Not all bankers are bad. During World War II, when the Netherlands was suffering under the German occupation, Dutch banker Walraven van Hall and his brother Gijs van Hall committed the biggest banking fraud in Dutch history, taking millions of Guilders out of the Dutch Central Bank and using the money to finance the Resistance. Walraven van Hall paid for this with his life. His story is the subject of an impressive motion picture which was released in Dutch cinemas on 8 March 2018.
After the Germans had occupied the Netherlands in 1940, Walraven van Hall became involved in the funding of the Resistance. At first, this was done by borrowing money from banks and high net worth individuals. This had to be done in the utmost secrecy. The lenders were provided worthless shares and bonds in consideration of their investments, this under the understanding that the loans would be redeemed after the war in exchange for these shares and bonds. In setting up these schemes Walraven van Hall used his connections in the financial sector and within a few years he was able to provide millions to the Resistance to fight the Germans and to help and feed refugees and persons that had gone into hiding.
In order to be able to finance the 1944 railway strike Walraven van Hall succeeded in taking 50 million Guilders out of the Dutch Central Bank, which at that time was presided by the infamous Rost van Tonningen, a Dutchman who collaborated with the Germans. Walraven van Hall and his resistance group raised this amount by replacing a package of promissory notes held in the vaults of the Central Bank by falsifications and subsequently selling the real notes to investors. This was all done with the approval of the Dutch government in exile. Repayment was guaranteed by the government. After the war all loans were redeemed in a proper manner.
Unfortunately, Walraven van Hall paid the highest price for his activities: he was arrested and executed by the Germans. After the war he was awarded the Dutch Cross of Resistance and in 2010 a small monument was erected in his memory near to the Dutch Central Bank. This week a motion picture about Walraven van Hall was released in the Dutch cinemas, starring the actors Barry Atsma as Walraven van Hall, Jacob Derwig as Gijs van Hall and Pierre Bokma as Rost van Tonningen.
The film is really impressive because it shows the dilemmas between becoming involved and taking huge risks on the one hand and standing aside and living a comfortable life on the other. Walraven van Hall had it all. He was a successful banker, came from a good family and was happily married with two children. He put everything at risk to save the lives of others and paid the highest price. This is something we should all reflect on. The financial manipulations are interesting enough for financial lawyers, but that is of course not the essence of this film.