This page is a short walk through the former internmentsite Kamp Westerbork in the Dutch province of Drente.
The impulse to start the construction of the camp came from the Dutch authorities themselves in the years preceding the second World War to provide housing, shelter and a sollution for Jewish refugees fleeing the horrors of Nazi-Germany. A camp was necessary because the authorities wanted to keep these refugees out of the cities, towns and villages.
When the Nazi-armies invaded The Netherlands during the month of May 1940 the camp-infrastructure including inhabitants was an easy prey.
After the Wannsee-conference and the decision about the Endlösung (Final Solution) of the Jewish problem Kamp Westerbork was enlarged to become a temporary internment- and transitcamp for Dutch Jews, Gipsies and political prisoners en-route to the deathcamps in the East.
In total about 102.000 people transitted Westerbork on a one-way trip to fate, only a handfull returned.
Westerbork was not a concentrationcamp in the classical sence of the word. There was an attempt at organised social life by the Nazis with the intention to keep the internees relatively calm and pacified. There was a sportsaccomodation, music, workshops, a school, a hospital, an orphanage, ... there also was the Boulevard of a Thousand Sighs where the selected-ones boarded the train.
Tuesday was the day of terror, then the weekly train left for the east. Whoever found his/her name on the list packed his/her things and got ready to leave with a bowed head. Those who weren't on the list were relieved that the future lasted at least one more week. In the end all except a few hundred were moved-out to the east.
Whatever the east held in store was uncertain, one hoped that indeed they were transported to a labourcamp but as time progressed rumours became stronger and stronger.
The weekly train on Tuesday took precedence over everything else and dominated camplife ... one day the teachers of the school were on the list ... the next day there was no class!
© W.L.Loeb (Haarlem, the Netherlands)
...The platform, the beginning of all end ...
The buildings at Kamp Westerbork do not exist anymore. After the war the camp was used as a temporary housing-complex but eventually the tooth of time and bad maintenance took their toll. The wooden constructions were torn down.
Whoever goes to the place now to experience a classic Nazi concentration camp will be dissappointed, no opportunity for disaster-tourism here ... Westerbork is a large green park ... the locations where important buildings once stood are marked with an earthen slope and name-signs ... the kitchen, the train-platform, the latrines, the punitive barack where Anne Frank spent a few months ...
Anne's last window....
... and freedom so close-by ...
To visit Kamp Westerbork you need to stop first at the Remembrancecenter (Herinneringscentrum). There is a minimal entrace-fee which allows you to visit the small but well constructed and interesting museum filled with artifacts. It's really worth your while. There is a small theatre where there is a near-continuous projection of videos with testimony by survivors. The bookshop is well stocked (mostly Dutch publications of course). Plan at least 1-2 hrs to let the displays sink in.
The ex-camp itself is about 3 kilometer down an asphalt road. One can reach it by bike or on foot. There is a shuttle-bus most of the day which runs along a posted schedule for a small fee. Private automobiles and motorbikes are not allowed which is good because it contributes to the peace, the calm and the serenity of the neighbourhood.
Once at the site and through the gate the experience is sobering. To walk yourself over the boulevard where once tens of thousands of innocent doomed people walked ... madness, madness, madness ... difficult to accept that once a system existed devised and planned by humans to execute the cold-blooded extermination of other humans ... sportsaccomodation ... theater ... movies ...
On the other extreme side of the camp we find at last the monument of Westerbork ... the train-buffer where the track ends. As if giant hands were at work after about 20 meters the track is destroyed and the rails point skyward ... no train will ever leave from here again with its human cargo!
The last transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz ... with the Frank-family ...
© Anne Frank Stichting
No train will ever leave from here again ...
The culmination of any visit is the former roll-call location. With grey and black tiles a map of The Netherlands has been puzzled together. And on this map the army of Westerbork stands deployed in formation ... 102.000 clay bricks ready for inspection ... just as in 1942-44 ... silent witnesses and a warning that this madness must never again occur.
Ready for roll-call ... 102.000 ... Jews, Gipsies, resistance fighters, ordinary civilians ...
Placed in honour by the State of Israel
Kamp Westerbork can be reached quite easy by private car:
HERINNERINGSCENTRUM KAMP WESTERBORK Oosthalen 8 9414 TG Hooghalen The Netherlands phone: (+31) 0593 592600 fax: (+31) 0593 592546
All colourphotos © Dossche-Delagrense 24.7.1998 The black&white photograph © W.L. Loeb (Haarlem, the Netherlands) The map of Kamp Westerbork is from the archives of the USHMM
Ward Dossche and Tine Delagrense are accredited researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.