Walraven van Hall: The Resistance Banker
2020-04-10 | By Giulia Quaresima
Joram Lürsen’s movie tells the incredible story of World War Two resistance banker Walraven van Hall.
Opposite the Dutch Central Bank on Amsterdam’s Frederiksplein is a monument–a fallen tree, symbolising, in the words of its artist, a fallen giant–dedicated to a World War Two resistance hero, Walraven (Wally) van Hall, also known as ‘The Banker of the Resistance.’
Unrecognised for decades by his own country, van Hall (under the pseudonym of ‘van Tuyl’) was one of the greatest Dutch resistance fighters. Together with his brother Gijs and others, banker van Hall created a system of loans using the National Support Fund to transfer millions to resistance organisations. In the occupied Netherlands this money supported strikes and financed underground printing presses and hiding Jews, and in London it funded exiled resistance leaders.
When the financial needs of the resistance increased, the van Hall brothers organised the biggest bank fraud in Dutch History, stealing bank bonds and replacing them with fakes. The brothers worked secretly, but were constantly under suspicion of the Nazi occupiers who were hunting and arresting the resistance and trying to capture the mysterious ‘van Tuyl.’
The Resistance Banker
Van Hall’s true story, set between 1942 and 1945, is brilliantly told in Joram Lürsen’s movie Bankier van het Verzet (The Resistance Banker), with a cast including Barry Atsma as Wally van Hall, Jacob Derwig as Gijs van Hall and Pierre Bokma as Rost van Tonningen, a National Socialist Movement (NSB) politician and collaborator with the German occupiers.
The film was released in Dutch cinemas in March 2018 and seen by 400,000 movie-goers to become one of the most-viewed Dutch films that year. It received many award nominations and prizes, including Golden Calves for Best Actor (Jacob Derwig), Best Film, Best Production Design, Best Female Supporting Actor and Audience Prize.
Impeccably made and with high-level performances, The Resistance Banker is an authentic recreation of the Netherlands during wartime. The film’s narrative combines a serious, tense story with portraits of family life and its tonal colours, mood and music add to the charm. The movie is packed with powerful scenes that resonate long after the ending.
The Resistance Banker is unique in that it occupies fresh narrative ground between being a historic thriller and a white-collar heist movie. While some may find the beginning slow, patience is rewarded as the second half is dynamic, empathic and builds to a tense climax.
While the film occasionally slips into movie clichés– the archetypally ‘pure’ hero and starkly-opposed right and wrong viewpoints–it is beyond doubt a moving story of old-fashioned heroes who sacrificed their safe and untouchable status to fight for their country’s freedom.
The Resistance Banker is the previously untold story of a Dutch hero, bringing van Hall’s bravery from obscure history into the mainstream. “The resistance to the Nazis was in no small part thanks to the actions of the van Halls,” says Johannes Houwink ten Cate, historian and leading expert on the Holocaust in the Netherlands.
Van Hall and his brother bankrolled the Dutch resistance for three years, supplying it with the equivalent (in today’s money) of €500 million. Their story is a tale full of courage, treachery, death and loyalty. And unimaginable quantities of money. “When people think of the resistance, they rarely think of the enormous amounts of money that it cost to keep this organisation running,” says the film’s director, Joram Lürsen. He chose to focus his movie on the intrepid event at the heart of the story–the theft and cashing of Central Bank bonds, which at that time was the biggest bank robbery in European history.
The Resistance Banker is a fitting tribute to van Hall, a man who used his cunning and courage to save hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust while also causing important damage to the Nazi war effort. In 1978, Israel recognised van Hall as a ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews during the Holocaust.
This movie proves a good contrast to other celluloid World War Two biographies. While it takes certain creative, dramatic decisions about particular historical facts, it remains a moving, and at times shocking, tribute to a great hero. Well worth a watch.
The Resistance Banker is available on Netflix, in Dutch with English subtitles.
About the author
Raised in Italy and based in The Hague since 2018, Giulia Quaresima spends her free time writing, organising trips and teaching Italian.