, in Dutch public memory Radio Oranje became a heroic symbol of national resistance against Nazism in the decades that followed the end of the Second World War. The celebratory view of these radio broadcasts was based on a selective focus on two types of programmes that had been particularly well preserved in the audio archive: the speeches of Queen Wilhelmina and episodes of the cabaret show De Watergeus.72 As has been discussed, these programme elements were always recorded and therefore were over-represented in the gramophone collection of the Radio Oranje production archive. These audio fragments are notable in another way too as they mainly contain female voices: those of Queen Wilhelmina and the women who performed on De Watergeus. Looking at the complete broadcasting schedule of Radio Oranje this is remarkable as the station’s broadcasts in general were dominated by men: all the regular announcers were male, as were the editors that compiled the programme. The only women working on the regular Radio Oranje staff were employed as typists. In addition, all the cabinet members of the government-in-exile were men and they provided the majority of the speeches by external speakers. Nonetheless women played a leading role in the canonisation of Radio Oranje as the ‘Voice of the Fighting Netherlands’ in the second half of the twentieth century.

When it came to Queen Wilhelmina, the canonisation had already begun at the very start of Radio Oranje in the early summer of 1940. In fact, the very name of the broadcast referred to her royal dynasty, as guardians of the Dutch nation both past and present, as was explained in the introduction of the first broadcast.73 This reference to the glorious Dutch national past was not very well articulated during the rest of this broadcast. The Dutch journalist Meyer Sluyser, who coined the name, recalled that there were long bureaucratic meetings about the ‘framing of the royal address’ in music.74 The result was a tedious medley of patriotic songs from the period of the Dutch Revolt against Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, played on the BBC studio organ by Reginald Foort. Also, the first speech by Wilhelmina was not outspoken and only indirectly referred to resistance against the Nazi occupation by stating that the Dutch government relied on ‘the men’ who would continue fighting. Afterwards Foort accompanied the Dutch-British soprano Joy McArden singing the sixth verse of the national anthem ‘Wilhelmus’ – twice, in slow tempo and not always in tune.75 This first performance illustrates the general lack of form of Radio Oranje in its early period, when over-cautious ministers tried to tone down the anti-Nazi statements. Wilhelmina soon became frustrated with this attitude which she considered a despicable form of defeatism and in September 1940 arranged a cabinet reshuffle in which Prime Minister De Geer, who still hoped he could strike a deal with Hitler, was forced to resign.76

The new Prime Minister Gerbrandy was fanatically opposed to the Nazis and induced Wilhelmina to strike a more combative tone in her speeches. Wilhelmina took her opportunity and at times explicitly attacked the Nazis. At the end of a speech reflecting on the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, she called upon her listeners to prepare in secret to rise against the Hitler regime in the future: ‘The one who acts at the right moment, hits the Nazi on the head.’77 The latter half of this sentence became iconic in later memories of Radio Oranje as a clear call to resistance, especially amongst people who had actually resisted the Nazis. Directly after the liberation in 1945, two journalists who had been working for the illegal press published a volume with the full texts of all Wilhelmina’s radio speeches. In their introduction they stated that all of these broadcasts had been an inspiration for the people resisting Nazi occupation: ‘All who went ahead in the fight, (…) they felt that the Queen understood their dangers, their struggles. Therefore every speech could strengthen them – there was no feeling of distance. It was a wise, powerful, inspiring voice that spoke to them.’78 In addition to her famous words Wilhelmina was also photographed several times sitting behind BBC microphones and these became famous pictures representing her steadfastness. In fact, one of these portraits is still used on internet sites about Dutch wartime broadcasts from London, including the Wikipedia page.79 Wilhelmina’s reputation as an icon of Radio Oranje was reproduced in the digital age in other ways too: in the 2000s a pioneering digital project working with speech to text software built a demonstrator using the audio of the Queen’s speeches for Radio Oranje.80

De Watergeus provided more playful examples of anti-Nazism, mainly exemplified in songs that were based on famous Dutch tunes with new lyrics to ridicule top Nazis and criticize the repression of the occupation regime. Many of these songs were adopted by the film producer Jo Paerl who had fled from the Netherlands to London via France in the summer of 1940 with his family. His 19-year-old daughter Jetty Paerl became one of the lead singers of the troupe, known by her pseudonym ‘Jetje van Oranje’ (little Jet of Orange). During the day she had an office job and in the evenings she participated in De Watergeus recordings.81 As the preparation time was rather short, she was not able to learn the texts by heart and so sang from a sheet in the studio.82 After De Watergeus was taken off air in February 1942, Jetty Paerl did not return to Radio Oranje. In 1944 she signed up for the women’s auxiliary forces of the Princess Irene Brigade and drove trucks in the liberated parts of the Netherlands. In an interview she recounted that, to her surprise, people still recognized her voice from De Watergeus and asked her to sing songs from that cabaret show.83

