The Dutch way station to Auschwitz

26th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we look at Camp Westerbork - the last stop for 102,000 Jews en route from the Netherlands to the Nazi death camps.

Probably the last view of the Netherlands for so many who were sent to Auschwitz

60 years on Westerbork is a peaceful park. Most of its buildings have been torn down and grass has grown where the huts used to stand. The grass covers a terrible reality.

A museum documents the stories of the inmates, guards and train drivers who were part of the Nazi murder machine during the Second World War. Here Anne Frank and thousands of other Jews waited for transports to take them from the Netherlands to the death camps in the East.

The enormity of the crime Westerbork played such a crucial role in was brought home in late January in the lead up to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet soldiers.

Holocaust survivors — among the handful who are left — braved freezing weather to take part in the reading aloud of the names of the 102,000 Jews who were transported from Holland to their deaths. Underlining the huge scale of the genocide, the naming ceremony runs for 112 hours, ending on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January.

"It is important that I am here for all those who were deported to the death camps. I am a survivor and I want to be here, to feel what they must have felt," Truus Stern, 79, said.

Between 1942 and 1944, 93 trains deported more than a 100,000 Dutch Jews and Romany. Sixty-eight of those trains went to Auschwitz. The others went to Sobibor, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt, AFP reported.

There were 140,000 Jews in Holland before the war, of which 102,000 were murdered by the Nazis. Aside from Anne Frank, a second Jewish girl who kept a diary of her earlier imprisonment passed through Westerbork on the way to her death.

Ironically, Westerbork was established not by the Nazis but the Dutch government.

Reading the names lasted 112 hours

In the late 1930s, the government in The Hague was worried about the influence thousands of Jewish refugees who had fled to Holland would have in the cities and towns. Many German Jews caught by the authorities had been sent back to Germany, but still more came.

The government decided therefore to house Jewish refugees who entered the country illegally in a new compound built on marsh land at a 'safe' distance from the local town of Westerbork in Drenthe in 1939.

Hundreds of refugees were living in the camp by the time the German Army invaded on 10 May 1940. The inmates had limited freedom until 1942 when the facility officially became a transit camp.

On July 1, 1942, the German Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) took over control. The new commander, Erich Deppner, caused a riot when organising the first transport. He included children without their parents and women who happened to be standing in line for admittance to make up his quota of 1,000 deportees.

In October, Obersturmfuhrer Albert Konrad Gemmeker took command of the camp and oversaw the systematic deportation of 100,000 Jews, 55,000 of whom went to Auschwitz, according to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.

On the 60th anniversary it is important to bear in mind that much of the dirty work was not done directly by the Germans.

Gemmeker, who was jailed for 10 years after the war, left the day-to-day running of the camp in the hands of some of the inmates. A subdivision of the Jewish police (Judischer Ordnungsdienst) arranged the transports and maintained order. Many Jews, like Anne Frank, ended up in the camp because they were betrayed by Dutch people.

The victims can't be brought back from Auschwitz and the other death camps, but they can at least be remembered on 27 January in the hope the same will never happen again.

One person attending the reading of the names summed up the huge loss by saying: "that is the first time I have heard my family's names read aloud".

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Westerbork

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