The electric fences and the look-out towers.
The first commander of the camp was an SS captain named Karl Chmilewski. This SS Officer was well known for the barbaric atrocities he had committed at the camp of Gusen, an sub-camp of Mauthausen. (Mauthausen had a reputation as one of the most brutal Nazi camps). Later, the commanders of the camp were SS officer Grunewald (October 1943) and SS officer Huttig (February 1944).
Originally, Vught was divided into two sections: the first one (Judendurchgangslager - JDL) was designed to hold the Jewish prisoners before their transit to Germany the transfers were done in two transports: from Vught to Westerbork then from Westerbock to the extermination camps. The pending transfer of Jewish prisoners to Westerbock never created panic: many of the Jews thought that they would stay permanently in Westerbock. They didn't know that Westerbock was just a “waiting room“ before their extermination.
Conditions in Vught were initially deplorable. Hundreds of prisoners died during the first few months as a result of maltreatment, shortage of clothing, lack of food, polluted water, and various infectious diseases that were rampant in the overcrowded barracks. Many Jewish children were victims of this. After a while conditions improved simply because nearly all the Jews had been deported and so the camp had more space.
The second section of Vught was designed as a security camp (Schutzhaftlager). This section received all the Dutch and Belgian political prisoners, men and women. The guards were exclusively SS. The food was nearly nonexistent : warm water with some carrots or sauerkraut floating on the surface. The SS guards tortured the prisoners with incredible cruelty beating them to death (several prisoners were brutalized with a club wrapped with barbed wire). The SS often provoked their dogs to attack prisoners and there are several testimonies of horrible wounds, including to genitals. Altogether 749 people lost their lives for various reasons. A large number of them (mostly members of the resistance) were executed in the woods near the camp at the so called “Fusilladeplaats.”
Two other sections were established in May and August 1943: the “Frauenkonzentrationslager” (FKL) for women and the “Polizeiliches Durchgangslager” (PDL) for prisoners in detention, mostly for a short period.
Like any other Nazi concentration camp, Vught had its own gallows and crematorium. In September 1943, the gallows was used for the executions of 20 Belgian prisoners. There were several convoy from Vught to the major camps located in Germany and Poland: i.e. in June 1943, hundreds of Jewish children were sent to Sobibor extermination camp. There were also transportation of Jews to death camps in November 1943 and June 1944. In July, as the Allied forces approached, the number of executions increased dramatically.
Mobile crematory oven
More than 30,000 people passed through the gates of the camp in the 18 months efore the allied forces arrived. After D-day, June 6, 1944, the Germans wanted to clear the camp as fast as possible. Most of the women were transported to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück, and the men to Sachsenhausen. On September 5-6, 1944,
The 4th Canadian Armor Division, and the 96 Th Battery of the 5th Anti -Tank Division were the first in liberating Vught concentration Camp. The Canadians troops came over the hill right up to the wall fighting the Germans. The Germans were evacuation from the camp and left a rear guard action to fight the allies. They were fighting and running at the same time. As you entered the camp into a courtyard there were 500 bodies laying in a pile that these poor people were just executed that morning. They were just thrown in a pile. There were around 500-600 live prisoners left who had been set up for execution that afternoon, but, the Canadian's arrived instead so they were spared. The people were in the most horrible condition, starving to death, ill, and very badly mistreated. When the Canadian's arrived they were standing around in the courtyard. Not in any barracks just standing around while the fighting was going on.
Directly after the liberation, the buildings of the camp were used as an “internment camp” to shut away the “bad” Dutch collaborators. There were also 6.000 evacuated Germans forced to stay in the camp until May 1945. The Canadian Army also utilized of the camp. The internment camp existed until 1949. The former camp location is now occupied by a penitentiary.
In April 1990, the National Monument Camp Vught was opened by H.M. Queen Beatrix. The museum is located at Lunettenlaan 600, Vught, Holland. There is also a permanent exhibition about the “Kamp Vught” in the “Vughts Historish Museum”, Taalstraat 88a, Vught.
National Monument Camp Vught
Vught, the Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)73-65 66 764
Tuesday to Friday: 10AM - 5PM
Saturday/Sunday: 12Noon - 5PM
Closed: Monday, 25 and 31 December, 1 January, 10-31 January
(Other dates on special request)
Entrance: free of charge
Sources: The Forgotten Camps (first photo from USHMM). National Monument Kamp Vught
Special thanks to Kathy Bjegovich and her father Norman Turner, Canadian WW2 veteran and liberator of Vught concentration camp, for the informations they kindly sent me concerning the liberation of the camp.