While reading through all these documents in the Netherlands, Belgium and France, I’ve noticed something about the way that resisters referred to themselves during and immediately after the war. It wasn’t the same in all three countries.

In France, clandestine opposition to the German occupation was always known as la Résistance, the heroic efforts of the résistants. La Résistance translates pretty much directly into English as “The Resistance” only with a bit more élan than simple “resistance.” There’s dash, derring-do and danger wrapped up into the term, along with patriotism and heroism.

The French-speaking part of Belgium also uses the term la Résistance, but the Dutch-speaking, Flemish, part of Belgium talks about the Weerstand. Literally it means “the standing against” and has the same connotations of opposition as La Résistance.

Nowadays the Dutch usually talk about the Verzets, which gives you the same sense of standing in opposition as la Résistance or the Weerstand. There’s an added pugnaciousness in the term Verzetsstrijder, which is a “resistance fighter.” But during the war and in the years immediately following it, the Dutch talked about the Illegaliteit and the illegale werker, which is quite different. Literally they mean what they look like: the Illegality, or Unlawfulness, and the illegal, or unlawful, worker.

There’s a certain appealing matter-of-factness about this. It certainly wasn’t any less dangerous to oppose the Germans in the Netherlands than in France. You could even argue that, given the lack of natural hiding places there and the fact that the Netherlands had the least easily forged identity documents on the continent, it was more harrowing.

And yet there’s no bravado. Like the Dutch get to work digging dykes and draining polders when they need more land, they got to work to oust the foreign occupier. There was a job to be done, the “goede zaak”, literally the good business or affair, but we’d say the good fight in English, and they did it. What distinguished it from other jobs was that it was unlawful. The danger, the heroism were all just part of the work that needed to be done.