Monday, October 10, 2011

Dutch Social Capital: A Footnote

I'm savoring an anomaly about social capital.  The subject is the Dutch, again, and their notable reputation for probity: strong social capital like this has to be built into the tradition, you have to start a long time ago, not so?

Fine, but here's the thing.   So much of the modern Dutch identity is tied up, at least for an older generation with the resistance to the Nazis in World War II.m  And here's the real thing: it turns out the success of the resistance (if it was as a success) owes its success to one of the most massive financial frauds in modern history.

Here's the deal, as laid out in an exhibit at the Dutch Resistance Museum here in Amsterdam.  Turns out there was a banker named Wally van Hall,   By the Museum's account, van Hall was co-creator of something called the "National Assistance Fund," in truth the "Bank of the Resistance."  Through an extensive network of ground-level operatives, the bank funneled some 83 million guilders to resistance fighters during the war.

A fair amount of the work might be described as simply "underground."  But the core of the operation was a caper that would do Alec Guiness proud.  As I get it, here's the deal: the Dutch National Bank was in the hands of the Nazis.  The resistance bankers created fake Dutch Treasury bonds.  They then traded the fake bonds for real bonds and turned the real bonds into cash.  By this means, it is said, the resistance succeeded in liberating some 51 million guilders, the Nazis apparently all unknowing.   Here's a somewhat more detailed narrative, albeit unsourced.

By several accounts, the scheme was the brainchild not of Wally but of his older brother, Gijsbert van Hall, apparently a more experienced banker than Wally (and thus more adept at the logistics of fraud)?   Sadly, Wally was captured by the Nazis and murdered  just a few months before the end of the war.  Gijsbert lived on for another twenty-plus years--and here is where the story really starts to give you the yimyams.  Apparently Gijsbert returned to his career in (above-ground) banking after the war, but then moved into politics, scandalizing his banking colleagues by joining up with Labor.  He went to be mayor of Amsterdam--where he met the unhappy fate of presiding over the Provo revolution and attendant disturbances.  The higher-ups finally removed him from office, a discredited old man who, so it appears, could not cope with or even understand the young.

Of such stuff is the Dutch posture of rectitude constructed.  Go figure.

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