‘For me, the hardest step was the first one. Actually, it wasn’t really a step. It was about getting used to the idea that you’re saying goodbye to your family and friends without knowing when you’ll see them again.’ ‘But as they say, you have to be a little impulsive when you make an important decision. I thought of that suddenly as I was rushing into the registration office to apply for emigration three minutes before closing time.’
These are two examples of experiences – one real, one imagined – published in booklets promoting post-war emigration from the Netherlands. After the Second World War, almost one-third of the population was seriously considering emigration, a step encouraged by the Dutch government despite serious initial doubts among some categories of workers. Fearful of overpopulation and unemployment, the government believed that emigration could be a partial solution. But before a would-be emigrant could leave, many obstacles had to be overcome and much preparation was necessary.
Front of the sleeve of a record commissioned by the emigration committee of the Dutch Women's Committee
The aspiring emigrant would first go to one of the many registration offices available to him. The Regional Employment Offices served as public registration centres. There were also five officially recognised private emigration organisations with offices across the country set up along the lines of the prevailing social and religious compartmentalisation of 1950s Netherlands – the General Emigration Office, the Protestant Emigration Centre, the Catholic Emigration Office , the Orthodox Calvinist Office for the Assistance of Emigrants and the Netherlands-South Africa Association. To register, membership was required.
The registration offices offered tailor-made advice and opened a file containing personal data about the emigrant’s family, education and work history. If the emigrant wished to apply for reimbursement of part of the travel costs, the necessary papers were prepared. The file was then submitted to the Dutch Emigration Service which in turn – sometimes after a background check – passed it on to the immigration service at the embassies of the countries of destination where the person was called for an interview and a medical examination. Once all formalities had been completed and approved, passage could be booked. In the early post-war years, a shortage of passenger ships meant that the emigrant might be forced to wait for months. Some used the time to take courses about their new country and learn the language.