March 5, 2019 – A little-known chapter of history is highlighted in this Dutch language historical drama about the Dutch Resistance to the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. This drama is centered on a group of bankers, who, at great risk to themselves, operated an underground banking system to finance the resistance to the German occupation.
The amount of money raised by this operation is staggering. In today's terms, the loans made to support striking railroad workers, to provide for resistance fighters and their families, to provide for the families of sailors and others aiding the Allies against Germany, and to buy weapons and supplies for the resistance, amounted to half a billion Euros in today's money. It continued throughout the occupation, despite the best efforts of the Germans to wipe out this vital underground banking operation.
There ought to be a special place in heaven for those who risk their lives to stop tyranny, not because of hatred or loss or because they have nothing to lose, but who do so despite the fact they have everything to lose. For these rare people it would be easy and profitable to take the easy way out, but instead, they choose the danger. We are talking here about men like Oskar Schindler (as depicted in “Schindler's List”).
Such are these men, two brothers, Walraven van Hall (played by Barry Atsma) and Gijs van Hall (Jacob Derwig). The film opens in a post-war scene where Gijs van Hall is being asked to account for millions of Gilders used in the underground banking operation. He says that it all began with his brother, Walraven ‘Wally’ van Hall.
We immediately flash back to 1942 in Zaandam, North Holland, Netherlands, near Amsterdam, where Wally and his family live a comfortable life, hosting parties and sailing a small boat. Wally climbs trees with his children. All of these things show up later in the film.
Wally is approached by a member of the underground and asked to set up an underground bank to pay the families of sailors who are working for the Dutch government in exile. The merchant marine payments have been cut off by the Germans. Wally hits upon a clever plan to collect donations, keep the donors secret, and distribute the money to the families of the sailors discreetly.
The plan is successful, so Wally expands the underground banking system to bankroll more of the underground resistance efforts. He gets the official blessing for the scheme, and a promise of repayment of 30 million Guilders in donations, from the Dutch government in exile.
This is not nearly enough money, so Wally expands the plan even more, and finances it with the help of other bankers who conspire to rob the Dutch State Bank, The scheme is to forge treasury bonds and swap them for genuine bonds in the bank's vaults. This requires an inside man. This is a very risky plan, but the stolen money is needed to pay the railroad workers while they are on strike. The strike will cripple the German Army's transportation in the Netherlands.
Wally, who has adopted the name van Tuyl for his underground activities, has gone into hiding near the end of the war. He has avoided attempts by the Germans to identify him, but as the Germans start closing in, he finally tells his wife and children to go into hiding. The Germans make arrests and torture captives in their attempts to identify the mysterious resistance leader van Tuyl.
While most of this is going on, Wally's brother, Gijs van Hall, has been reluctant to get involved with the underground resistance, but eventually, he decides to join in. He makes the crucial pickup of stolen treasury bonds from the Dutch State Bank.
While the banking and accounting details in the movie are about as dry and unexciting as you might expect, the suspense is maintained by the relentless German search for van Tuyl, led by the ruthless Dutch collaborator Meinoud Rost van Tonningen (played by Pierre Bokma). There are old film clips at the beginning of the credits showing scenes of some of the real people depicted in the movie. Intertitles explain what happened to some of the characters after the war.
This is a better than average historical war drama with good performances. It is a story worth knowing, well told. This film rates a B.
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