Dutch Nazi camp rebuilt to remember

Dutch Nazi camp rebuilt to remember

19th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

A stretch of rusted railway track cuts across the clearing, past a few lone trees, ruined walls and row upon row of red stones, each one marked with a metal Star of David.

This is all that remains of Camp Westerbork, where three quarters of the Netherlands' Jewish men, women and children were herded by the Nazi occupier in World War II before being sent to their deaths.

But now the Dutch have decided to rebuild the transit camp barracks as a grim and constant reminder of the Holocaust, for the 400,000 people who visit the site each year and for generations to come.

"Many young visitors are disappointed when they get here because there is not much left to see," Albert Gilbert of the camp memorial site told AFP.

"By rebuilding the original barracks, we will be able to give them a better sense of what it must have been like."

Camp Westerbork, in the north-eastern Dutch province of Drente, was used to intern some 107,000 of the Netherlands' 140,000-strong Jewish population before they were transported to Nazi concentration camps.

Only 5,000 of the Jews interned there survived.

This is where Anne Frank, the Dutch teenager whose wartime diary became the world's most widely-read account of the Holocaust, was imprisoned with her family before being sent to the Auschwitz death camp. She eventually died at Bergen-Belsen.

Photo © Bert K
Camp Westerbork was a World War II concentration camp in Hooghalen, ten kilometers north of Westerbork, in the northeastern Netherlands. Its function during the Second World War was to assemble Roma and Dutch Jews for transport to other Nazi concentration camps.

Eighty-nine year old Jules Schelvis was 22 when he was sent to Westerbork with his 20-year-old wife Rachel.

"We didn't think we would stay very long," he told AFP. "Many people tried to be admitted to hospital to delay their deportation. We pretended to have stomach pains or headache."

But six days after their arrival, the couple's names were read out from a list and he and his wife were ordered to board a train for the Sobibor death camp in Poland, where Rachel Schelvis was killed in a gas chamber.

Between July 1942 and September 1944, 93 prisoner trains left the camp for Auschwitz and Sobibor in Poland, Bergen-Belsen in Germany, and Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic.

Ninety metres of the loathed railway track still cut across the 25-hectare (62-acre) field, the size of 25 football pitches, but its ends are now symbolically twisted up towards the sky.

To one side, the dilapidated house of the former camp commander looks out over the 102,000 red stones, each one a tribute to one of the murdered Jews.
Up to 18,000 people could be held at Westerbork at any one time in about 100 wooden barracks, with 800 people crammed into around 60 dormitories on bunks piled three-high.

Decades after the war, in the 1970s, the wood barracks were dismantled and taken over by farmers around the country as barns for their pigs or chickens.
But as part of the reconstruction plans, at least eight of these barracks have been recovered -- though often partly-destroyed -- to be re-erected at the site.
"We don't want to create a fun fair or an open-air museum," Gilbert insisted. "We will use the real barracks, not reproductions. We want to recreate the feeling of the camp."

The Dutch state will cover most of the project cost of between EUR 10 and 20 million (USD 13 to 25 million).

In the southern Netherlands, Camp Vught, the only official concentration camp in occupied northwest Europe, also underwent extensive works a decade ago to rebuild a prisoner's barrack, three watch towers and the original fencing.

Camp Westerbork was originally built by the Dutch in 1939 to house Jews who fled Nazi Germany, but was enlarged and transformed into a deportation camp by the Nazis in 1942 after Germany invaded the Netherlands.

Photo © FaceMePLS
Silent witnesses

Liberated by Canadian allied forces in April 1945, the camp was used to imprison Nazi collaborators and later as a refugee centre, before being turned into a memorial.

"Everyone should know what happened," Gilbert said of the Westerbork project. "The site must serve as a warning, a reminder; a lesson of something never to be repeated."

AFP/ Nicolas Delaunay/ Expatica

Photo credit: Bert K; FaceMePLS

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