On the 12th June 1942, Anne Frank received a diary as a thirteenth birthday present from her father. Barely three weeks later, Anne and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Her diary, which chronicled her experiences over the next two years, was published posthumously after the war under the title The Diary of a Young Girl and became one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated books.
The Frank family originated in Frankfurt, Germany, but moved away after the Nazi party won local elections in 1933. Anne’s father, Otto, was a businessman who chose to move the family to Amsterdam after receiving an offer to start a company there. However, when the German army invaded the Netherlands in 1940 the family found themselves trapped in a country subjected to anti-Semitic laws.
When, in July 1942, Anne’s older sister Margot was ordered by the Nazi authorities to go to a labour camp, their father instead arranged for the family to go into hiding in a so-called ‘Secret Annexe’ above his office building. It was here that Anne wrote her diary, which she addressed as Kitty. Over three volumes she recorded the relationships between the Frank family, the Van Pels family, and her father’s friend Fritz Pfeffer with whom they shared their confined hiding place.
An anonymous tip-off led to the discovery and arrest of the eight inhabitants on the 4th August 1944. They were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp a month later. Anne died of typhus in early 1945 after being transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She was fifteen years old.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.
By the start of the 17th century merchants from the Dutch Republic had begun to undertake voyages to the ‘Spice Islands’ of the Indian Ocean. This put them in direct competition with established traders from other European nations including Portugal and Britain, both of whom had previously dominated the market.
Due to the high risks for individual investors who mounted these individual voyages, the Dutch government supported the creation of a new umbrella company two years after the establishment of the competing English East India Company. The United East India Company combined the various individual business interests into a single entity that was granted a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. Consequently the risk to investors was reduced as their individual funds were invested in the entire company’s voyages, meaning that if some ships failed to return they were not completely wiped out. In return investors received an annual dividend of 18%.
Known in the Netherlands as the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC, the company grew to become arguably the first transnational corporation. Yet by the middle of the 17th century it had begun to function as a state within a state that possessed its own army and political authority. Having usurped both the British and Portuguese competitors in the East Indies, the VOC dominated trade in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans for almost two centuries. During this time it sent almost a million European people to work in the region in almost 5,000 ships, more than the rest of the continent combined.
In the medieval period the Netherlands, whose name literally means ‘lower countries’, consisted of large areas of boggy land around the winding estuaries of three of the largest rivers in Europe. Although prone to flooding, the fertile areas close to the sea had attracted many settlers by the 10th century and, by the turn of the millennium, the population began to increase rapidly.
The construction of dikes to hold back the sea consequently became an important part of life in the area. Draining the peat bogs that were left behind provided arable land to feed the growing population, but it also made the ground sink by up to a metre every century.
On 14 December 1287, the day after St. Lucia’s Day, an extreme low pressure system coincided with high tide in the North Sea to cause a huge storm surge that rose far above the usual sea level. The waves battered the dikes built to defend the north and northwestern part of the Netherlands, and poured onto the land below. Numerous villages were destroyed, and records indicate that at least 50,000 people lost their lives.
Meanwhile the floodwaters transformed a shallow freshwater lake into the salty Zuiderzee and created direct sea access to what was then the village of Amsterdam. The flood was therefore directly responsible for the development of one of the world’s leading port cities.
The English coastline was also severely affected by the storm. Although the number of casualties was considerably lower, other effects were just as significant. Combined with another huge flood that had struck southern England in February numerous ports declined after being silted up, while new ones soon appeared.
On the 29th November 1781, the crew of the slave ship Zong threw the first of at least 132 African slaves overboard in a massacre intended to allow them to cash in their insurance policy. When the insurers refused to pay, the ensuing court cases found that the killing of slaves was legal in some cases. At the time the massacre and the subsequent legal rulers had little impact, but within just a few years it became a central example of the horrors of the Middle Passage and stimulated the abolitionist movement that expanded in the years following.
The Zong was originally a Dutch slave ship that was captured by a British gunship in February 1781. Having been sold to a syndicate of Liverpool merchants, it departed from Accra in modern day Ghana on the 18th August. 442 slaves were on board the ship at this point – more than twice the number that it was capable of safely transporting.
By the third week of November drinkable water was running low, but the problem was not identified until after a navigational error meant the ship had sailed 300 miles past its destination of Jamaica. With death from thirst a high likelihood, the ship’s crew voted purposefully drown some of the slaves in order to ensure the survival of the ones remaining on board.
The massacre began on the 29th November and continued for two more days. Due to deaths from disease and malnutrition, in addition to the wilful mass murder, the ship arrived at Jamaica with only 208 of its original 442 enslaved people on board.
The Treaty of London was signed, which recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium.
In 1813 Napoleon’s rule of the Netherlands was ended by the combined armies of Russia and Prussia, and control was given to William Frederik of Orange-Nassau. Two years later, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, modern Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
These southern provinces were predominantly Catholic, and a sizeable number of the inhabitants spoke French. However, William clearly favoured Protestantism and had tried to impose Dutch as the official language. This led to tensions which were exacerbated by economic problems that included high unemployment and arguments over the effect of free trade on the less developed south. A revolution erupted in 1830 that led to the states declaring independence on 4 October, although William refused to recognise the independent Belgium for over nine years.
In signing the treaty that formally recognised the existence of the independent Kingdom of Belgium, the Netherlands were joined by Britain, Austria, France, Russia, and the German Confederation. Furthermore, Britain insisted that the signatories also recognise Belgium’s perpetual neutrality.
The neutrality clause was of central importance in the outbreak of the First World War, since Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality when its forces crossed the border in the Schlieffen Plan. Britain thus claimed to be upholding the Treaty of London when it declared war on 4 August 1914 – much to the anger of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg who couldn’t believe Britain would go to war over a ‘mere a scrap of paper’.
On the 22nd March 1621, Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius – also known as Hugo de Groot – escaped imprisonment in Loevestein Castle concealed inside a book chest. He had been given a life sentence for treason against Prince Maurice, the executive and military leader of the United Provinces, after the Prince orchestrated a coup d’état. Once outside the castle he then fled to Paris, apparently disguised as a mason, where he lived in exile.
Grotius is known as one of the founding fathers of international law for his written work in such masterpieces as “On the Law of War and Peace” and “The Freedom of the Seas” that applied natural law to international politics. Even as a teenager his intellectual ability had been noted by King Henry IV of France who referred to him as the “miracle of Holland”.
At the time, the United Provinces were engaged in an internal conflict between the tolerant Protestantism of the Remonstrants and the Counter-Remonstrants who advocated orthodox Calvinism. Shortly after the Counter-Remonstrant Prince Maurice launched a coup d’état in 1618 he ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Remonstrants, which included Grotius.
Grotius was permitted to have books sent to him in prison, which were transported in a large chest. Over time his guards became less vigilant regarding its contents, which led his wife and maid-servant to hatch a plan to smuggle him out by hiding him inside it. Having escaped his imprisonment, Grotius fled to France where he wrote his most famous works. He became Sweden’s ambassador to France in 1634 but died in 1645 after being shipwrecked.