A map of the Westerbork transit camp.
The camp of Westerbork
was situated about 15 km from the village of Westerbork. This camp had
been opened by the Dutch authorities during the summer 1939
in order to receive the Jewish refugees coming from Germany.
The first refugees arrived in Westerbork on October 9, 1939. When the
German army invaded Holland,
there were 750 refugees in the camp.
On July 1, 1942,
the German authorities took control of the camp. Westerbork became officially
a "transit camp" (Durchgangslager Westerbork). On July 14,
1942, all the Jews were examined by the SS
in order to determine who was able to work or not. The first train arrived
on July 15th and left the camp on July 16th with 1,135 of the first
selected Jews. By the end of the month, nearly 6,000 Dutch Jews had,
in fact reached Auschwitz,
where the majority were gassed. The destination of this train was Auschwitz
[other trains went to Bergen-Belsen,
Vittel]. In the beginning, the transfers were done at the station of
Hooghalen. In November 1942, and after new rail lines had been constructed,
the trains arrived directly into the camp. More than 103.000 Jews were
transferred from Westerbork to Auschwitz or Sobibor.
Barracks and the boiler room in Westerbork.
The camp of Westerbork was a very strange place. There
was a school, a hair-dresser, an orchestra [also a complete cabaret
group consisting of famous Dutch artists who tried to cheer up the inmates,
and were required to present all performances in German], and even a
restaurant. If a prisoner had enough money, it was possible for him
to buy goods that were impossible to find elsewhere in Holland at this
time. This "comfort" was designed by the SS in order to avoid
any problem during the transfers to Auschwitz. A lot of prisoners thought
that the condition of life would be the same in the camps of Poland.
The Nazis seemed to always leave just a little hope for survival.
The most tragic part of the story of
this camp is that the SS had very little to do with the transfers:
the selections were made by a Jewish security service. The Nazi
commandant gave the orders; the Jewish "governing" body only carried
them out, in fear of themselves being deported. Imagine the irony,
Jews selecting other Jews for certain death. The transfers were often
done under the control of Dutch policemen. There was a transport to
the extermination camps every Tuesday. Before Tuesday, the camp was
in panic. Every prisoner feared selection for the next transport. On
Tuesday evenings, those who were not selected had just one more week
of rest before the next selection.
Members of the "OD", the Jewish Police
in Westerbork, direct arriving Dutch Jews in the camp.
The transports stopped in September 1944.
When the Allies liberated
Westerbork, 900 prisoners remained in the camp. The camp has been totally
destroyed after the liberation. Nothing remains of the camp. However,
there is a very poignant monument and a very interesting and well documented
memorial center at the site. The monument consists of a piece of railroad
track, which at its end is twisted and points into the sky.
A Hanukkah celebration in the main hall of the
Westerbork transit camp.
Forgotten Camps (USHMM Photos).