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Nazi Labor Camps: Ommen

Camp Ommen came into being when Werner Schwier, director of Referat Internationale Organisationen - Reference to International Organizations, also was appointed to the position of Camp Commandant of Ommen. The purpose of the Referat was to liquidate property of organizations considered hostile to the Reich. However, Schwier saw potential in keeping the campground belonging to a religious cult for the purpose of transforming it into a concentration camp. Before the outbreak of the war the camp had been used by followers of the cult leader Jiddu Krishnamurti. The cult held annual meetings; the last meeting took place in August of 1939. The place of the meeting was a camp near Ommen called Sterkamp - Star camp.

Construction of the camp began on 13 June 1941 after Schwier had offered the duty of Lagerführer - Camp leader to Karel Lodewijk Diepgrond. The latter had been an interpreter for the SD in Amsterdam. Schwier had known him since the outbreak of the war. Diepgrond accepted the offer. His first task was to interview and subsequently hire forty-eight camp guards. He arrived in Ommen with the guards on 13 June according to a business diary he faithfully maintained.

The guards were assured by Diepgrond and Schwier that the nature of the camp would remain strictly Dutch. Exactly how Dutch would be revealed within a very short time. Schwier renamed the camp calling it Arbeitslager Erika - Work Procurement Camp Erika. All reports were written in the German language and orders were given in German as well. Guards were called Kontroll Kommando or KK - Control Commando. German ranks were introduced as well with Diepgrond receiving the highest rank, that of Lagerführer - camp commander.

The first prisoners arrived 19 June 1942, but officially the camp was opened for business on 22 June. Black marketers and forced-labor dodgers were sent to Ommen where they received harsh treatment from the Kontroll Kommando. Prisoners arrived in Ommen by train guarded by Dutch constables. Leaving the train station by foot they had to march three KM in order to reach the camp at gate "A." There the collaborating constables would turn the prisoners over to Dutch SS camp guards. Almost immediately upon entering the prisoners would experience the cruelty the Dutch guards were capable off. They would scream, curse, and hit the prisoners mercilessly. Anyone who dared to open his mouth was beaten with a truncheon.

Following initiation the prisoners were assigned to work details. Sixty men were housed in each barrack and instead of sleeping in beds prisoners slept in hammocks, three high. Bedding and clothing was inadequate. Food was insufficient. Work was carried out in high tempo. Each alleged trespass was punished severely. Prisoners were ill-treated continually. Each guard had his own method of inflicting pain or otherwise making life unbearable for the prisoners. They wanted to make sure that forced-labor dodgers and black marketers would learn their lesson.

Werner Schwier was arrested after the war and transferred to an internment camp near Brussels. He escaped and fled to Germany. He never went on trial in the Netherlands. Karel Diepgrond was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on 13 May 1949. He was pardoned and set free in 1957 after having served only eight years of his sentence. J. de Jong was shot and killed in 1945 a few weeks after he fled from camp Westerbork where he was interned after the war. J. Driehuis received the death sentence on 3 June 1946 which was carried out in 1947.

Sources: The Forgotten Camps