The Batavians in the 20th century

In the 20th century, the Batavians remained a focal point in the curriculum of national history at primary schools. During the Second World War, the existing myth once more proved to be subject to radically different interpretations, as both the German occupying forces and the Dutch resistance attempted to claim the Batavian heritage.

The national-socialist author P. Felix, in 1942, composed the work Claudius Civilis, which saw the Batavian leader take sides with the German warlord Arminius. Felix concluded that:

“For us, Civilis remains our first national hero – the first figure from our region to have become famous as a historical character, who enriched ‘Germanje`s’ history with an important chapter!”

Claudius Civilis - click to view large image

Almost simultaneously however, in 1943, Philip Mechanicus, a prisoner in the Dutch concentration camp Westerbork, saw parallels between his plight and that of his Batavian forefathers:

“... when, however, I compare my situation to that of man in the primitive age, as far as that can be done, or to the Batavians, who came to our country or floating tree trunks, my plight is not that unfortunate, all things considering. As long as I can live like I live now, life is all right”.

When the Netherlands had been liberated, the theme of ‘freedom’ was of course often raised. On 6 June 1945, less than a month after the German surrender, the play Vrij volk (Free People) was performed in Amsterdam, a study of centuries of Dutch independence, starting with Claudius Civilis.

Jan Musch on the stage as Claudius Civilis in the play Vrij volk - click to view large image
>Jan Musch on the stage as Claudius Civilis in the play Vrij volk (Free People), 6 June 1945

Meanwhile, scholars also continued their interest in the Batavians. >Archeologists, from the start of the 20th century, were particularly active in tracing unknown material on the Batavians.