The Ultimate Reconstruction? The ‘War Reports May 1940’ Collection Perceived from an Archival Perspective


On the 15
th of May 1940 the Dutch army surrendered to the German forces. The previous day, all war-related documents had been destructed due to an order issued out by the highest army commandment in the Netherlands. Almost no document survived this ‘total destruction order’. Ten days later, a new order was given. All commanders were summoned to reconstruct all documentation that was lost. This would ultimately result in the collection ‘War Reports May 1940’  consisting of thousands of war diaries, reports, messages, interviews, statements and interrogation reports. Most of them written down memories of the events of the 10th – 14th of May 1940, often created years later. This collection is the most important source of information about the wartime events of the attack of Germany on the Netherlands. The first records were created on the 16th of May 1940, the last entries were submitted in the nineties. The peak of its development lies in the period 1940 until 1960. The process of developing, archiving and using the collection was directed by the military history department of the General Staff of the Dutch army. The key figures in this process were military men who themselves had been functioning in the highest levels of command during the days of warfare in 1940. The collection was used, both during the occupation of the Netherlands and afterwards, for historical research as well as for identifying military personnel that had distinguished themselves as being extraordinary courageous and skilled on the one hand, or cowardly or unfit for their tasks on the other hand. In my research I focus on the provenance of this collection by uncovering its biography. I reconstruct why and how the collection was created and developed over time, the organisations and persons that were involved in this proces and the way the collection was used and reshaped in doing so. By identifying this, I aim to add context-information relevant for interpreting both to the collection as a whole, as its individual components.

Ellen van der Waerden finalised her Master in Public Administration at Twente University in 1991. After that, she served for over twenty years as a senior-manager for the central government in the Netherlands. In 2010 she obtained a Bachelor degree with Honours in History at Leiden University.  The research she presents at ICHORA-7 completed her Master in Archival Sciences, also at Leiden University. She is currently working as a deputy director at the Memorial Centre of Kamp Westerbork.