Dutch prime minister Willem Drees (18861988)

The early years
Willem Drees was born in Amsterdam on July 5, 1886. His father died when he was 5, which caused the family to live in sobriety. Although the Drees family was protestant, young Willem's sympathy went out to the socialists. As 18-year-old he attended the Socialist International congress in Amsterdam in 1904. Particularly in these days, socialism was a revolutionary, anti-Christian movement. Drees did not favour the fanatics and he opposed the Troelstra (socialist chairman) attempt for revolution in 1918. Willem Drees thought the socialist society would be achieved through electoral victory. Cooperation with other political parties was necessary for that.

Angel of mercy
He made a steady political career in The Hague. Because of his battle for aid to the poor, sick and elderly, Drees was soon known as 't Engeltje van Barmhartigheid (the angel of mercy). In 1939 he became leader of the SDAP (Sociaal Democratische Arbeiderspartij or Social Democratic Labour Party) in the Dutch Lower House.

During the German occupation Drees laid the foundation for his political leadership in the fifties. He was against all kinds of compromise with the nazi's. Together with other well-known Dutchmen he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp in October 1940. After his release in 1941, he immediately joined the resistance.

Social Affairs and Prime Minister
In May 1945 Queen Wilhelmina asked Willem Drees to form a new government. He would be minister of Social Affairs until 1948, during which he won popularity because of his pension arrangements for the elderly. From '48 to '58, Drees was prime minister four times in a row. Under his spell, the Netherlands managed to recover from the crisis. On the other hand, he was the man who led the controversial colonial war in Dutch East India.

Crisis after colonial warfare
Socialist Drees was against any form of colonialism. He favoured a slow development of Dutch East India towards independence, but the declaration of the Republic of Indonesia by Sukarno changed this. Bung Karno was considered a collaborator and he was held responsible for thousands of casualties in the Japanese camps. Negotiations and two so-called police actions led to Indonesian sovereignty in December 1949. Especially for the second police action Drees was blamed heavily, because world now turned his back towards the Netherlands for its colonial warfare.

Greet Hofmans affair
The prime-minister managed to solve a national crisis in 1956, known as the Greet Hofmans affair. This faith healing woman had become a Rasputin-like advisor of Queen Juliana. The queen was close to abdication and divorce from her husband Prince Bernhard, but Drees intervened successfully.

In the years after his resignation from Dutch politics, he was still often asked as advisor or commentator on important issues. He continued to be the social conscience in the Netherlands, regularly disagreeing with his successors in the socialist party, such as Joop den Uyl. Only well past the magical age of 100, he died.

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