After the Second World War Jetty Paerl made several theatre tours that laid the foundation of her great successes in the Netherlands performing as ‘Jetje van Oranje’. In 1969 she recorded an album with songs of De Watergeus, including songs that others had originally sung, reinforcing this canonical image, and in this capacity she was regularly invited to appear on radio and television in the years that followed. 84 Reflecting on her media success, Loe de Jong noted in his memoirs: ‘[t]o me she was still the person who she was in ’41–’42: a slight figure who sang some songs of her dad’.85 With this rather bitter remark De Jong referred to the premature termination of the cabaret show that was taken off air after a year, but such historical nuance was lost in the television broadcasts he referred to. In a special show from 1980 celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Dutch liberation of the Netherlands, Jetty Pearl performed two songs. Introducing her, the announcer recalled how throughout the war people in the Netherlands listened to the broadcasts from London, finding consolation in the Queen’s speeches and the news about Germany’s imminent defeat: ‘And you always tried to listen as much as possible to the woman who sang songs about how it would be later on, when that liberation came. That woman’s name was Jetje van Radio Oranje.’86


The archival record of Radio Oranje consists of two main collections: the paper transcripts of broadcasts and the audio fragments on gramophone records that were digitised by the NISV in the 2000s. Both these collections were originally part of the production archive of Radio Oranje that was kept in its offices in London during the Second World War. After the chaotic start of the broadcasts in the confusing weeks following the German invasion, the staff members struggled to find attractive formats to inform and inspire their listeners. In the years that followed Radio Oranje, under the management of Henk van den Broek, developed a more assertive tone but still faced severe obstacles because it could not connect with people in the occupied Netherlands. One vital source for the staff members were monitoring reports, generated by the BBC and a separate RVD outfit, that contained information on broadcasts of nazified Radio Hilversum. Radio Oranje also added material to the daily circulation of material in London by publishing the transcripts of its broadcasts. Special programme features, such as the speeches of Queen Wilhelmina and cabaret shows, were usually recorded and stored for possible reuse. After the liberation of the Netherlands these two collections were sent to Van den Broek’s new radio outfit in Hilversum: Radio Herrijzend Nederland.

Another set of Radio Oranje transcripts, probably from the documentation centre of the London branch of the Dutch information service RNW, were sent to the newly-founded RVO in the Netherlands. At some point before 1955 the gramophone records that had been kept in Hilversum’s radio studios were added to that collection too. Although its leading manager, Loe de Jong, had been a presenter of Radio Oranje, this collection was not actively studied by staff members of the institute or other historians for more than five decades, and during his lifetime no academic monograph on the history of Dutch wartime broadcasting from London was published. In the public memory of the Second World War, however, Radio Oranje did develop as a symbol of resistance against the Nazis. This image was mainly based on the surviving audio fragments that contain a remarkable amount of material from two women: Queen Wilhelmina and Jetty Paerl. Considering the composition of the Radio Oranje staff and the cabinet ministers who often went on air, it is safe to say that the overall broadcasting schedule was heavily dominated by men, but in the late twentieth century these female voices grew out as the most prominent icons of the ‘Fighting Netherlands’. That these historical audio recordings became part of the popular imagination in the post-war period was due to the fact that both cabaret and royal speeches had often been recorded and as such have been preserved better than other types of broadcasts. This canonisation continues to influence the representation of Radio Oranje in the digital age.

Tracing the archives of Dutch wartime broadcasting from London has shown that the trajectory of this material was erratic as a result of the ad hoc way of working by the people involved in the broadcasts themselves, and the archival curation after the war. Nonetheless the surviving parts of the production archive of Radio Oranje provide historians with ample primary source material to study the use of Dutch media during the Second World War. A number of audio recordings have been digitised and added to the online repository for humanities research in the Netherlands, the CLARIAH Media Suite, which makes it an important archive. It is equally important, however, to realise that this audio only represents a small part of the total amount broadcast from London to the Netherlands in the wartime period. For this reason, the project Mediaoorlog juxtaposes these sources with other material, particularly the paper transcripts, to get a deeper understanding of the broadcasting practices of Radio Oranje and other stations. This case study underlines that a digital humanities approach to the Dutch media history of the Second World War at this moment in time requires a hybrid methodology that also takes into account paper sources. A next step could be the digitisation of radio transcripts so that these sources can be studied in closer connection with the audio files. Linking these various source materials in the platform of the CLARIAH Media Suite would add a new layer to the Dutch digitised radio archive of the Second World War.