Seen above on the left, Hak Holdert was born in the Dutch East Indies and ‘came home’ to the Netherlands as a child of ten. Now 45 years old, he bought De Telegraaf in 1902 on his way to becoming a legendary news publisher, and despite Holland’s precarious neutrality, the Great War is setting his reputation in concrete. The man sitting on the right is the single biggest reason. Aptly named Kick Schröder, he is a former athlete who founded the nation’s first soccer team and played professional cricket in England. Now Holdert’s editor-in-chief at De Telegraaf, he writes sometimes as ‘Barbarossa,’ the famous red-bearded Turkish admiral who, like Schröder, wore a fiery red beard — a good clue to his personal temperament.
The Dutch government has observed a scrupulous neutrality since the war began, but Schröder’s bellicose columns have tested the limits of free speech in his nation’s courts. Schröder’s first turn at the bar came in February, when he briefly sued an Army officer, Lieutenant J. Mallinckrodt, for allegedly slandering him as a paid agent of the British government before an audience at a café. Schröder dropped that case when Mallinckrodt apologized and withdrew his remarks, but the matter only seemed to fuel his fire. Within a month of the case, Schröder aired his suspicions that the officer corps of his nation’s Army favors the Germans; he is not wrong.
Unapologetically leftist, the patriotic Schröder is defiant of “Prussian censorship” and contemptuous of neutrality, publishing exposées of Dutch companies engaged in smuggling goods or raw materials to the Central Powers. Prime Minister Cort van der Linden has been under constant German pressure to silence De Telegraaf, and German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow even made veiled threats to the Hague in April, saying that German “public opinion” would “not tolerate such excesses to remain unanswered.” Fearless, on June 16th Schröder published an op-ed which drew an even stronger reaction from Berlin.
There is a group of unscrupulous villains in the middle of Europe who have caused this war. In the interest of humankind, to which our country belongs if we are not mistaken, it is essential that these criminals are eliminated. It is the honorable work of the Allies to do this, so that they, too, wage war directly in the interest of the Netherlands ‘par excellence’, for our autonomy will be over if German militarism wins. Our battle is against these criminals. It is against them that our sense of independence has to be mobilized.
Perhaps Schröder’s words sting the Germans because they are true: Berlin increasingly sees the Netherlands as a future vassal state in an economic empire of Mitteleuropa. Or perhaps the wound is felt so keenly because Vienna and Berlin have spent so much money to bribe Dutch news editors, post propaganda onto the world’s newswires via the Hollands Nieuwsbureau (Dutch News Service), and publish denials of their massacres in Belgium during the first weeks of the war.
Whatever the reason for it, Germany’s outrage has translated into strong Dutch government pressure on the judiciary. Already acquitted of publishing state secrets in August, on the 6th of December Schröder was once again arrested for allegedly “imperiling Holland’s neutrality.” This time, however, the country has risen in his defense, with protests by a sizable crowd and public solidarity from Schröder’s colleagues, including many of his past editorial targets. Perhaps worst of all, as a result of the new case the foreign press openly questions the sincerity of Dutch neutrality, feeding rather than diminishing perceptions that Schröder’s criticisms are warranted. In truth, Premier Linden scrupulously observes the strict rules of neutrality and never lets his pro-German feelings get the better of his policy, but the prosecution of Schröder is having unintended public relations consequences.
Today, another court finds Schröder innocent of the government’s charges, but the legal saga is still not over. Released again, Schröder will endure government appeals and prosecution into 1917 before he is finally, fully acquitted.